Let’s start by defining “success” for a dinner party. Your goal should not be to impress people with your home, your cooking or your decorating. Your objective should be to make your guests comfortable and happy.
Here are some tips to help you create a fun and memorable dinner party:
Clean the house
Nothing will make people uncomfortable faster than a mess. Don’t get me wrong, having a few things out of place and some evidence of the existence of children will actually make people more comfortable. But, when people wander into your kitchen they shouldn’t find the mess from your cooking marathon; they should just smell the delicious food. When they use your bathroom they shouldn’t find mold and mildew; they should find fresh, clean hand towels and a liquid soap dispenser.
Use paper plates
Don’t be afraid of serving dinner to your family and friends on paper plates, especially if there are more than 10 people — including children — coming to the party. Everyone understands that, after days of organizing the dinner, you don’t want to be up all night doing dishes. Fancy dishes will make your guests uncomfortable, especially if there are kids at the party. No one wants to leave you with dishes, so if you use dishes, several people will offer to wash them—more discomfort. Relax and use the paper goods. Paper goods also offer easy tools for developing a decorative theme; simple colors can readily evoke holiday feelings.
Share the load
If you are planning dinner for more than ten people, use the web site PerfectPotluck.com to plan the meal. You enter all of the items you’d like people to bring then your guests sign up for the things they feel most comfortable contributing. You get the benefit of a well-planned meal without having to cook it all yourself. You also don’t end up with the random collection of foods that may appear by simply inviting everyone to bring something.
Throughout the evening, your role as hosts will be to make people feel comfortable. You must exuding calm rather than being frantic about the cooking, cleaning and serving. Everyone will be eager to help, so don’t turn down any offers. Remember to be gracious to those that help.
Before the party, be thoughtful about who in the group will not know the others. Help with introductions, and make sure you know a little something about each person who will be attending — not just a name. Your introductions will go beyond, “Bob, I’d like you to meet Sam.” If you can add, “Sam likes to golf (or ski, or bike, etc.) as much as you,” both will feel more comfortable by having an easy place to start their conversation.
Offer the food buffet style
If you want your guests to be happy and comfortable, serve the food buffet style so that they can have what they like. Don’t worry about whether people like what you cooked; worry only that they get enough of what they do like.
Serve dessert later
Don’t serve dessert with dinner. Hold it back. Let dinner settle for a while as the conversation takes over. Chances are good that you can maintain a comfortable dialog among your guests for sixty to ninety minutes after the dinner is served. Then, a nice dessert can energize the party.
The real key to a successful dinner party is to focus on the right goal. If your guests leave feeling they had a good time and are grateful for the invitation, it was a success. They’ll recognize you as a gracious host and will be eager to return the next time.