While staying with our incredible host family, we have had the opportunity to meet a lot of really fun and interesting people. We met a majority of these people at a dinner party on Friday night. It was, by far, the most impressive dinner party I have ever had the pleasure of attending. From this experience, I’ve compiled a how-to list of sorts for throwing the perfect dinner party.
1. Have a theme. The theme for this particular soiree (it just took about 3 minutes of searching through my computer’s dictionary to figure out how to spell that) was “Fish and Comedy.” This means that we ate fish (in taco form, which is the best way to consume fish, in my opinion), and enjoyed comedy (a Jim Gaffigan special, in this case). This particular fish was caught during our hosts’ fishing trip in Alaska, so they carried out the theme by having photos from the fishing trip in little photo stands on the tables. Fun, cute, and seriously impressive.
2. Invite fun people. Every single person at this gathering was interesting, excellent at making Eric and I feel included (we were the only strangers there), and just generally fun. They had great stories to tell, interesting professions, and plenty of non-weather small-talk. Plus, fun people generally make for fun parties. (This also applies to weddings.)
3. Make your home look its best. This is harder for some people than others. This party was hosted in what I believe must be the set used for the Pottery Barn catalog. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful. But in that “oh, we just threw some things together” kind of way. If you aren’t fortunate enough to work with this sort of setting, spruce up your place any way that you can, whether it’s through the use of decorative pillows, cloth napkins, or the simple act of mopping the floors.
4. Give everyone a seat at the best table. We were blessed with some of the most amazing weather on Friday night, so we all dined outside on the beautiful patio. There wasn’t a bad seat there.
5. Put a little thought into your decor. With our outdoor setting, there wasn’t much needed to make the dinner attractive. But the table was set with simple flowers, cloth napkins in napkin rings, and real plates and utensils. I know that paper plates and plastic utensils make for easier clean-up, but there’s something to be said for dining with real dishes. Plus, it’s environmentally friendly.
6. Let your guests help. Guests want to do something to make the host’s job easier. Partly because the host is busy, and partly because we feel awkward just standing there doing nothing while so much is obviously going on. Our host was happy to delegate easy tasks to guests, such as mixing fruit together in a bowl, slicing an avocado, and grabbing serving dishes from another room. You don’t have to hand out the difficult jobs. Just the ones that will let people feel like they have a role, without making them feel incompetent.
7. Have a drink stand. Guests need something to hold. Let them hold beverages. It gets rid of that whole “what do I do with my hands?” problem.
8. Serve something delicious. In this case, our hostess was an incredible chef who appears to be able to whip up exotic dishes with the flick of her wrist. Eric is still talking about how incredible those fish tacos were. If you would not call yourself a culinary artist, don’t push yourself to do something crazy. Just make something that tastes good. And that you’ve made before. You don’t want to be stressed out about making something completely new to serve hungry guests.
9. Label the food. This is mostly important if there are multiple dishes that look a bit exotic. People are more comfortable if they can put a name with the food. Then, during dinner, they can enthusiastically (and confidently) ask, “What is in this delicious sweet potato salad?” rather than, “What’s in this orange chunky thing?”
10. Be prepared to send leftovers home with your guests. This means having tupperware, paper plates and plastic wrap, baggies, etc. for guests to pack up at the end of the meal. Let them relive the fun of the evening by eating the food again for lunch the next day. And if you plan to have leftovers, you know your guests won’t leave hungry.
11. Serve dessert. Everyone will be stuffed to the point where they are literally loosening their belts, but that somehow makes dessert more necessary, yes? We had a beautiful strawberry-rhubarb cake that looked like it came straight from a professional bakery, but our host just whipped it up herself. In my opinion, a dessert does not need to look beautiful. It just needs to taste delicious. So if pastry art isn’t your thing, stick to something simple like cookies or ice cream. Just serve it up in something pretty.
12. Let your guests help clean up. Even if it means just putting plates in the dishwasher or collecting unused utensils from outside, guests want to help. See #6 above.
And there you have it. The makings of a perfect dinner party.