Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Restaurant tips for a PERFECT dinner party!

It can be a tough thing to strike that perfect balance between playing host or hostess at your own dinner party, and actually slowing down and enjoying your time with your guests.  Here are some invaluable lessons I have learned through catering experience, restaurant experience, and just plain old trial and error!  It may take a little practice, but it really IS possible to enjoy some quality time with your favorite people during your own dinner party!   Here's how:

Step 1: Know your friends.  Who has the best handwriting? I know it's not me! Have everything ready to go so when this guest arrives- you can put them to task so you can get back to welcoming your guests.  Have your pal with the best penmanship hand write any place cards, wine markers, cheese labels, etc.  (Back up plan: Print them in a modern font ahead of time).

Step 2:  Set up a BUSSING STATION!  Find a corner out of the way of the kitchen sink, out of eyeshot from the dining room table that you can put a dish bin. Ask a friend to be in charge of clearing plates after each course. People love to be put to work- especially when they know how much you appreciate it! Putting the dirty dishes in a special bussing area keeps them out of the sink. You might need the sink to finish preparing your meal; if not- no one wants to look at dirty dish pileup in the kitchen where they're going to be hanging out after dinner! Keep the dirty dishes out of view until after the party. It makes a big difference!  Think restaurant service.  Create your own "dish pit" area that's out of sight. 
Step 3:  Have a plan.  Plan out every little detail. Have a spot ready for your guests to place their wine. Have a place planned out for their coats, etc.  You don't have "last minute time" to be getting things ready!  Plan your first course so that it can be sitting at room temp as your guests arrive, buying you more time to enjoy with your friends and start preparing your next course!  I like to start with a cheese course. Look how pretty those hand-written cards look!  Thanks Wade! 
I like to have a timeline written up just for me that lists out what I need to slack from the fridge when- that way you're not trying to put cold meat into a hot pan. You want a lot of what you cook to be closer towards room temp. It speeds up cooking time as well.  Thinking through every single detail of each step to complete each course ahead of time will save you headaches, and keep you on pace even if you get distracted!  Check items off as you go!

Step 4:  Have a water station set up.  Buy a big glass jar with a spigot, then fill halfway with ice, and the rest of the way with water. Throw in some fresh herbs, fruit or vegetables- I like lemon and thyme, or cucumber and mint.  Even carrot makes a great light tasting water!  Keep an eye on it and fill it up throughout the night. This way, everyone can take care of their own water, and it's one less thing for the hostess to need to do!  To top it off, it looks great!

Step 5:   Don't spend a fortune on table decorations.  Use things that you already own. What can you re-purpose?   Plants in clay pots with candles and green moss makes a great tablescape!  The only cost is the minimal cost of tealights!


Step 6: Mark your glasses.  You can either put fun wine charms on, or better yet- grab some ribbon and some cardstock.  Print or have your handy friend write fun random words.  Each guests picks their own word and ties their wine marker on the stem of their glass.  You can make this as interactive as you like.  Follow a theme!  I like to create words in pairs- so the dinner guest has to "find" the other word. It's a conversation starter!  You could list streets in St.Paul, or funny adjectives. Make it something people will talk about!

Step 7: Set up your salads ahead of time.  You can't make them too far in advance (and definetely DON'T dress your salad ahead of time), but 15-30 minutes isn't going to hurt.  Dress them a la minute.  If you have enough fridge space, prep your salads, place on sheet trays, and hold in the fridge even for a few hours!

Step 8: Make menus.  It helps your guests know what their eating, in case they're too busy chatting away, especially as the night goes on!  List your wine pairings too.  It will help you keep on course as you're trying to cook, and it allows your "guest sommelier" to pour the wine without consulting you each course!   They also make a great takeaway for a special night! 

Step 9: Don't go crazy.  Don't try all-new recipes in front of a crowd.  It's just asking for disaster!  Make something you're familiar with, or try it ahead of time (with a few glasses of wine) so you're sure you've got it down!

Step 10: Plan some entertainment!  Pick a Pandora station that sets the mood, or create a playlist.  Don't forget to add some entertainment during dinner!  Do some research on the wines you're drinking, and speak about each wine as you serve it for the course!  Eric even conjured up some improv poetry! The guests loved it!

Step 11:   Chocolate.  Ok, it's not a real step, but need I say more?  




  1. Thank you for sharing this post. I found it very informative and helpful. I am opening a restaurant in the South Jersey area this fall. I am very excited but a little nervous. I need to hire employees, purchase some restaurant and bar equipment and develop my menu amongst other things.

  2. Great information about dinner party. thanks for the sharing....

    Beach Restaurants