Hi friends, it’s Emma. This post is a little random maybe, but last week I was preparing to host what is now becoming an annual Valentine’s wine-pairing dinner party at our house and as I was thinking through all the logistics, and grocery lists, and prep I needed to do, I realized that over the years, hosting a coursed dinner has gotten a lot easier for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still plenty of work and if you’re the kind of person that just doesn’t enjoy cooking or hosting I totally get it. But I love cooking and getting to host people at our house now and again is a real treat for me. But I don’t like to spend the whole week before stressed, and I also don’t like spending the entire party in the kitchen. So with that in mind, I thought I might share my top five tips for hosting a multi-course dinner party in case anyone else out there likes to cook for others as much as me.
First, maybe a few of you are wondering what I mean by a multi-course dinner. There are probably a million different ways you could do this but what Trey and I usually do is have five small courses (appetizer, salad, soup, main, dessert) that each get paired with a small glass of wine. Usually I will plan the menu and Trey will go to our favorite local wine shop to get recommendations on wine pairings based on the menu flavors. It’s really fun and feels special, so I love it for a group dinner, like having friends over for Valentine’s or hosting my family for Christmas Eve. Here are my tips.
1. Plan your menu wisely.
Planning the menu is usually my favorite part, other than actually getting to hang out with the people I love. I just love planning food! I love trying new recipes, making things up, trying others’ recipes that I’ve seen but haven’t had the occasion to make yet. I’m sure it’s the food blogger in me, but planning the menu is a lot of fun! But before you get too committed to that dish that will require 30 minutes of last-minute hand whipping, here are some things to keep in mind. First, does anyone in the group have allergies or dietary restrictions? Sometimes you can’t accommodate everyone for every course, but it’s at least good to keep in mind the needs of your group because more important than making a meal you’re proud of in a culinary sense is making a meal that people can actually enjoy.
Second, plan a menu that allows you to make 90% or more of the meal ahead of time. Yes, that’s right. You want to basically have ALL the food ready by the time your guests arrive, or at least pretty dang close. You also want to plan so that courses won’t overlap your kitchen’s utilities, like being able to make some things on the stovetop or a slow cooker, and not every item has to go in the oven at the same time. But for me, the majority of the meal is made the night before the party and then I’m mostly warming things, putting things together, and plating. This is how you avoid spending the entire party in the kitchen, although you will still have to be in the kitchen some.
2. Plan your serving items wisely.
Personally, I am not opposed to a mix of real and disposable dishware. There are certain kinds that can work well with certain dishes, and others that don’t. For me, I like to use real silverware, real wine glasses, and some real dishware—especially for hot dishes like soup. But if you serve a chocolate mousse to me in a cute plastic flute or give me a decent looking plastic water glass, personally I’m not bothered by that at all. So this is kind of up to you, but being able to mix is helpful both for clean up (you’ll be washing dishes for days if you’re not careful) and possibly storage issues. Our Valentine’s dinner has had 16 guests two years in a row now and when you think about that many people plus five courses, it’s a lot of dishes. And although I don’t prefer disposable for a number of reasons, I also don’t necessarily have room to store all the extra dishes I would need just to host this one party a year, so I’m good with a mix. But that’s just me!
Other than that, you just want to make sure you have counted and know you do have enough for everyone. And that you know what course will go with what dish so that once it’s go time and you’ve already had a glass of wine yourself, you don’t mix up things and all of the sudden not have enough dishes for the last course.
3. Prep throughout the week.
I like to spread out the work of getting ready. It makes me feel prepared and not overwhelmed. I usually make a list of everything I need to do and designate what I will do each night leading up to the party. So usually there is a night I will go buy all the groceries and other items I need. One or two nights I’ll prep all the food. You might also want a night to clean and maybe even partially decorate (like the night before) so you don’t feel any last-minute rush and you have time to curl your hair before the party just like everyone else. Ha!
4. Spread out the cost.
Hosting can become expensive fast. Of course, this is part of the joy of hosting, because it’s a gift to give of your time, your space, and your money to feed and spend an evening with loved ones. That being said, we all have budgets, and probably none of your friends or family would expect you to foot the entire bill (I know many of my friends would feel a little uncomfortable if I didn’t involve them, and I get it!). What I usually do for our wine-pairing dinners is we have all our guests buy the wine. We will figure out what will pair well with the menu (since our guests won’t know the menu necessarily ahead of time) and we’ll text them what to bring and how many bottles based on our group. Another option I’ve seen is I’ve been to dinners where we all just chipped in with a check or cash to the host to cover the cost of the night. I’m sure there are lots of other ways you could spread out the cost of hosting, but I would just keep in mind that you don’t have to put all that pressure on yourself—people love to help out, so just ask.
5. Enlist the help of others.
I am sometimes the worst at delegating or asking for help. Maybe it’s the middle child in me? I don’t know. But I’d like to think I’ve gotten better over time. Maybe? If your partner or roommate likes cooking, get their help. If not, they would probably be the perfect partner to help clean and decorate for the party. I will also have Trey design and print a menu of the courses with the wines for each seat because I love to have this so guests can see what we’ll be eating, and if someone really loves a particular bottle of wine they can make note of it to buy it again.
This also applies during the party. You don’t have to be the one to pass out all the plates of food, clear all the dishes, and refill the waters. Everyone at your party is probably more than willing to lend a helping hand, so just ask! I also have quite a few friends who will help clean up or even take out the trash before leaving, and although I don’t expect it, I always appreciate it.
In summary, you should host a dinner party. It’s honestly easy. Just plan ahead and get your friends to help and things will go well for you. And if they don’t for some reason, just order pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza? Thanks for letting me share. xo. Emma