E029 - Host a Dinner Party…Or Be the Perfect Party Guest
This week Rich and I tell you how to host a dinner party…or be the perfect dinner party guest! We also digress about the merits of shot-timers for firearms training, and Rich tells us how to get kicked off of his guest list.
What Did You Do This Week:
Rich: Light lifting, BJJ, work around the farm
Why Would You Want To Host a Dinner Party?
It is a very scalable event, in:
Depth, from just drinks to a multi-course dinner,
Breadth, from one person to 10 or more,
Scope, can be a celebration...or not,
Formality: Can be extremely formal, or very informal and light
If executed well it can be an amazing date.
A dinner party is an awesome way to get to know new neighbors, co-workers, impress your boss, or make new friends. It is also an excellent way to enjoy old friends
Being able to do this in a planned-out setting will also help prepare you for unexpected company.
The new neighbors drop by and end up staying for dinner,
A friend comes over and you're enjoying the conversation so much you don't want to go out,
Your friend & his family are in town and get weathered in.
Being able to put on an awesome meal makes you look like a badass with his/her shit together.
If you're in your 30s you should be able to do this
If you're in your 20s you'll be way ahead of your time
Perhaps most importantly, being able to throw a dinner party will make you more well-rounded. J. Edgar Hoover is rumored to have said that an FBI agent should be able to handle a teacup as well as a Tommy gun. We agree; you should be as comfortable at a black-tie event as you are at a tailgate party.
Being able to throw a good dinner party will make you a GREAT dinner party guest.
Choosing Your Guests
Some thought should go into the guests you invite to your dinner party. Some rules of thumb:
If inviting a group of people, you should probably stick to one group, i.e. your work colleagues OR your church group OR your neighbors. Since there is an established connection between these groups, putting two together will mostly result in two groups forming at your party. You might also be tempted to spend more time with one group than another.
An exception to the above rule would be if there is significant overlap between a couple of groups.
Another exception would be a group of people that aren’t connected by any common thread other than knowing you. This can be a great recipe because people don’t have comfortable groups to retreat to, and as a result mingle with everyone else.
Consider your guests’ dietary restrictions and choices.
Your duties as a host: You have some responsibilities to your guests.
Introduce everyone as they come in. This can get repetitive, but do it for every single guest that arrives.
When you introduce someone, be prepared with a fact or two about them to spark conversation. This one tidbit will make all the difference in the world and people will have a great time at your dinner party.
Mingle and talk to all the pockets of conversation at your dinner party. It can be tempting to hangout with the people you like the most, but don’t do it.
When introducing guests, position them in the best possible light and keep humor out of it.
Stay away from inside jokes that only apply to a small group within the party. If the conversation turns to a topic that some of your guests are unfamiliar with, catch them up by explaining what you’re talking about. Don’t make your guests feel excluded.
The first portion of your dinner party should be a cocktail hour. This is nothing more than an informal period of time that serves several purposes:
It gives people a period of time to mingle with each other,
It allows people to settle in and
It is a period of time that allows for people to show up early, right on time…or a little late. You should be prepared for some people to show up early and late.
It provides an opportunity for you to give arriving guests the “welcome aboard brief” which should consist of, at a minimum:
Where the bathroom is,
Where beverages are located, especially if it is a serve-yourself affair, and
other information as needed
Cocktail Hour: Beverages. Think about the drinks you will be serving and be prepared. Tailor this list to what your guests like. If you don’t know what everyone likes have a variety to suit a number of tastes.
Cocktails: unless you are hiring a bartender, don’t try to run a full bar. This can tie you down to the bar all night. Instead have one or two signature cocktails or mixed drinks that are relatively easy to make.
Beer: Have some beer in the fridge, and let people know where it is if you are OK with them serving themselves
Wine: Have some red and white wine
Non-Alcoholic: You should DEFINITELY have an array of non-alcoholic options. Have water, sparkling water, and soda (at a minimum).
Cocktail Hour: Appetizers. Appetizers should give people something to eat as they converse with other guests. Some considerations for appetizers:
Should not be too hard to eat.
Should not be too messy.
Should not be too filling
Can be as simple as a cheese plate, or
You can do nothing but heavy appetizers and no “sit down” meal
What to cook for a dinner party? The sky is the limit, my friend. You can make a simple, one-dish meal, grill steaks, put a pot of chili on the table, or go all out with a multi-course meal. Below are a few considerations regarding dinner.
Don’t make something that consumes all your attention. You want to be AT the dinner party, not just hosting it. Don’t cook something that keeps you in front of the stove the entire time. However…
In an intimate environment, having the group in the kitchen as you cook can be fun! This usually won’t work for a big party.
Don’t cook something you’ve never cooked before. As Rich said, it’s a recipe for disaster. Get it…recipe? Get it? Nothing? Ok…moving on.
Cook something that makes your house smell good. Make smell a valuable part of your guests’ experience. Prime them to be hungry when they arrive.
Make-ahead dishes: dishes like lasagna that can be made earlier and put in the oven free you up to do other things. Like make drinks and hang out with your guests.
Salad: can and should be made ahead. Don’t add the croutons until it’s time to eat, however - they’ll get soggy. Also, reserve a serving or two of salad ingredients in case someone doesn’t like something that was in the salad. This way they won’t have to pick around the undesirable ingredient.
Don’t try to rush dinner. Enjoy the food. Savor the company. Revel in the conversation.
Place settings: Your stuff doesn’t have to be fancy, but you can (and probably should) make an effort to put out nice place settings. This article will tell you how. A nice place setting sends all sorts of subtle cues to your guests, and actually makes them perceive your food as tasting better.
Dessert doesn’t have to be fancy, but it’s a nice way to punctuate the meal. Some principles of dessert:
Coffee (and decaf) should be available along with it,
Dessert should be ready with minimal additional work. This shouldn’t pull you back into the kitchen for another hour.
Single-serve items make a great dessert: cookies, a slice of key lime pie, or a cupcake work really well.
Getting Everyone Home Safely
Everyone there (mostly) is an adult. However, you should encourage them to get home safely.
Don’t over-serve your guests and encourage them to drink responsibly
Know your guests’ situations. If they live across the street, they can walk home. If they live across town, ask the question: “how are you getting home?”
Have a taxi company’s phone number handy, and maybe offer to pay for someone’s ride if they need it (trust me - it’s a small price to pay to know they got home safely)
If “that guy” is coming, be prepared to put some bedding on the couch.
Be prepared to take coats. It can be off-putting for guests to not know where to put their coats. You can hang them in the coat closet or place them on a bed in the spare bedroom
Have ALL your dishes clean before guests arrive. You’re going to use a ton of dishes at the party. You don’t want to have half your plates, dirty, in the dishwasher when guests are waiting to be served.
Make sure your guests know where to park. Let them know where they can - and can’t - park.
If this is an outdoor event, plan for contingencies. Most importantly, ALWAYS HAVE A RAIN-OUT PLAN!
Music: have some. But don’t make it too soft or too loud. Make it appropriate to the group and the setting.
Book of the Week
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan