Photo via Ina Garten Instagram
· If you can, use real dinnerware, flatware, and glasses, i.e., avoid using paper and plastic. If you have a larger party, I think paper napkins are fine…but use pretty ones. For a small dinner party, cloth napkins are always a nice touch. You want them to enjoy dining at your place as much as they enjoy all of the elements of a nice restaurant.
5. Food. There is a rule (I can’t remember who I heard it from first) that you should never make something for the first time when you are having guests. I have a slightly different version: For the main course and/or the majority of what you serve, you should offer things that are foolproof and tried and true for you. As long as you know your guests will really enjoy a few things, I think it’s okay to experiment a little and use them as your guinea pigs, especially if they know you like to cook and bake. That could actually make for a little fun. But be sure to taste it before you serve it. Don’t experiment if that makes preparation too stressful.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, find out what your guests like and don’t like and what they can and cannot eat. If someone is a vegetarian or pescatarian, don’t serve chicken or beef. If they have food allergies, don’t serve something that is or contains an allergen. You don’t want to make your guests uncomfortable when they have to politely decline your food, and you don’t want to make them feel like a problem when they have to ask for something else to avoid anaphylaxis.
Try to have a nice mix of things. For example, have something hearty, something light, and something sweet and indulgent. I always try to serve something that is special or unique--something my guests probably wouldn’t have anywhere else and/or something I know is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. And as my friend said, she loved the way all of the colors of the food and dishes complemented each other and seemed very cohesive. She enjoyed feeling that a lot of thought went into preparing for her arrival and that of the rest of my guests. If it’s a party, try to serve finger foods. Don’t make it difficult for people to juggle holding a glass, a plate, and a fork. Finally, not everything needs to be made from scratch. Head to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or your favorite local market to procure meats, cheese, crackers, and fruit for a beautiful platter that you simply assemble before your guests arrive. And if cooking just isn’t your thing, order from a catering company.
6. Alcohol and Beverages. Make it festive and have a variety. With a small group, as with food, find out what your guests like and don’t like. If they aren’t wine drinkers, get their favorite spirit and mixers so they can enjoy their favorite cocktail. For a party, keep it simple and set it up so your guests can be self-sufficient. You don’t want to play bartender all night, although it’s nice to pour them a drink when you can. For my gathering last week, I served two of my favorite Wolffer roses, a festive sangria, LaCroix lime sparkling water (with cute straws for the cans or glasses), and a beautiful pitcher of ice water with lemons.
7. If it’s a party, try to have everything where your guests will congregate most of the time, but have it organized into stations if possible. For my recent gathering, I used our étagère in our dining area to create a beverage station. It had wine and highball glasses on a shelf above all of the beverages and ice bucket. On the island that is open to the dining area, I displayed all of the food. The appetizers were in front/on the dining room side, and the desserts were on cake stands behind the appetizers/on the kitchen side. Ideally I would have brought desserts out later, but I wanted to enjoy my guests’ company, so I opted to put everything out at once and present it in the order it would likely be consumed (not that having dessert first is a crime!)