The Dos and Don'ts of Hosting a Dinner Party

Party expert Katie Sweeney shares her tried-and-true expertise for a flawless meal with friends.

Food writer, personal chef, and consummate hostess Katie Sweeney (who pens the entertaining blog Six Twists) shares her expert advice on hosting a dinner party. Thinking of inviting some friends over for a dinner party? After 15 years of hosting meals for friends, families, and clients -- with a few hiccups and mad successes along the way -- I've learned a thing or two. Here are my top tips for throwing a successful supper.

DO: Have a Reason For Your Party.

You need something to toast, right? Giving the party a purpose will make it more fun. Birthdays and milestones are obvious reasons for a party, but really you can host a dinner for any reason you dream up. It's Friday! It's your half-birthday! It's the season finale of Orphan Black!

DON'T: Be Confined by the Space You Live In.

If you think your studio is too small or your apartment's not cute enough, think again. The people and conversation are what make a dinner party special. Sure, a stunning table overlooking the ocean at sunset is spectacular, but it's not necessary for a dinner to be fun and memorable.

DO: Create a Party Atmosphere!

Your kitchen and house shouldn't be the same as they are everyday. Light candles; set the table with a tablecloth, good china, and cloth napkins; play mood music; fill the room with fresh flowers; and put on a dress.

DON'T: Overlook Your Guest's Dietary Needs.

Being a good hostess means that you want to make your guests feel comfortable while they are dining at your table. Serve food they can eat. If you're inviting several vegetarians to dinner, serve butternut squash rigatoni, not beef bolognese.

DO: Write Out the Menu!

You want your friends to know what they are eating.

DON'T: Skimp on the Alcohol.

Wondering if you should get that extra bottle of Albariño? Just do it. It's better to have more alcohol than less, as it loosens people up and gets the conversation flowing.

DO: Serve Appetizers and Dessert.

Your guests should have something to nibble on when they arrive. It doesn't have to be homemade arancini filled with foraged mushrooms and smoked mozzarella. Put out a bowl of pistachios and a chunk of aged cheddar and call it a day. The same goes for dessert: Do finish the meal with something sweet. Homemade desserts are lovely, but a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce is an easy, crowd-pleasing option.

DON'T: Be Limited By Your Cooking Abilities.

You shouldn't not throw a dinner just because you don't know how to cook. There are plenty of options for the non-cooking hostess: hit up Whole Foods and make an entire meal from the prepared food section; order an assortment of pizzas and salads from your favorite pizza place; or hire an acclaimed chef from a service like Kitchit to do the dirty work for you.

DO: Be Flexible.

Accept last-minute party guests. If your best friend's cousin is randomly in town for the night, throw a little more broth in the soup and let the cousin come to dinner, too. If your homemade mayonnaise breaks before you get to serve it, toss it down the drain and jazz up store bought mayo with herbs, citrus, or hot sauce. Remember the hostess sets the tone of the dinner, so if you're freaking out about a failed attempt to make mayo, your guests will sense your stress and may not have the best possible time.

DON'T: Rush to Do the Dishes.

My favorite part of a dinner is the time after the meal is finished when everyone lingers at the table. Open a fresh bottle of wine (or even serve a digestif or dessert wine) to ensure both glasses and bellies are full. Sit back, relax, and let the lively conversation commence.
pic Written by Katie Sweeney Find more of Katie's expert entertaining and cooking advice at Six Twists.
Photographs: Andrew Arthur
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