I posted this originally a few years ago but thought it might be a good time to re-share, especially if you had planned to get back into your entertaining mojo in 2017. I know that entertaining can be quite overwhelming for people: what to cook, serve, decorate, the pre-clean up and post clean up, kids…surely going out somewhere is easier?
Well it can be. But for me, I just LOVE it. I LOVE IT. I grew up with my Mum always doing it, listening to my parents entertain from my bedroom at night and waking up to spilling ash trays, empty wine glasses and trashed tablecloths. We always had friends or family around our table: our home always filled with people, so it’s what I always aim to do with my own family and home.
If you want to start to get into entertaining, or get your mojo back again, here are some of my tips that might be useful for you. Instead of thinking of it as a BIG deal and a “dinner party”, I really just mean a dinner for friends. How hard is that?! Not very. Sometimes it can be a little fancy, but most of the time you just need to think of it as an extension of your family dinner. I’ve hosted a few in my time mostly because there is nothing I love more than cooking for friends and family maybe except eating good food and drinking wine…which I can do when hosting people over for dinner!
Now there is nothing to get intimidated about when hosting dinner/lunch whatever meal it is. Remember, that this is the same as cooking for your family any night of the week. Except maybe with a few extra bits thrown in. You need to eat something. Drink something. Sit around something. And that’s it! Planning makes things easier – even if it just gives you some direction and areas to focus on. Here’s how I do it.
Not every dinner needs to have a theme but I like to come up with a ‘rough’ theme. Something like “casual BBQ” or even to a “Spring garden party” or “Retro dinner” or “Mexican”. Once you have a theme this will help you work out the food and drink that you will serve and how you will decorate. Remember: Something to eat, drink, and something to sit at. Here are a few tables that I have set with a rough “theme”. A Spring garden party that meant LOADS of spring flowers, colour and a light menu that we hosted for Fathers Day. A retro 70’s dinner party that I hosted for Mrs Woog’s 40th birthday party in winter last year – I went retro with the food AND decorations and then a simple classic white table for dinner – simple white flowers and napkins and a simple classic dinner menu like beef bourginon and red wine. A basic theme will help you work out the other bits and make the whole thing not seem so overwhelming.
While most dinners will include wine, wine and more wine (well the kind of dinners that I host at least) it can be a nice idea to start the party off with something else. Champagne/Prosecco/any kind of bubbles are ALWAYS called for when people first arrive, as is a signature cocktail if you are going to be REALLY fancy and make an effort. A mojito will set the tone for a casual mexican BBQ or a bellini for a lunch time gathering. There are endless choices for you – but a cocktail or champagne to start with, followed by wine for entrees/main and even a dessert wine are a nice touch and will always make your guests feel like you have gone to trouble. For non alcoholic drinks make sure you have plenty of mineral water/soda water on hand. A jug of water on the table is a must have so that people keep their water in take up and also for the designated driver. Throw in some mint leaves and limes/lemon and you’ll be considered fancy (when in fact it took you 3.4 seconds to do). As the person hosting the soiree/party/lunch you have to make sure that you keep an eye on everyone’s drinks and ensure that they are filled (water/wine/champagne) whatever it may be….try and be one step ahead and make sure no one is ever waiting for a drink. Boring yes, but it shows that you CARE. And you do right? Why else would you ask people over for dinner?
Your choice of food will determine the kind of effort you need to go to. A casual BBQ will mean that it’s an all in the middle of the table help yourself type scenario. A 3 course number might mean that you plate up in the kitchen and bring them in (always make sure that you wait until everyone is finished eating and then swoop that shit away before people can even think about it). Whatever it is you decide to do, just have a crack. One thing I have learnt through the years is that people are so grateful to be asked somewhere, and have someone else cook for them that they really won’t care less what you serve them (especially any chefs/cooks that you may have as a guest). Any kind of meal cooked in your home, made with love will be delicious. It just will. Get people to bring a plate if you like…whack it all on the table and help themselves…any which way will be appreciated…promise! If I have made something like a lasagne or a big bowl of pasta that goes on the table I make sure as the host that I serve everyone up (you will have a good idea of how much everyone needs to get) and it will make it easier for everyone else. It can be your Martha Stewart moment to shine! Make sure you have something (anything) to nibble on the start (with drinks). Cheese (always a good choice as you can bring it back out for round two post dessert), crackers, nuts, packet of chips tipped into a bowl…anything to sate hunger before the main game.
There are some other things to think about. Are you going to clean as you go or dump in the kitchen and deal with it all later? The dump/later method always seems to happen to me when I am hosting a fancier type thing and it’s never recommended. Clean as you go is far better – even a mid party dishy run for the glasses & dishes with the bigger washing up items left until everyone leaves. No one wants you to spend too much time cleaning (it makes people feel bad) but a quick stack of the dishy and pile/rinse of the bigger stuff will help at the end.
Make sure before people get there you are as cleaned up as you can be. Any prep stuff should be washed and away (you don’t need any extra stuff to do, you’ll have enough). Have that dishy unpacked and empty (no one can help stack if they need to unpack clean stuff that they don’t know where to put away to). And make sure that kitchen bin is empty…you don’t need to do a bin run, or have guests helping stack and rinse if they have to scrape leftovers into an overflowing bin.
Steer clear of politics & religion – an age old saying that exists because it’s true! Or don’t…go for it and watch the shit hit the fan – that’s always fun too.
Make sure you have music playing in the background all night long – mix it up during the evening, just make sure that it keeps on running.
Fancy dinner party = linen napkins. Anything other than that paper is OK but if you have linen, use them. As with your fancy dinnerware/glasses. Get that shit out of the cupboard…that’s why you got it/were given it in the first place. A name card can be fun too – sorts out the problem of people asking where they should sit. And candles are a MUST. Throw as many onto the table as you can – makes the food/setting/guests look better than they actually do!
I know there are a million things I have forgotten but this is a good start. I cannot recommend enough the joy of having people that you love over around your dinner table for a meal. Fancy or casual, showing people that you care is as simple as filling their glass and plate and giving them somewhere to sit and talk. And laugh. ALL of my very best memories as an adult are around our dining table or at others. If home is where the heart is, then the kitchen/dining table is where my soul is.
Are you a fan of entertaining at home?
Wanting to get into it more in 2017?
Got any good tips you’d like to share with us?