Do you like dinner parties? I love dinner parties. Though we don’t do it nearly enough, I love having friends over and looking after them for an evening with good food and hospitality. A dinner party is an amazing way to show some love. And NOTHING says “I am a legit card-carrying adult” more than a kick-ass dinner party.
When I was a kid, my parents sometimes had dinner parties. Although I was generally in bed before the guests even arrived, there was a different vibe in the air. I could smell the food and the wine, and once the dining room table was filled with their friends, I would fall asleep happily listening to the sounds of life in our home. Occasionally I would even find a reason to sneak out – a glass of water, or “trouble falling asleep” – just so I could see everyone sitting around the table for a moment. It’s a fond memory, which is pretty weird considering it’s not a memory I was even involved in, but there you go.
When I moved out of my parents’ home and into my own, one of the things I was most excited about was hosting my own dinner parties. Dinner parties can be intimidating though, and I quickly realised that a good dinner party is more than just cooking a meal. A good dinner party is an experience. From the moment my guests walk through the door, I want them to feel that the night is going to be special. In years to come, I want people to fondly remember dinner parties at the Donovans’.
Here are my top tips for hosting the ultimate dinner party:
Have Your Guests Come Empty-Handed
If your guests are super keen to bring a nice bottle of wine, let them, but if they ask the standard question “What shall we bring?” surprise them by waving them off and letting them know they can just bring themselves. It really adds to the hospitality of the evening and makes them feel looked-after.
If you can, try to avoid having the main, bright dining room lights lit. We have a feature light that hangs above our table, and as it’s a bit dim by itself we add a bit more light with lamps, candles and our above-sink pendant lights in the nearby kitchen, rather than opting to switch on the main lights. A darker room sets a nicer mood – and as a bonus, it also hides the fact that you forgot to dust the buffet!
Pump some tunes
Your dinner party doesn’t need a complex rise-and-fall 4-hour playlist, but it does need the little oomph that only background tunes can provide. Select a couple of chill, acoustic albums and play them on a loop – nobody will really mind when they hear Gabrielle Aplin’s “Please Don’t Say You Love Me” for the third time… unless they just really hate Gabrielle Aplin.
A small starter
When your guests arrive, ease them into the evening gently (and tastily!) with something to snack on immediately while you put the final touches on the main meal. It doesn’t have to be a big effort – a carefully selected fancy cheese with some artisan crackers sitting prettily on a wooden board is an amazing way to start an evening off right.
Consider the details
Make sure the butter is soft and the drinks are chilled. Have a good stock of ice cubes ready to go in the freezer. Buy a nice, crusty loaf of bread in the morning. Sprinkle some sunflower seeds in the salad. These little details don’t take a lot of work, but really add a nice touch to your affair.
Cook what makes you comfortable
It can be tempting to bust out that fancy French recipe book to impress your friends, and if you are a confident cook, then by all means go crazy! But the last thing you want to do is offer yourself as a frazzled, stressed-out host when your friends arrive and things aren’t going to plan in the kitchen. Want to know the big secret of a successful dinner party? The food is secondary to the connections made. So if all you can really cook confidently is pasta in a sauce straight out of the jar, that is so fine. I guarantee your guests will simply appreciate being invited to your home to have a meal with you.
Buuuut if your heart is set on trying your hand at a cassoulet au canard, practise the recipe once or twice before your party so that by the time the day rolls around, you will be confident in your ability to get it just right.
End the night well
Go to a nice deli or market and stock up on a small selection of fancy loose-leaf teas to offer alongside the standard earl grey. Tea lasts for ages, so this is an investment that will keep you stocked for many dinner parties to come! I have a friend who doesn’t even drink tea but has a beautiful tea box housing a lovely selection of teas just for guests. Make sure you have coffee available too – both regular and decaf. If you’re a scotch enthusiast, offer your guests a night cap in a nice tumbler. These offerings post-dessert at the end of an amazing night will leave your guests feeling warm and cozy as they drive home.
Bonus tip: try some of our recipes!
I may be biased, but I think we have some pretty amazing recipes at Her Happy Heart! So if you’re struggling for inspiration on what to cook, try some of our ideas:
- Chicken nacho pie with a cheesy jalapeno crust
- Sweet potato, feta & nut salad
- Spicy & cheesy Mexican lasagna
- Roasted pumpkin soup
- Whole mushroom quiche
- Baked maple chicken with pecan & prosciutto crumble
- Roasted red capsicum risotto with feta and pancetta
- Chive and parmesan crumbed lamb cutlets
And for dessert:
- Muffin bottom pie
- Party stuffed mini croissants
- Raspberry chocolate pocket brownies with balsamic mascarpone
Just whatever you do, don’t serve your guests custard tea. Unless you don’t want them to like you any more.