There is nothing worse than feeling like you are missing out on your own party because you are stuck frantically prepping dinner while laughter is happening in another room. Carol’s brilliant suggestion to forego cooking altogether in favour of ordering in is a sure way to make sure that no-one misses out on the fun because they’re doing all the work, but if you do decide to host and cook, don’t martyr yourself to the cause. There are lots of ways to maximize your time with your guests and minimize your time in the kitchen during and after the party.
Plan the main course before you send out the invitations. You don’t have to have all the details down, but if you have this planned, the details can fall into place around it.
Plan a menu that will allow you to make all or all but one of your dishes ahead of time. Do all of the prep before guests arrive. You want to be sitting and relaxing with your guests, not juggling the preparation of several courses in the kitchen. Serve a soup for the first course so it can be made ahead of time and simply heated before being served; roast rather than steam the vegetables so that they can be cooking in a less time-sensitive way while you are chatting. Ignore tempting recipes that require your presence at the stove or the chopping board rather than with your guests.
Write down the menu and a timeline for cooking it. Then don’t forget to check it before serving dinner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten to serve something I’ve prepared because I forgot to check my list.
When guests ask if they can bring something, say yes! When they respond to the invitation and ask what they can bring, be ready with an answer. This is where the menu plan comes in handy. If you know what you will be serving as the main course, you can ask guests to bring something that will complement it. Hors d’oeuvres, salads, vegetables, side dishes and desserts are easy to delegate. People want to help. Let them.
I love to invent cocktails, and it’s fun to have a special drink for a dinner party, but it’s time consuming to measure and shake and pour individual cocktails. Serve a punch or simple stirred cocktail that can be made in a pitcher instead of something that has to be made in individual portions. Don’t forget to add any garnish prep time to the timeline.
If you are inviting kids, consider getting a table gift for each child or a new game or activity they can all collaborate on. Something like a small Lego set or a board game or puzzle will keep them occupied after dinner so that you can enjoy your meal for longer.
When guests ask if they can help clean up, say yes! Since you’ve done most of your cooking ahead of time, washing up will be mostly plates from dinner and not lots of pots and pans. Many hands make light work. Use them.
Relax and enjoy the meal and the company! See above re: martyrs, and don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.