20 tips for a “stress free” dinner party!

jlygh

This was supposed to be a short post, but then, as usual, it turned into a novel. I do apologize and please excuse the poor grammar :0)

Some people have the wonderful ability to be able to throw dinner parties at the very last minute and make them a great success. THIS IS NOT MY CASE. And if you are half the perfectionist I am, it is not your case either. I used to stress a lot in the past when planning and hosting dinners. I have come to realize that I could no longer allow myself to feel that way when all I had wanted in the first place was to have fun myself. I also realized that people felt my stress and weren’t having a good time because of it. After all, a happy host is what makes for a great dinner party. People (the right people at mean; people who care about you) don’t come for the food or drinks. They come to spend a great evening with you!

Here are a few tips that I hope will help. The list isn’t perfect by any means, but it is inspired by my own experiences over the years:

  • Plan way ahead of time. I put my menu together as soon as I have a date for the party. This allows me to schedule my cooking sessions appropriately. If I include foie gras or gravlax for instance, I’ll know when I need to order the produce, when I’ll pick it up and when I’ll start preparing the dish.
  • Shop a day or two in advance so you won’t be at the mercy of last minute engagements or work obligations. You don’t want to have to rush to the store the morning of.
  • Prefer small parties to larger ones (10 guests or less) if you have a choice.
  • Hire help for the evening if you can. I’m a single man. If I don’t have someone to help me during the party, then I end up spending way too much time away from my guests.
  • Keep the kids away or hire a nanny. It depends on the kind of evening it is of course. A family gathering is always better with kids running around. An evening with business associates requires a different atmosphere…
  • Try not to cook during the party. Everything should be ready ahead of time.
  • Use post its to label serving dishes and silverware ahead of time. You should know exactly what goes in what. You don’t want to be running around the house at the last minute because you’re missing a sauce boat.
  • Delegate to your partner or spouse or older kids. Setting the table, last minute errands, picking-up the bread or pastries, opening the wine at the right time…

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  • Use your phone to set up reminders and alarms. Some of you might not need reminders. I have a really bad short term memory and I don’t want to worry about forgetting details such as warming up the plates, opening the wine on time etc…
  • Get people drunk; at least enough to relax. This way, you’ll be less worried about them being impatient (even if they’re not). Tipsy conversations are often less interesting, but at least people are engaged with one another and you can spend more time away from them without feeling rushed to get back into the conversation.
  • When you throw a party for friends, chances are you appreciate everyone’s conversation and/or personality. After all you handpicked them to attend. When it is for business or with family however, you may have to prepare a sitting chart that will keep everyone happy.
  • Invite your very own master of ceremony. Just pick a friend or colleague who you know will lighten up the mood and/or whose conversation will captivate the other guests.
  • Put together a music playlist on your phone or computer. Set it up a few moments before the party starts and forget about it.
  • Ask about allergies and preferences ahead of time. Having to deal with this at the last minute can be very annoying for a host.
  • Go with what you know. There is nothing more stressful than wondering how a dish will turn out…
  • Keep two hours free on the afternoon of the party. One in case you need to run last minute errands, and the other one to take a nap. That’s assuming your party isn’t on a business day of course.
  • Start early!!!
  • Set the table up the night before or have the kids do it
  • Don’t take things too seriously. Nobody will care if the casserole is ever-so-slightly uneven or the drinks don’t come in Baccarat. There’s no need to work yourself up over mistakes most people won’t even notice.
  • HAVE FUN! You are the most important guest at a party you throw. If you are not having a good time, people will sense it and the party will be a flop. Think of yourself first!

jhkb

47 Comments Add yours

  1. I happened upon this post at a good time, as I’ve just invited people to a small dinner party next weekend. The topic of throwing successful parties is something I’ve been reading about for some years now. I truly believe that the two most important things are to make your guests feel special, and to have fun yourself. Yes, the food is important, but if you ignore your guests while you’re getting everything ‘perfect,’ or if you’re totally stressed out, your guests won’t have a good time. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

    I’ll be keeping your tips in mind as my party approaches. (And now I’m going back to planning my menu, which is one of my favourite things to do!)

  2. Funny I would mostly agree accept I have found that my kitchen is a big open room to my diningroom. I used to get everything done in advance. Now I know that people are just as happy to pull up a stool and watch me cook and prep. They’re happy to participate to i.e. make the salad or something. I used to make my meals very formal. As you said most people are just so pleased to get together and not have to cook themselves or do dishes they’re happy with Spaghetti with homemade sauce, garlic bread and salad. And of course a memorable dessert makes for a memorable evening! Oh yes plenty of wine etc… 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I wish I could do that. I’m planning on remodeling my kitchen to open it up. I will still have a second larger dinning room for formal dinners… It will make sense when you see it 😉

      1. My prior house had a formal dining room and the kitchen was set away from it. I so much more being able to putter around the kitchen and still be able to partake of everything that is going on around me! You will love it when it is opened up! Although a pretty table is still always a must.

        1. My French Heaven says:

          I had guests with me yesterday for a Foodie Day at my house. After the market, we went to my house to cook and I couldn’t stop thinking about how great it would be to open the space… They were incredible foodies though and stood by me in the kitchen the whole time. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. I’ll post about our day together later in the week. I am taking them to the Dordogne tomorrow. I can’t wait to spend another day with them. We shall have a picnic in the vineyard: just cheese, foie gras and wine…

    1. My French Heaven says:

      My favorite indeed! 😉

  3. Steve says:

    Great advice. Here’s some more from a “lazy guy”:

    22. Cater it
    23. Make it a buffet
    24. Hire a magician to entertain the crowd
    25. Empty the dishwasher before people arrive so you have room for dirty dishes and they don’t pile up

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Excellent! Especially the first one!! 😉

      1. I love the buffet idea, I tend to set out lots of little appetizers and skip the whole meal thing, because with the appetizers no one dish is on display. And that let’s people talk longer without leaving due to hunger, while also preventing after dinner food comas! I like 24 and 25 too 🙂

  4. Excellent tips, especially the last one–have fun! Doesn’t matter how perfect everything is if you don’t enjoy it and if you don’t, probably others won’t either. Planning can make all the difference, though, as well as going with what you know. I’m going to have a 60th birthday party next month, so I’ll be doing these things myself. 🙂

    janet

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Just make sure you get them all drunk. Then everything else is a breeze for you as a host 😉

      1. Only not so drunk that they throw up or can’t make it home! 🙂

        1. My French Heaven says:

          You know I never drink. Not in AA or anything, I just don’t enjoy alcohol. So there is nothing worse for me than drunk people all around me laughing to tears at every fart joke being told. So, as you said, just drunk enough to be cool and relaxed… 😉

          1. People who laugh at every fart joke, whether drunk or not, are probably not people I’m going to be hanging around with anyway!! 🙂

          2. chef mimi says:

            You don’t drink?

          3. My French Heaven says:

            Not much. And not at all if I’m driving or working… 😦

  5. Joyce says:

    I used to get stressed and time things very poorly – My first few events were calamities. Your tips are very sensible.

    I also wanted to let you know that I made a coq au vin last week. It was divine, and I can’t wait to make it again so that I can correct the few errors I made the first time around!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I’m so glad Joyce! I made one for my friends in Miami the week before last and they said it was the best they ever had. I used Pomerol wine, which is one of the strongest and best you can find. The quality of the wine, for me, is the most important part. I hate it when people use cheap wine (in any recipe) and the sauce ends up tasting so damn acid… Anyway, congrats on a great quintessential French recipe well executed!!

  6. Having fun is the most important tip when hosting!

  7. hahah- I love dinner parties, and you’re right about #10 🙂 I’m still working on the delegating part…one day…

  8. chef mimi says:

    Great advice. But I’m like you. I still get a little stressed. There’s nothing worse than forgetting something major. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. My new mantra!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      That’s all right though. Even the best artists get a litle scared before a great performance… 😉

  9. saucygander says:

    Thanks for the tips! Even a year (and 5 dinner parties) ago, I used to get so stressed and tired, I couldn’t enjoy the party properly. But am getting better, and can certainly vouch for some of your tips like planning ahead, don’t try new dishes, and getting people involved. Will think about your other tips next dinner party!

  10. elsonsequeira says:

    What a lovely write up Stephane! Straight from the heart! This has to come from someone who loves his food and family in equal measure…. I know how stressed i be prior to every party 😦 Reblogging this, if i have your kind permission 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Reblog away my friend!!! I had samosas yesterday. They were amazing!!!

      1. elsonsequeira says:

        Ohhh!!!! Im sure you enjoyed the spiciness :)… When you are here i SHall take to some of the best places in town 🙂

        1. My French Heaven says:

          If (when) I come visit, I’ll be so excited about the food that I’ll probably forget my manners and jump on every dish like a caveman. I might embarass you… I remember the Indian buffet we had next to my office in Montreal Quebec. We had lunch there every other day. My boss always came with me and we ate so much we looked like starved wolves… I made shrimp curry the other day. It was super spicy and absolutely delicious. I froze the left over sauce and will use it next time I make fish…

          1. elsonsequeira says:

            Lol for sure…. Its good to be a kid at times… i have been reading a lot about french food and baking these days… and Im falling in love with it…

          2. My French Heaven says:

            I’m glad! Keep at it!

          3. elsonsequeira says:

            Thanks mate!!!!

            Share with me your favorite Bouillabaisse recipe

  11. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography) says:

    Such a great list.

    I don’t entertain any more, but when I did, I would have everything done in advance as, like you, I have a poor short term memory and as a single person, I can’t pour wine, cook & converse at the same time.

    I’m a perfectionist and obsessively organised too.

    On my 40th birthday, I had no fridge (just moved into a flat after living overseas for a couple of years) and it was 40C (over 100F). Perfectly organised luncheon for a group of friends, except at the last minute I dashed out to buy more wine glasses as I wasn’t sure I had enough.
    And, it was a vegetarian buffet luncheon – turned out well.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      That’s a great story Vicki!!

  12. acflory says:

    So true, so true! My Mum used to become horribly stressed before any dinner party, and her focus was on the food, not the people, so if you arrived a little late [us, almost always] she would be in a complete tizzy about the food being over-cooked, or cold, or not quite ‘perfect’.

    I learned an important lesson from Mum, and now I choose dishes that don’t have to be eaten the moment they come out of the pan, and can be prepared ahead of time. If there is something that has to be finished off just before serving – such as a salad, I ask for help. It’s amazing how much people enjoy having something ‘to do’ for a few minutes. They feel involved, I’m more relaxed and then we can all sit down and just enjoy each other’s company [as well as the food]. 🙂

    1. My French Heaven says:

      What a perfect comment! You truly got the substence of the message! The most important thing is indeed to choose dishes that can be prepared in advance (as much as possible) and get your guests involved by letting them open the wine, cut the bread etc…

      1. acflory says:

        -grin- We deserve to have some fun too!

  13. ladyredspecs says:

    Good advice! My girlfriends and I (all over 60) were recently laughing about the elaborate dinner parties we threw in the eighties, so much work that by the time the guests arrived, we were exhausted. Our shared meals are far more informal now, though we still dress up and dust off the best china, silver and crystal.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      We get wiser as we grow older! 😉

  14. Get people drunk…STILL LAUGHING! How was it? If you are faithless, you remain faithful—
    as you cannot deny yourself….!
    One day hope you’ll invite us to your parties, Stéphane!

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I certainly will!

  15. backpackbee says:

    Your photos are wonderfully captured again. I love your tips on how to throw a “stress” free dinner party… No matter how much I plan or have things in order… I am still frazzled. I think I am much like you in many senses. We want everything to just be perfect for the best possible experience by all.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      As we grow older, we realize that perfection is actually the oposite of itself…

  16. Wonderful tips! And a stress free dinner party is always the best kind of dinner party in my experience. 🙂
    Jessica

    1. My French Heaven says:

      Absolutely right J!

  17. I always get stressed planning dinner parties so I hardly ever do it any more. I like cooking but I love to experiment. Dinner parties and experiments do not go together so well. Nice tips. I think as long as your guests have wine, nibbles and company, dinner can take its time.

    1. My French Heaven says:

      I agree! It’s all about having fun after all…

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