I fantasize about throwing elaborate dinner parties all the time. Fun and funky themes like 1920s flapper, murder mystery night, a masquerade ball entice me as I conjure up decorations and food menus to wow my crowd of friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately, I rarely go to the lengths to make these elaborate themed dinner parties happen because even a regular old dinner party thrown by me ends up looking like a mad tea party without the intention. I stress over my guests having the best experience possible and wind up in a crazy frenzy that makes it difficult for me to enjoy the experience. Through the multiple high-anxiety, ultra chaotic dinner parties I have under my belt, I have discovered 10 commandments to make dinner parties less chaotic for any anxious hostess.
Invite the Right People
As a self-proclaimed people maximalist, I love nothing more than the idea of bringing a bunch of random people that I know together into a room and hoping vibrant conversations and new friendships result. While fun to imagine when you’re throwing a dinner party, this setup puts a lot of pressure on you to forge these conversations and relationships. I’ve found this to be exhausting, especially when different friends’ vibes don’t instantly mesh well together. Instead, it reduces stress to bring people together who already know and like each other, and it helps ensure your dinner party has the positive, unawkward atmosphere you strive to achieve.
Know your guests
Dietary restrictions. It’s 2021 and a lot of people have them. And that’s on top of certain people’s strong taste preferences and eating habits. While it’s impossible to cater to each and every person’s need and desire, do the best you can to select a menu that most people will be able to enjoy. This could mean that if one vegetarian guest can’t eat the planned Beef Wellington, serve plenty of vegetarian side dishes, or let your guests know your menu ahead of time. It’s impossible to please everyone perfectly, but making sure to plan your menu with each person in mind helps create a positive experience for everyone.
Another aspect of planning your menu strategically is picking foods you can prepare ahead of time: kabobs you can marinate, pasta salad that stays good in the fridge for a few hours, enchiladas that just need to be thrown in the oven. After prepping items on your menu as much as possible, clean the spaces your guests will inhabit. (Hide those skeletons in the closet, if possible!) That way, you will be cool-headed and ready to relax as soon as soon as your first guests ring the doorbell.
Find your wingwoman (or man)
Wing-women and men aren’t just for helping you make flirty introductions; they are also essential weapons for hosting a kickass, stress-free dinner party. I’ve found that inviting one of your good friends half an hour before the rest of your guests arrive can help make the finishing touches on your dinner party prep and reduce the chaos of crunch time. Also, having that close friend there before the other guests come helps alleviate the awkwardness and stress that occurs when others run late (as often happens!) They can help greet the other guests as they come (and when you’re putting the food in the oven, on the grill, etc.), which further promotes the establishment of good vibes from the get-go. And they can be the ones to notice that, yes, you actually forgot to turn on the oven even though those enchiladas have been in there for a good half hour already.
As a hostess, you willingly provide your space to your guests, and they are grateful for your effort. It takes a lot of work, and people recognize this! Often, they’re glad to be the ones provided for, so If you realize you missed a key ingredient at the last minute or your wine opener just broke, it’s okay to ask a close guest ahead of time to help out and bring the necessary item if possible. People are also often happy to bring desserts or wine, so if they offer to, don’t hesitate to accept their offerings!
Be a good guest to others
Part of being a good hostess is being a good guest to others, because people tend to reciprocate how you treat them. Dinner party guest best practices include confirming attendance (or cancelling in advance), arriving on time, bringing something (whether it’s wine, dessert, or side dish), and cleaning up your messes!
Be kind to yourself
At one dinner party a few months ago, I made penne alla vodka and was disappointed that it lacked the rich, cheesy flavor I had hoped for. I spent nearly the whole dinner criticizing my dish and apologizing to my guests, who reassured me that it was delicious. I was embarrassed by my less-than-perfect dish, even though my guests seemed pleased. From attending other dinner parties, I’ve realized just how nice it is to have someone host and cook for me. You are truly your harshest critic and pointing out where you might have missed only draws further attention to it!
There are very few things wine doesn’t make better, and dinner parties certainly aren’t the exception! Wine doesn’t need to be expensive to please, either. Making sure you have enough for everyone (that is, about three glasses per person to be safe, or about half a bottle- which some say is even a conservative estimate) is essential. Keep in mind how to pair wine with your menu so that it enhances the food and overall experience. (Our live and virtual musical tasting events and Pairing notes articles help teach you how to pair wines with different foods so that flavor profiles are harmonious!)
Have a Plan B (in case things go awry)
So, you completely burnt your perfect pork roast into ashes or your homemade bread failed to rise? Despite hours of planning and prepping, it’s frustrating when crazy things happen, but It’s definitely not the end of the world. If anything, you can play it up with a humorous joke to your guests! Planning for these scenarios helps avoid descending into chaos mode. Perhaps have a backup easy meal in mind (cheese quesadillas anyone?) or a takeout menu ready. People are less there for the food or flawless experience than they are for your company. Good company will be satisfied with cheesy pizza and cheap wine!
Clean up ASAP
There’s nothing worse than waking up the next day to a warzone of a Tower of Pisa worth of dishes in the sink and dirty wine glasses scattered everywhere. If possible, load your dishwasher with dirty dishes and wipe off dirty surfaces the night of to reduce the dinner party aftershock that anxious hostesses like me find all too common!
I hope all my fellow anxious hostesses now feel better equipped to throw their next dinner party (and actually enjoy it) with these commandments in mind. As stressful as it can be to invite people into your home to cook and entertain, remembering that you’re often your harshest critic and people are more easily pleased than you think helps take the pressure off to throw the perfect experience… and when the hostess is happy and stress-free, the experience is often better for everyone.