If you can, keep your schedule relatively free on the day of the dinner. You’ll be more rested and relaxed if you haven’t run around all day on last minute errands.
Unless you have a housekeeper, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to do some light cleaning. Make a list of what you want to accomplish, concentrating on the rooms that you’ll be using that night. Don’t forget your guest bathroom, or whatever bathroom you’ll make available to your guests. Hang some clean hand towels and make sure to fill the soap dispenser! I usually clean my kitchen last, since I’ll be using it the most.
Of course, your dining area is the focal point of your evening, whether it’s a formal dining room or your kitchen. You don’t have to put together the most spectacular tablescape, but it’s nice to have a pretty tablecloth and some kind of centerpiece. It can be as simple as a candle in a glass bowl, perhaps surrounded by potpourri, or a vase with fresh flowers from your garden or the grocery store.
The point is not how elaborate any aspect of the night might be. Instead, concentrate on showing your care in small things. Those little touches will make a huge difference between a meal and a lovely dinner.
And speaking of dinner. . .you have of course planned the menu and shopped for your food. Perhaps you have even made a few of the dishes ahead of time. About two hours before your guests are due to arrive, do a last minute overview of what you still need to prepare. Sometimes I make a quick list of what I’m making so that nothing is left in the fridge when I’m serving. This is also a good time to set the table.
Don’t forget yourself, either! Set aside enough time to take a shower and dress so that you’re not frantically throwing yourself together at the last minute.
I like to have everything finished at least fifteen minutes before my guests are scheduled to arrive. It’s a nice idea to have some sort of appetizer prepared for your company, even if it’s just crackers and sliced cheese or a simple dip with cut veggies. Be sure to set out small plates and napkins with your starters.
Once your guests arrive, welcome them warmly, take their coats (if necessary) and offer them a drink. I try to lead my guests to a comfortable area adjacent to the kitchen so that we can chat while I finish cooking or plate the meals. There will always be a few last minute chores to finish, such as dressing the salad or draining the pasta. It’s a good idea to give your company a little while to settle in before immediately moving to the table.
After the meal is underway, your biggest challenge is keeping the conversation flowing. If you’ve invited a good combination of people, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Otherwise, concentrate on asking leading questions, preferably on subjects that you know interest most of the your guests. I love that magic moment when you see someone’s eyes light up in enthusiasm at a newly introduced topic; I know then that I can sit back and enjoy myself, listening to a lively flow of talk all around me.
When your guests linger long after the meal is over, you’ll know that you’ve hosted a successful evening.
If these are the do’s in dinner parties, what are the don’ts? I have a few I can share from personal experience! Hey, you don’t throw a lot of parties without learning some lessons along the way!
–Be aware of your guests. This sounds silly, but it isn’t. Early in my married life, I was eager to host the kind of dinners I’d watched my mother do for years. I decided to make a big Italian dinner, using my mother in law’s recipe for gravy. I invited some of my husband’s fellow officers from the officers’ basic course down at Ft. Lee and some of my classmates from college. That night, in my tiny kitchen, I struggled to cook the entire meal (splattering red sauce all over the walls in the process), leaving my poor guests in the next room. They had nothing in common, and it was awkward. Not a night any of us would care to repeat!
–Be complete. Again, nothing has to be perfect, but the very indication that you tried is essential. I have been the guest at several dinners where, for whatever reason, there were huge gaps in that area. At one, the hostess told us once we arrived that she didn’t cook and so would be pulling a frozen dinner out for us to share. Her lack of cooking didn’t concern me, but her disregard for the comfort of guests did. At another dinner, as we finished the main course, the hostess announced that she didn’t make desserts and didn’t drink coffee, so. . .basically, that was it. It was an awkward ending to an otherwise enjoyable evening. Again, not everyone is a gourmet pastry chef—and you don’t need to be one. It’s easy enough to make a box cake or buy a dessert. Going just that extra little step makes the evening complete.
So the lesson here? The quantity, quality and style of your food and home is not the most important element of successful entertaining. A genuine concern for the enjoyment of your guests and a desire to give them a good time is what counts the most.
Now that you’ve mastered a simple dinner, are you ready to try something more ambitious? How about a party? We’ll tackle that one next time.
Entertaining 101: Planning the Party
Tawdra Kandle is a homeschooling mother of four and mother in law of one. FEARLESS, the first book in her young adult series, is now available exclusively at amazon.com. You can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page .