Four Rules to Having Friends for Dinner – and Enjoying Yourself
If you follow these four simple rules, you'll never be crying in the kitchen again.
by Erin Henderson
I prefer to have people over than go out.
Even on my birthday or another celebratory occasion I would rather invite people to my house and cook for them.
You’d think with what I do for a living I’d want to be out all the time, exploring new restaurants and sampling new bars. Perhaps it’s because my job keeps me out so much, that I prefer the quiet nights in, gathering the people I care about most around my table and feeding them.
Admittedly, it wasn’t always this way. In the early days, when I didn’t know a clove from a bulb of garlic, or that a butternut squash tastes better when peeled, hosting dinner parties was more an exercise in stress management than a festive evening of fun. But I figured out a few things – how to peel a butternut squash chief among them.
Now in my second decade of hosting various fetes, both professionally and personally, there are many invaluable tidbits I’ve picked up along the way to ensure I have as much fun as my guests. But these four are the rules I never, ever break.
Fail to Plan, and You Plan to Fail
This probably shocks absolutely no one. Long-time newsletter subscribers know I am a planner, and lists make me happy.
I know this sounds like more work, but it’s actually less.
By creating a list of everything that needs to be done ahead of time – literally from soup to nuts – you eliminate the day-of stress, so you are cool, calm, and collected.
In the words of our Culinary Patron Saint, Ina Garten, no one is going to have more fun if you made it all yourself.
Grab a dessert from a fabulous bakery, pick up the soup from a favourite delicatessen, heck, buy an already roasted chicken from the grocery store. Do what you need to free yourself up from the chains of the kitchen.
Everyone’s had that awkward experience where you show up at someone’s house and they hurriedly open the door, say hi, and tell you to help yourselves to the bar, while they run back to the kitchen where they remain for the next hour. When friends come over, they’re there to see you, not talk amongst themselves in your living room.
Make It Ahead of Time
I always, always do this.
As part of my list making, I set a menu that’s going to allow for the majority items to be completed ahead of time and either rewarmed in the oven or served room temperature.
Make ahead saves time and stress.
Perhaps because I cannot plate with the artistry of a chef, I much prefer the casual, inviting nature of piling foods on platters and in bowls and letting everyone serve themselves.
Family style serving takes the fuss out of dining and allows everyone to unabashedly take as much or as little as they’d like without feeling self-conscious.
Read more from our blog for some ideas and recipes for your next dinner party:
Poached Shrimp with Easy Lemon Aioli
Warm Citrus and Herb Olives
Casseroles Make for Easy Entertaining
Turkey & Corn Chowder