Today, Jess and I are happy to be bringing you a wealth of knowledge from one of our best friends, Nisha. Though she now lives far enough away so we can’t share in her wonderful dinner parties, we love how she has created a way to celebrate life on a regular basis with friends. To read more from Nisha, check out her blog here. ~Linz
Why should inviting friends and family to my home to gather around good food and drinks be reserved for only a few days out of the year? Its a given that as we get older, our work lives will get busier and our free time will fly by faster than we can blink. Gathering together with loved ones takes the edge off a long week and gives us a chance to reset and enjoy each other’s company.
In September, I started a new tradition of hosting a monthly dinner party at my home for my friends. I’m calling them First Friday Dinners. Its been a lot of fun so far – we all get to catch up and I get to try out new recipes and decorating ideas. To be clear: I’m not throwing elaborate Thanksgiving-style dinners every month. I’m not a superwoman! And plus, people get nervous when parties get too fancy. My intention is to set a down-home atmosphere and serve a slightly fancier than normal family style dinner paired with fun drinks.
With four of these dinners under my belt, I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are some tips to help you start your own dinner party tradition!
Choose a hosting frequency that is comfortable and realistic for you. Time seems to go at 2x here in San Francisco so once a month is definitely the most I can personally handle. Monthly dinners seems to be frequent enough that people are excited when invites go out again and don’t feel like it’s like an obligation.
I decided to hold my dinners on Fridays because its easier to convince busy people to come over when they are already heading home from work rather than forcing them to split their weekend in half. Setting them for the First Friday of the month made a nice mnemonic to help people remember when to come over.
Dinner party success is all about scheduling in advance. And lots of practice, trial and error and patience! Here’s how I plan out my month:
- Spread over the first 3 weeks of the month: Peruse my favorite food blogs, cookbooks or family recipes and bookmark my favorites
- 2 weekends before: Sweep/vacuum the floors, make a first pass at tidying up the house
- 1 weekend before: Put together a meal plan, clean the guest bathroom, send out Facebook/email invites
- Monday: Plan out what foods can be made in advance and in what order to make food on Friday
- Tuesday: RSVP deadline – check headcount and adjust recipes for the number of portions needed, gather/make decorations
- Wednesday: Do groceries after work, tidy the house again
- Thursday: Make 1-2 things that keep well, set the table, do the dishes and run the dishwasher
- Friday AM: Chop vegetables and prep for evening cooking
- Friday 5pm-7:30pm: Finish cooking, layout food and drinks tables
- Friday 7:30pm: Welcome your guests and enjoy!
There is no need to get super fancy when holding regular dinner parties. Make one elaborate dish and keep the others fairly simple. This way you don’t have to top yourself month after month and you can keep to a reasonable budget. Plan to have an appetizer, salad, main entree, side and a dessert. I usually serve bread, cheese and olives to start. Tossing a big salad is quick and easy to change up every month. Hearty soups, pastas, roasts and other one-pot dishes make great entrees. The side should complement the entree – veggies are always a good option. I try to have a distribution of 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 proteins and 1/4 starches. Guests are usually pretty full after dinner so dessert can be light – ice cream and fruit trays are perfect.
Make full use of your kitchen. My salads are just raw greens and veggies so I only need counter space to prep. I plan for the entree to be cooked in the oven and the side on the stove (or vice versa) so I can have both cooking at the same time. If I make the dessert in advance then I can heat it up once dinner is on the table and the kitchen is clear.
Serving and Presentation
Delegate tasks if possible. My husband is great at mixing drinks so he handles the bar. I take care of the food. If some of your guests arrive super early, put them to work arranging the cheese board or slicing bread. Guests like being involved, it puts them at ease and makes them feel useful.
Serve the food and drinks on separate tables, preferably in different rooms, so that guests circulate and mingle. Have the drinks and appetizers ready to consume as guests arrive. Bring out the salad, entree and side once everyone has mingled and snacked on appetizers for a bit. After dinner, let your guests rest and chat a little bit while you clear the table and then bring out dessert.
And of course, enjoy yourself! Get out of the kitchen, have someone bring you a cocktail, mingle with your guests, pull up a chair and enjoy your food. If things don’t go exactly as planned this time, don’t fret – there’s always next month!