Entertaining is a breeze when you learn the basics. Check out our handy Wine Guide for serving suggestions, toasts & more, then consult our Stress-free Dinner Party page for time-saving tips. And finally, Add Some Spice to your Life with flavorful cooking ideas.
Entertaining friends and family can often be stressful, but keep in mind that you need not fuss all day to throw a fabulous soiree. First, plan a meal that doesn’t leave you sweating over a hot stove all evening. Easy appetizers, simple salads, a make-ahead dessert are all key to a hassle-free evening.
• Prep for the evening by having all your spices and herbs handy, your ingredients chopped and stored in serving containers.
• Place the clean serving platters, bowls and utensils that you are planning on using in a convenient spot.
• Fill your coffeemaker so it’s ready to turn on after dinner.
• Make sure you have plenty of ice in the freezer.
• Check to make sure your wine glasses are clean.
Set the table...
Before guests arrive, set the table with a simple white tablecloth. You don't have to break out your finest china (unless you want to!), but make sure you do use cloth napkins, and that the silverware is not spotted. Flowers are a nice touch on the table, but avoid large arrangements so they don’t block guests from chatting. Or try decorating the table with fruits, gourds, or potted herbs. And don’t forget the salt and pepper shakers.
...then, set the mood.
Candlelight is always more flattering, so dim the lights and scatter votives around the room to add a nice, warm glow. Give some thought in to your background music; if you have a multiple-CD player, fill it in advance so you don’t have to get up during dinner. Classical guitar is always a good choice for a sophisticated evening, but you might also want to try a light opera, or some more modern lounge music.
Greeting your guests.
To get the party started, set out small dishes of olive oil (consider offering a few flavored oils, or drizzle one with balsamic vinegar), bowls of marinated olives, a selection of nuts, a wedge of parmesan cheese, and a basket of fresh Italian bread for your guest to nibble on with their cocktails. Speaking of cocktails, to keep things easy, place open bottles of wine on the table (see wine pairing guide) with wine glasses and let guests help themselves.
Dinner is served!
Simple green salads are always a good choice for the first course. For special occasions (and to impress your guests!), make a tableside Caesar salad, or drizzle fresh greens with the perfect vinaigrette.
The secret to easy entertaining is to make only one dish during the course of the evening—usually, the main course. If you are making pasta, try one of our make-in-advance sauces to lessen your time sweating over the stove.
Vegetables can be made in advance and warmed up before serving. If you have to prepare a vegetable dish immediately before serving, consider blanching your vegetables earlier so they require less cooking time.
Avoid complicated desserts that require last-minute assembly, or baking. Desserts like tiramisu, homemade brownies topped with vanilla ice cream, or a selection of sorbets, are not only easy to serve, but they’re crowd pleasers as well.
Most importantly, don’t forget to keep your sense of humor. Dinner parties are a time for friends and family to relax, to laugh, to share a meal together. So if something doesn’t go quite as planned, just laugh it off, and focus on enjoying the rest of your evening.