Make a dinner menu and stick to it!
Write out a grocery list. Yes, with pen and paper. I like to plan my menu several days, even up to 2 weeks, in advance so that I am sure to remember all the little things I may need. When planning your dinner menu, consider any dietary restrictions your guests may have. Read your recipes prior to shopping to ensure you have everything you need to make each dish on your menu. Make a list, check it twice.
Get a head start
Don’t wait until of the day of your gathering to clean the house, prep the dinner and decorate. I always pre-chop all my vegetables, prepare my compound butter and set the dinner table at least a day in advance. I even set out serving platters, ready to be filled with warm comforting Thanksgiving dishes. Some things even taste better when prepared early, like my cranberry-orange relish. Mason jars or ziplock bags are great for storing pre-chopped ingredients. Dinner is so much easier to prepare when all your ingredients are recipe ready. These steps also helps to cut down on dinner day dirty dishes. Start your dinner party with an empty dishwasher.
Create an inviting atmosphere
Make your guests feel comfortable. Great music and candles are musts! I usually put together a festive playlist using Spotify or Pandora. Keep in mind your guest preferences… It’s ok to ask them beforehand what kind of music they like. When choosing candles, pick a subtle (in season) aroma. I like pumpkin, apple or cinnamon in the fall. Often times I will add a few coffee beans to a 25 cent vanilla votive. It is nice to have a few comfy pillows or throw blankets folded and setup in the living room.
Choose a theme
Even just a few small decorations can make any meal extra special; a vase of flowers, colorful leaves picked by your little ones or go BIG with a full out theme. Pull out real plates, not the paper throw away kind. What good is owning that fancy China if it lives only to collect dust? I am planning to decorate with gold accents for my Thanksgiving meal.
Avoid the awkward dance of musical chairs around the dinner table. Prepare a well thought out seating chart, one where everyone can be included in the meal conversations and make place (name) cards for each guest. My dining room table is too small for a large group. Michael and I drag our kitchen table into the dining to create a space where all our friends can sit and eat together. Get creative with your place tags, maybe a little welcome note, funny pictures or a take home favor. I love decorating kids tables! Set a special place for the kiddos and they will be happy and feel oh so grown up.
Prepare a light and simple appetizer; an elegant cheese board, fresh vegetable tray or a warm dip. On holidays, so much time is spent preparing the main course and very involved side dishes. Setting out a simple appetizer spread will allow the host to put those finishing touches on the meal while guest nibble and chat. This year, I plan on setting out homemade cheese straws, slices of prosciutto, pear wedges and a few pieces of really good cheese.
Make yourself at home
I want my guest to feel right at home. I usually provide guests with a tour of my home; where to put their coats and purses, the location of our guest restroom and where to relax comfortably during pre and post dinner entertainment. If I am busy cooking, I ask a friend who is familiar with my home to greet guests. Providing these details puts a person as ease. I always setup a self serve coffee and tea bar, directing guests to make themselves at home. Ensure each guest is greeted and introduced to one another for a warm start to your gathering.
Our friend Margaret keeps a guest book for her home. All of her guests sign in and leave a note during their visits… what a great way to record memories, remember dates and special events that have taken place in your lovely home. Simply ask your guests to sign in when they arrive to your home. Our son Jude loves signing Mrs. Margarets book and flip the pages backwards to find his signatures from past visits. Wouldn’t it also be fun to snap a picture of your party guests to tape in your guest book?
Party favor or gift
We want others to leave our homes feeling better about themselves, not better about US! I love preparing a small gift for my guest, a token of appreciation for being such wonderful guests; a thank you note, a small bag of good chocolates, or a jar of homemade jam. Let’s face it we are not the only ones who like to entertain but our friends choose our home to gather… Let them know how much you love them. This Thanksgiving each of my guest will be taking home a jar of homemade Bourbon Pecans.
I am often torn as to whether it is acceptable to take help from dinner guests. When a host stops entertaining to tend to dishes and/or cleaning, this signals guests that the party is over. However, during holiday gatherings I feel that it is perfectly acceptable to take help from close friend or family. Make it fun! Turn the music up, dance in the kitchen while you scrub those dishes and clear the dinner table. But ALWAYS REMEMBER… quality time with guests comes before the mess.
What are some of your best dinner party tips?
Romans Twelve Thirteen