Food isn’t just an essential part of survival. It can be the reason we sit down together. Food can be part of a special event or ritual. It can even be fun, silly, romantic or intimate. When you invite someone special for dinner, you want the food to be special too. You might go to a lot of effort to source the right ingredients, prepare the food, and serve an amazing meal your guests will talk about for weeks. So where do you start?
While dining is a marvelous social activity, food can sometimes be a source of stress and worry. Whether you have a healthy relationship with food yourself or not, your guests may have their own concerns. Special diets that restrict the intake of particular food groups aren’t difficult to cater for if you arm yourself with good recipes. Sometimes ingredients need to be swapped out. It’s up to you to ensure food intolerances and sensitivities aren’t problematic.
The more closely you know your special guests, the better. There are many religious and cultural reasons for avoiding certain foods as well. We’re all different, but it’s often best to consider your guest’s needs over your own. Good hospitality is a huge part of entertaining friends, family, clients, and colleagues. There are plenty of rules regarding the etiquette of welcoming guests into your home. That doesn’t mean you have to follow them!
Many dinner parties start with the guests relaxing in the living room before being seated at the dining table. There’s no need to stick with this expectation, but if you do, why not serve some refreshments? Appetizers are traditionally small bites of carefully constructed ingredients to be consumed together. These pre-dinner bites should be very small – certainly less than a mouthful. It’s common to serve enough for one or two per person in the room. The guests take them from the plate and pop them in their mouth. This is why things like mini bruschetta tarts, caviar cucumber rounds, and spiced olives can be perfect.
Drinks are also often served. You’ll get an idea who is drinking alcohol and who isn’t so you can better prepare the glasses at the table too. Offer alcohol-free wines and lagers as well. Many people believe alcohol in wine, and other beverages, aid digestion and brings out the flavor of the food. However, it simply isn’t a healthy drink to consume for others. Do you like the idea of experimenting with homemade cocktail recipes? Why not offer virgin cocktails and alcohol-free punch too?
It’s up to you how long you choose to mingle with guests before serving dinner. Many dinner party hosts and hostesses make use of their open-plan living areas. They can continue to speak with the guests as they finish cooking. Of course, if you’re a nervous chef, you might not like the idea of being watched as you prepare the food! Anyone who has a couple of cooking tricks up their sleeve might revel in the opportunity to show off a little, though. Starters are often served before the main course. You might be keen to offer a couple of options here.
Fruit salads are quite popular. You can cut and display a fan of honeydew melon with a garnish of strawberry. In the winter, a warming soup might be ideal. Smooth soups are most commonly served as a starter, whether they are hot or cold. Be sure to get your hand-blitzer to them! Goat’s cheese tart has made a bit of a comeback in recent years as a popular starter too. However, you can feel a little ‘cheesed-out’ if you’re planning on a cheese board at the end of the meal too!
Drinks tend to be free-flowing throughout the time spent at the dining table. If you don’t want to keep getting up to tend to drinks, try to prepare the table, so there is room for the bottles and water jugs. A sideboard in the dining room could make a handy second surface for these items. When you entertain at home, it’s unlikely you’ll change the cutlery and glassware for each course. All of these might be on the table already during the starter course.
There are so many fabulous choices here. Homely family favorites like a vegetarian butternut squash lasagne? Maybe more exquisite seafood and meat dishes? You’ll find some real crowd pleasing recipes just by browsing online. It’s a lot of work to prepare two different choices. Some guests may feel uncomfortable eating something different from the others as well. Try to find one dish that serves all tastes. It’s not always easy, but with plenty of choices, you should succeed.
Seafood is still considered a wonderful food for entertaining. Many people worry about preparing it though, as it isn’t the type of food we often have. There is a danger of illness if fish and seafood are not cleaned, prepared, and cooked properly. Why not look at websites like https://www.citarella.com/shop/lobsters-shrimp to see what options you might have for serving up a wonderful seafood treat for your guests?
Perhaps the most popular meat for a dinner party is chicken. It may seem boring, but there are endless options for creating a wide variety of interesting dishes. Chicken can be roasted and served with roasted vegetables and potatoes. This is quite a healthy dish to offer, and guests can serve themselves from a choice of different vegetables. It would suit those on special diets looking for less fatty or sugar-free options and is very low in carbohydrates as well if they skip the potatoes.
Chicken also accompanies pasta very well. Linguine or fusilli are ideal for dinner parties. Have you ever made fresh pasta? If you’re a little worried how it might turn out, have a go at hand-cutting ravioli. You can add crab meat as well as the chicken to these little parcels. When it comes to pasta, it’s all about the sauce. Vegetarian options are very easy too. Make your own sauce by blitzing herbs and vegetables in your blender. Passata can be a helpful cheat here!
Nut roasts can be full of flavor and wonderful textures, so don’t be afraid to tackle this even if you have no vegetarians to dinner! Meat substitutes like tofu aren’t always as popular, but these can also be wonderful in pasta bakes. Don’t forget you’re eating too. It’s important you enjoy yourself as much as all the other guests.
Of course, if your setting is for a romantic dinner for two, your meal may a little more elaborately presented than a pasta bake. Carefully dress the meats. Consider the layout of the vegetables to offer that something special for your someone special. Maybe you will choose finger foods? Why not pick rich flavors and tantalizing textures to enhance your meal even more?
Not everyone will want a sweet dish. You might place the cheese boards and coffees on the table at the same time as a dessert. Of course, if you’re keen to impress, having these as additional courses can help elongate the evening. For dessert, rich, sumptuous treats are very popular. Cheesecakes, tiramisu, and chocolate puddings can be very tempting. You might also offer prepared fruit, homemade frozen yogurts, or a hearty apple pie.
It’s not unusual for the pace to slow at this point. Don’t be afraid to take a twenty-minute break after finishing the main course. You all need time for that wonderful food to settle before adding more! The conversation has probably warmed up by now too. You might have some music playing in the background, and the lights may have dimmed somewhat. Make sure there is fresh air coming into the room. It aids digestion and prevents your dining area feeling stuffy.
Desserts, especially puddings and cakes, are served per portion. You might want to cut the cake or pie in the kitchen and then bring the plates or dishes for each diner. If you have sauces or creams to offer, bring that for the guests to self-serve. Couples often like to share rich desserts. Provide a choice of dessert forks and spoons for each guest.
Serving cognac or brandy after a heavy meal isn’t as popular as it once was. Still, you might be keen to impress a guest, and a little warming turns a good drink into a great one. Some people say to warm the glass (run it through the dishwasher then pull it out and serve straight from the cycle). Others say to heat the brandy on the stove a little. Be careful!
Coffees late in the evening aren’t always ideal, so make sure you have decaf or tea available too. Cheeseboards are often served with a wide variety of crackers or bread. They’re all placed on the table and guests serve themselves, cutting their own cheese choices.
By the end of the evening, you may be quite tired and left facing a big cleanup job. Try to load your dishwasher as you go so you can finish more quickly. You’ll probably want to spend the last few minutes of the evening with your guests. Retire to the sofa and chat a while. You can always tidy up in the morning.