The phrase ‘dinner party’ can both strike fear into the hearts of those who hate hosting, or conjure imagery of perfectly set tables, floral arrangements that would likely bankrupt you and a plethora of entrées set to impress dinner guests in a way that elevates the host to champion status for the evening. All sounds nice. All sounds unrealistic.
Dinner parties are also not necessarily synonymous with your 20s, the decade of existence in which you are predicted to be the opposite of hosting material. Yet here I am, a 20-something-year-old person who would rather force people into my home to consume food and alcohol than venture into the night on the hunt for a sweaty body to dance up against. And given the social-distancing restrictions currently in place due to the coronavirus, having people over for food is one of the only ways we can socialise right now
In light of this, and because I truly believe there is a way to have people over for dinner without having a ‘dinner party’ (and without robbing you of your money and an entire day’s worth of prep, which is deranged), here is a guide to successfully having people, over minus the above.
When it comes to guests, the pressure of making sure everyone has a good time together is perhaps paramount to your success. An easy way of avoiding any opinion mishaps or general bad vibes is inviting only people you are well acquainted with, and who are well acquainted with one another. The idea that you should be running around cooking a three course meal, making sure everyone has wine, focussing on not burning your home down AND making sure everyone is having a good time is ludicrous. Save time and energy and just invite pals.
If you’re a competent cook, go for your life. But, even if you are, don’t make it harder than necessary to impress. You’d be surprised how excited people get by the mere prospect of being cooked for, so whipping up a salmon mousse probably isn’t essential. Wonderful things can be born out of good parmesan and a packet of pasta. Carb loading to me feels more important than overly complex dishes when feeding a group, serve alongside a crunchy bitter salad and everyone will be happy, especially you.
I recently watched a video where dinner party napkins were sourced from a fabric store and then cut into serviette-like shapes in preparation, which seemed like an extraordinary length to go to. Save time by purchasing chic cotton tea towels that you would genuinely use and repurpose on the dinner table for a timeless and rustic but ‘I have my shit together enough to own napkins’ approach. As for the rest, candles that can be burned multiple times are a great sub for overpriced floral arrangements, as are oranges and lemons down the middle for a European vibe and juice the morning after.
It may seem counter-intuitive, since there is weird stigma about dinner party hosts doing the absolute most on their absolute own, but I would consider binning this idea and letting your friends bring along extra ingredients (like wine or something for dessert). Giving people jobs, particularly if they aren’t super into small talk, can be sweet relief for some. This doesn’t mean cracking the whip and putting your guests to work, but if someone offers, graciously accept the help.
The last tip: this should not be a stressful experience, this should be a fun, relaxing evening of eating and drinking around a table with friends. If any signs point toward unpleasant, do not venture down that road. Substitute with what feels good and remember that with enough wine anything looks / tastes / feels good.