I throw a dinner party a few times a year, and at least once during the summer. This year's event was last night. (And no, it wasn't as involved as Babette's! Still, that's a great movie to watch before you feed people!)
When I say "dinner party", it's not like a Downton dinner party. (Does anyone have those, anymore, other than the queen?) It's much more casual. For one thing, my house is small, and my dining table is even smaller. I have four chairs, so that's how many people I can have for a dinner party. A party, sans dinner, can be more people, but not that many. (I only have so many spots where people can sit that aren't the floor.)
This one was a bit impromptu, but here's the menu:
Fried Onion Dip with Kettle Chips
Green salad with French Vinaigrette
Lemon chicken with cherry herb tomatoes
strawberries, cookies, and vanilla ice cream
One of the things I've learned over the years is not to make everything for a party. You'll see the dessert is all store-bought things that I can make fancy.
I also plan out how things are going to go. The onion dip needed time in the fridge, and was also the most labor intensive, so I made that first. The chicken needed not only to cook, but to rest for 15 minutes once it was out of the oven. The salad could be made two hours ahead and left to sit at room temp until serving time. The tomatoes can also be served at room temperature, and will be made closer to dinner time. Nothing needs to cook in the same space (i.e., the oven) at the same time. (And yes, I deleted things from the plan as needed!)
I don't mind finishing things up when people are here. That's what the onion dip is for. They can eat and talk and chat while I'm doing the last-minute things, but I like to keep it to one or two at the most last minute things. So, the tomatoes being rolled around in a skillet? That's fine. Doing the onion dip with people around? No. It involves clarified butter, chopping, frying onions--no. I don't want to do that when other people are around. I'll burn something or myself. Better to make that before!
I also cook things I know taste good and can be made in my kitchen. (That's important. This probably isn't the time to test a new Julia Child recipe that will require every mixing bowl you have.) The only "new" thing on this menu is the vinaigrette, and you really can't go wrong there, especially when it's an Ina Garten recipe.
As for drinks--I've noticed this can be a point of contention at dinner parties. I usually offer coffee and hot tea (loose and bagged, because I am a Queen of Tea), my homemade iced tea, and a soda. Sometimes we have wine, and I usually have some sort of diet soda around.
I ask people if they have any food allergies/severe dislikes before I go shopping for the food. I don't want to kill anyone (obviously), and if people have a special diet, I can accommodate it (usually). For example, I'm not supposed to eat a diet high in carbohydrates, so if you have a dinner for me that's all pizza and pasta, I will eat it (because I love it), but it's not the best thing for me to eat. Ideally, I want people to enjoy the meal I'm making for them, and not eat it only because they're too polite to not! And, I'm Italian. Feeding people feeds my hospitable soul! I want them to be happy!
Last planning tip: When you do as much prep as you can before the party, be sure to run the dishwasher too. It always helps to start with everything clean when the guests arrive, at least as much as possible, and an empty (as much as possible) dishwasher.
If you don't usually throw dinner parties, I invite you to do it before summer's over, because this is really the easiest time of year to do it. You can grill! Toss some burgers and brats or whatever on the grill and let it go. Grab some tomatoes from the market (or even better, the farmers' market!) and serve them with mozzarella slices. Make some sangria and serve ice cream sundaes for dessert.
How do you like to entertain? Game nights, dinner parties, bowling parties? Do you have any good party hosting tips?
(Also: have you entered the giveaway yet?)