How to Prepare for a Dinner Party Without Fuss

Dinner parties are a lovely way to entertain friends and family but the preparation and serving can cause the host to feel very overwhelmed sometimes, to the point where it can be hard to enjoy the occasion as it unfolds. To avoid never wanting to hold another dinner party again, here are some ideas to ensure that your dinner party runs smoothly and is relatively stress-free.


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    Plan well in advance. Planning will reduce a large amount of the stress. Use lists to detail what is needed and work in shopping visits, travel times, preparation times, storage areas for food prepared in advance and a detailed list of "what to do on the night". It is a also a very good idea to keep a record of your dinner parties so that former ones inform your next plans and make it easier to know what to do, as well as what to avoid.
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    Invite a reasonable amount of people, not a horde. Asking too many people is asking for trouble; you won't have time to talk to them all and you will find it hard to prepare for a large group of people on your own.
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    Ask about dietary preferences and requirements in advance. It is unpleasant for you and awkward for a guest who tells you at the last minute that they're allergic to your main course or that they're vegetarian and you've prepared nothing they can eat. Find out in advance and save yourself the worry. If their diet is so unusual for you that you're unsure what to do, consider asking them to bring along something that you can prepare along with everything else, or to provide you with the ingredients or a recipe in advance. People would prefer being asked than being left out.
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    Keep the table presentation simple. See Use Candles for Entertaining, Arrange a Place Setting for a Formal Dinner, for some ideas. Avoid making this aspect so challenging that you're fiddling with it at the last minute while also trying to deal with the food preparation. Set the table well in advance and add all arrangements early in the piece to remove this element of possible stress.
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    Plan a menu with prepare-ahead parts. Avoid making a menu that requires everything to be prepared and served immediately, or you will never leave the kitchen. This might be fine for restaurants with hordes of helpers but you (and possibly your partner) are it when holding a dinner party at home, so keep in mind that dishes which can be prepared in advance are a blessing. Desserts that can be made the day ahead are ideal (for example, ice cream, dessert pies, flans, mousse, etc.), as are elements of the main course that can be prepared hours earlier and simply reheated. In recipe books, look for the notation "can be prepared 'X hours' in advance".
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    Dress up simple to make it elegant. Instead of going over the top with food, go over the top with the presentation. Place a simple stewed fruit dessert into a glorious container, such as a pretty china teacup. The teacup will do all the hard work for you and the dessert will be enjoyed just as an elegant dessert because it's "dressed up".
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    Make space. There is nothing harder than preparing a dinner party in a small space where everything and everyone is underfoot. Here are some things to consider:
    • Get pets out of the way. A meandering cat or over-enthusiastic dog can be a real pest when working fast in a kitchen!
    • Ask children to keep kitchen visits to a minimum. It's a good idea to have meals for children prepared in advance and heated quickly if they're not actually participating in the dinner party. Have them eat off trays in the TV room or outdoors to keep the dining area tidy and clean.
    • Clear out the fridge in advance. This will ensure that you have plenty of space to put food in that has been made or purchased specifically for the dinner party.
    • Clean out the oven. Do this well in advance and ensure that all the oven shelves are placed at the right level before heating it for food cooking.
    • Clear away anything extrinsic to preparation on benches, kitchen table, etc.
    • As you work on each part of the meal, put away the ingredients and wash used bowls, utensils, etc. so that space isn't taken up and you have items for using for the next stage of cooking.
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    Use a timer to keep your time limits intact. Setting a timer will provide a good reminder to remove things from cooking and chilling, as well as helping to provide you with a sense of rhythm as you work.
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    Make a good first impression. Provided you greet everyone happily, and the place looks ready and buzzing with anticipation when your guests arrive, they'll fail to notice little mistakes during the rest of the night. Remember that most people are very supportive and very forgiving.
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    Relax. If you do the preparation work, everything will run smoothly and you can enjoy the rest of the event with peace of mind. If you are concerned about forgetting to do things during the occasion, write a list and pin it somewhere obvious. This can be your source of guidance if you forget what needs doing next. Cross off items already done if wished.


  • Consider playing gentle music in the background. Music can be a great soother as you are working through the preparation, or it can serve to give you the energy needed to work faster.
  • Common allergies to keep in mind include seafood (shellfish and crustaceans), fish, eggs, nuts, MSG, etc. Always ask for dietary issues to be included in the RSVP. Something simple such as: "Please inform of any allergies or dietary preferences when responding to this invitation" will suffice.
  • Make sure the guest will like the food.
  • Try not to order too much food. Too much food means you have to pay extra and there may be leftovers, which you'll have to store in the fridge and that takes up a lot of space. Ask guest in case of allergies or medical health issues.

Things You'll Need

  • Dinner party invitations
  • Table arrangements
  • Menu planned
  • Ingredients all purchased in advance, plus spares of essentials such as milk
  • A timer, if you have one
  • Space - be innovative if you don't have a lot of space; for example, a cutting board can sit across a second sink to provide you with extra preparation space

Article Info

Categories: Dinner Parties