How to host the perfect dinner party

28-03-2012
 
Make sure your guests remember your party for years to come.
 
While a very important part of making a dinner party memorable is down to how good the food and wine is, your hosting ability will make a good dinner party into an unforgettable one.
 
There are some key things to consider when on hosting duty, so get these right and you're onto a winner!

 

Who to invite

 
It might seem obvious that if you're hosting a dinner party for work or for friends, then you would invite the appropriate guests, but it is not quite so simple!
 
First set a maximum number of guests you are able to cater for. The usual number is eight, including yourselves, unless you can seat more people. This of course, also includes partners and if there is a single guest, then make sure you make up the numbers by inviting preferably another single guest you think they might get along with (this doesn't have to turn into matchmaking though!).
 
It's vital to invite people with similar interests, or looking at it another way, don't invite two people who have completely different opinions, as it could lead to a disastrous alcohol-fuelled disagreement and you don't want your party to be remembered for the wrong reasons!
 

Where to serve aperitifs

 
If you've got outdoor space and it's looking to be nice weather, then it's a great idea to serve your aperitifs outside. If so, then remember to clean your furniture and lay down a tablecloth. In less sunnier times of the year, the lounge is perfectly fine.

 

Where to sit people

 
There is a clear etiquette when it comes to seating plans at dinner. Traditionally, the host sits at the head, preferably close to the kitchen so you can easily slip away without disturbing your guests.
 
Then, it's alternate male and female and if you have a guest of honour like your boss, they sit next to the host.
 
However, while this is the custom, it's not a hard and fast rule these days. Sometimes it's actually better to seat people next to someone you think they'll get along with, particularly if they've never met. It's also important to consider if any guests would be uncomfortable or shy sitting next to a particular person.

 

How long between each course

 
We've all seen Come Dine With Me when the guests are left waiting for an hour-and-a-half between the starter and the main, so how long is too long? Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr recommends 20 minutes from as soon as the last person finishes eating.
 
This means that about 90 per cent of your food needs to be prepped before the guests arrive, leaving just ten per cent to do final cooking and plate up.
 
Michel also says that clearing plates before everyone is finished is a big no-no!
 

How much to top up drinks

 
You don't want your guests to be sozzled, but you don't want them to have an empty glass either. When you're away from the table, ask another guest to top up drinks and at other times the general custom is to never let a glass get empty.
 
However, if you have specific wine and food pairings planned, then make sure you don't serve too much wine that your guests haven't finished before the next course and next bottle come out!
 
Also, keep a jug of water on the table for guests to help themselves.
 

Where to serve after-dinner drinks

 
It's nice to get away from sitting down at the table for a couple of hours by inviting guests away for after-dinner drinks, be it coffee or liqueurs and brandy.
 
If you've had a lunch party or it's still light outside, then head outdoors, otherwise stick to the lounge. Make sure you avoid the kitchen at all costs as it undoubtedly looks like a war zone in there!
 

How to send people home without being pushy

 
There's no easy way to indicate that you're tired and want to head to bed. And it's quite possible that your guests are happy enough chatting but don't realise you've been slaving away in the kitchen since 7am.
 
One quite acceptable way to get around the issue these days is to tell guests when you invite them of what time the event will end. Then you can unashamedly open the door and hand out coats.
 
Alternatively, stifle a yawn and maybe steer the conversation to talk of bedtime and they might get the hint!
 
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