Those words are enough to send dread through the hearts of many.
I get it. There’s a lot of planning and preparation involved. Not to mention getting the house ready.
When I was single, I fantasized about being a socialite who could entertain her husband’s important clients or host fancy dinner parties at a moment’s notice. Something about gathering people in a well-decorated dining room with flickering candles and fancy food seemed so appealing, so romantic.
But, in hurrying through those hectic to-do lists and during the evenings when I strived to be the perfect hostess, I learned neither of those are what hospitality is about. No one cares what your house looks like, or what you serve. The host isn’t supposed to be the center of attention. The more those lessons have sunk in, the more I’ve discovered the magic of hospitality.
Fail Proof Tips for Hosting a Casual Dinner Party
The Guest List
Hospitality Tip: Know yourself. For example, as an introvert, the only time I can host a big crowd is when it is family. Otherwise, I like to keep the party small with no more than six guests. Eight if I’m feeling extroverted. Taking your needs (and limitations) into consideration will help you relax which is important for making your guests feel welcome.
One of the simplest ways to put make your guests feel comfortable is to create a guest list of people who would enjoy each other’s company. For this occasion, the guest list included:
Matt’s counseling supervisor for the past two years and his adorable wife, Nicole, my friend Kathy, and her husband, George, and Matt and I rounded out the party to six.
Before the Dinner Party
Dinner Party Tip: It’s a good idea to do as much before the day of the party as possible so you can be relaxed enough to focus on your guests. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. Delegate if you need to. Have groceries delivered. Hire someone to clean the house or mow the yard. The goal is to be ready, mentally and emotionally, so you can be fully present for your guests.
Normally, I set the table the day before so that I can focus on food the day of the party, but this time, I did it the same day. Waiting ’til the last-minute. But, I did hire someone to clean the common areas and the guest bathroom which freed me to concentrate on tablescapes and food preparation. I asked Matt to make the tea, set up drink stations, and make a last-minute grocery trip.
Something to note: Sometimes your guests will ask if they can bring anything. I usually answer one of four ways:
- I reply, “just yourselves” if it’s a simple menu
- Suggest they BYOB if our budget is running tight
- Ask them to bring dessert since I don’t have many dessert recipes in my repertoire
- Ask them to bring appetizers if I know they’re usually first to arrive which allows me to focus my efforts on the main entrée.
Dinner Party Tip: The most important (and beautiful) part of any table setting is the guests. So, use what you have, even if that means mixing and matching plates, placemats or napkins, to make sure they have what they need to enjoy the meal.
For this occasion, I used my grandmother’s white ironstone plates, clear water goblets I’ve had for years, the same basic utensils we use everyday, and a set of wrinkled, monogrammed napkins to set the table. Perfectly, imperfect.
The centerpiece was a very simple flower arrangement I’d made for the mantel during Christmas and kept to transition into Spring. I scattered wine corks, votive candles and bird statues along the table runner to create an airy, Spring-like mood.
A self-serve wine station with an ice bucket, wine glasses and a wine opener was set up in the living room.
Our Dinner Party Menu
Dinner Party Tip: Take your guests dietary needs into account when planning a meal.
On this particular night, Kathy was sharing the three P’s of healthy menu planning and meal prepping, so I wanted my menu to reflect those P’s, so I stepped out on a limb and tried some new recipes.
Since I was cooking a couple of recipes for the first time, I bought ready-made appetizers for ease of mind and simplicity.
- Egg Rolls & Lettuce Wraps
- Vegetable Stir-Fry served over Quinoa
Beverages we provided
- Water & Unsweet tea
Beverages guests provided
- Sparkling Water
- Red Wine
- White Wine
About fifteen minutes before our guests were due to arrive, we selected a playlist and lit unscented candles to set a festive mood.
Dinner Party Tip: Select a music genre the general crowd will enjoy. I’ve found your can’t go wrong with jazz.
Dinner Party Tip: Answering the door and welcoming your friends into your home will make your guests feel extra special. If I’m not quite ready to receive guests, I delegate to Matt or Hannah.
As our friends arrived, we showed them where to put their belongings and where to put the beverages they brought. It wasn’t long before everyone was gathered, and we were sipping wine while Kathy shared her expertise with us.
While my guests chatted over appetizers, I made the sauces for the lettuce wraps and stir fry.
I have a tendency to add ingredients as I read the ingredient list which sometimes means I add something that wasn’t really a part of the recipe. Like the cooking oil. No sooner than I’d poured the oil into the sauce, did I realize it was not part of the sauce recipe. I didn’t tell anyone and just kept cooking.
I poured the chicken mixture in a serving bowl and plated it on a tray of lettuce leaves that had been prepared ahead of time. The lettuce wraps were a big hit, extra oil and all!
While they ate, I prepared the stir fry. Cooking while everyone was gathered around in the kitchen, visiting and getting to know one another set a very warm, casual atmosphere that I couldn’t have planned.
Once dinner was ready, everyone served themselves buffet style. Then, we made our way to the dining room where the conversation continued as we sat around the table eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s company. It was like a scene from my twenty-year-old imagination, only better, as I delighted in the joy of good friends and the magic of hospitality.
It was perfectly imperfect.
Wishing you the joy of radical hospitality,