Easy ways to throw a flawless dinner party

Dinner parties can be a lot of fun, but hosts can easily get overwhelmed by the organization and the pressure of making everyone feel comfortable. Follow these tips for a perfect, stress-free evening.

Easy ways to throw a flawless dinner party

Throwing an easy dinner party

There are two vital ground rules for a smooth-running dinner party: plan ahead and don't over-reach yourself.

  • Invite no more people than your table can accommodate. Six is a good number (including yourself) that facilitates round-the-table conversation. Eight is a sensible maximum number.
  • Ask in advance if your guests are vegetarian, or have special dietary requirements (a polite guest will volunteer this information, rather than turn up and say they can't eat your food).
  • Plan your menu so that it's full of contrasts: meat starter, fish main; rich main, light dessert; no more than one spicy course. Avoid repetition: a creamy chicken casserole followed by a cream pudding, say, or a steak pie followed by an apple pie.
  • Choose tried-and-tested recipes that you know you can get right on the night. Don't treat your guests as guinea pigs for culinary experimentation.
  • Serve one course that you can prepare entirely in advance – a chilled pudding, for example. You don't want to neglect your guests while you slave away at the stove. Avoid dishes such as individual steaks that require last-minute attention.
  • Make sure there are enough drinks; don't rely on guests to bring a bottle. As a rule, keep white wine chilled, allow red wine to breathe and be sure to provide a soft drink alternative as well as water.
  • Above all, be attentive to your guests. Making them feel at home and at ease is at least as important as the food you put on the table.

Getting table manners right

Good table manners are mostly a matter of simple courtesy. Don't do anything to offend your hosts or spoil the meal for your fellow diners.

  • Never start to eat until everyone at the table has been served.
  • Be alert to the needs of fellow diners and offer to pass sauces, condiments or other dishes without being asked.
  • If you feel out of your depth at a formal dinner, follow the lead of the host, and if the port comes out at the end of the meal, remember the golden rule is to pass it clockwise round the table – or to the left.

Keep the conversation flowing

  • Conversing is as important as eating, so never take a mouthful larger than you can swallow quickly. You need to be able to reply if someone addresses a remark to you. Never speak with your mouth full.
  • Talk to the diners on either side of you, giving them equal attention. Don't shout across the table or dominate the conversation, but listen attentively, ask relevant leading questions and steering clear of controversial topics that could cause offence.
  • Praise the host on the food in a meaningful way. "This is lovely" isn't much of a compliment. "Wonderful flavours – is that tarragon I can taste?" will please your host, and is a good conversational gambit.

Dinner parties have never been more enjoyable! Keen these tips in mind the next time you host (or attend) a dinner party to create a memorable evening.

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