Preparing to host guests for dinner can feel overwhelming, so here's a detailed plan to help!
For a dinner party to be a success and for guests to remember the occasion fondly and want to come back again, organization is paramount. So here are some tips as well as a time line to avoid spending too much time in the kitchen or endless trips to the grocery store.
Day 10: Choose simple recipes
There’s no lack of menus on the internet or in cookbooks, but don’t wait until D-Day to start experimenting. Better to choose a recipe you know well to avoid last minute stress and disappointments. If you’re not at home in the kitchen, a food processor can be an ally. Or if you have a little space in your yard and the weather is favorable, plan a barbecue or an outdoor picnic!
Day 7: Always do your shopping ahead of time
It’s a good idea to avoid the need to run to the corner shop for cake ingredients right before your guest arrive. If need be, make a list of all the food to buy (remember things like drinks, decorations, candles, napkins, and tablecloths).
Day 3: A beautiful table goes a long way
A decorated table shows your guests you’ve been looking forward to their visit. It reveals the hosts’ talents as well as their taste. A few ideas: a floral centerpiece, a theme (for example in fall, decorate the table with leaves). And don’t forget candles. Other simple ideas: knife-rests (little bits of wood, shells, cinnamon sticks, candies, etc.), napkins tied in pretty ribbons, an assortment of bread rolls. It need not be too elaborate; the main thing is harmony, even if you’re using paper plates and napkins. Whatever your style of table decoration, or the number of guests, check that you’ve got enough plates, glasses, and cutlery.
Day 2: The freezer is your best friend
One-dish meals are very practical. Don’t be afraid to prepare them in advance: they always taste better reheated. Also think about using your freezer. You can always freeze sweet or savory tarts or a homemade cake. Ice cream has the advantage of being ready-made and can cover up any flaws in a less than perfect dessert.
Day 1: Plan at least one course you can make the night before
You can do this with many appetizers and desserts: tiramisu, cake, vegetable or fish terrines, patés. If you think you might be a little late home from work on the day, set the table the night before!
D-Day: God is in the details
For the most nervous among us, the day of the dinner gives rise to an electric atmosphere of repeated rehearsals. So get yourself organized. Write a list of things to do, get out the wine, prepare plates of nibbles, get the plates out ahead of time. If you’re organizing a more formal dinner, plan the seating arrangements as this will help the dinner to be a success.
Before your guests arrive, allow yourself a moment to tidy up the kitchen and get out the plates and utensils you’ll need. And then, why not offer up this whirlwind of activity for your guests by accompanying each task with a prayer?
In spite of the careful planning, it’s easy to forget something, but don’t make it a big deal: explain it with a laugh — that can add to the atmosphere, too!
Everyone has a role to play
Before the guests arrive, assign everyone in the family a role to play. Maybe your husband can take care of coats and offer drinks, your older children can pass around starters and keep the bread basket filled. If your guests are not close family or friends, don’t forget to fill your spouse in on who they are, or what subjects to avoid.
A warm welcome for late-comers
Welcoming and relaxed hosts—that’s what your guests are hoping for when they ring the doorbell. Introductions are essential. When you introduce someone, immediately point out what they have in common with the others (“This is so-and-so; his children go to the same school as yours”…).
Anything can be planned ahead, even the conversation
If guests you don’t know well are coming, think beforehand of what subjects to talk about. Try to brush up on current topics of interest.
The home stretch …
Once your guests have gone home, get the whole family involved in clearing the table and tidying up as much as possible. If the tablecloth and napkins are stained, put them in to soak in cold water right away as it will be easier to get them clean the next day. Tidying up before you head to bed makes for a more a peaceful morning!