Five tips for hosting a dinner party (and a giveaway!)

checklist with boxes to tick

Last week over at Food Bloggers of Canada, Corey Mintz, author of How to Host a Dinner Party published by The House of Anansi, shared his top five tips for hosting a dinner party.  Corey was a speaker at FBC2013 and all attendees received a copy of his book courtesy of FBC2013 sponsors, House of Anansi Press. I know many of us read the book in one sitting – it’s an informative, humourous read – at the end of each chapter, I found myself thinking “just one more!” If you’re a keen entertainer (or aspire to be one) this is the book for you.

Chez eat. live. travel. write. we are ambitious hosts (despite our tiny kitchen) and manage to pull off some real culinary feats.  When I had just moved to Canada in 2000, we hosted a dinner party where guests were required to wear black and gold masquerade masks (bearing in mind that this was the first time I was meeting some of Neil’s friends, not so helpful remembering their names later sans masks) and we had fireworks in the front garden. We hosted a dinner party with a Cambodian theme one year for the Night of 1000 Dinners where we sent teaser mailings to each guest for 8 weeks leading up to the big day and guests were required to complete a quiz about each of the mailings at the dinner itself. Mailing items included chopsticks. Canada Post did not like us very much!

We routinely seat more people that really fit around our tiny dining table and most of our formal dinners are themed. Around the World on a Plate dinner party, anyone? That meal was a big hit and featured dishes and wine pairings inspired by each continent (thankfully I have Mr Neil, in-house wine consultant!). So no, we don’t make things easy for ourselves. But we REALLY love entertaining others and there’s nothing I would rather spend a Saturday doing that prepping a dinner party!

Today, along with a giveaway of Corey’s book, I thought I would share some kitchen wisdom that our ambitious entertaining has taught us so here goes, my top five tips for hosting a dinner party.

1. Get organised

Whilst it’s nice to think you might not really need to plan ahead when hosting a dinner party, in reality, it’s not going to happen. After you’ve invited all the guests and you have a firm date, sit down with a calendar in front of you and identify all the food-related obligations you’ll have on your plate (pun intended!). Now, divide and conquer! Being organized will go a long way to making sure you pull it off with style!

2. Be a list-maker

I am the Post-It Queen (both at home and at work). When we entertain, you’ll be guaranteed to find a plethora of Post-Its around the house

  • along the backsplash of our kitchen counter, in chronological order of what needs to be done and when
  • in the fridge, labeling items with instructions and sometimes numbering them in the order in which they will be used
  • and everywhere else I can stick one up.

I’m a visual cook, so I list items on separate Post-Its  – this works better than one stress-inducing never-ending list which I inevitably keep on adding to!  It’s SO satisfying to be able to peel those stickies off the walls and containers as you work through your list. As you prep ingredients for your mise en place on the day of your gathering, Post-Its are useful to label the steps so that, in the heat of the moment, you don’t accidentally add sugar to your savoury dish or sub chopped mint for cilantro.

3. Read recipes (and make more lists)

It goes without saying that you should read your recipes all the way through, from start to finish, although I have been guilty of not doing so!   Make a list of the ingredients you will need, and another list of those you need to buy. Make sure you have all necessary utensils and equipment for each recipe. Check you have enough oven and stovetop space to coordinate serving each dish at the right time. Make a plan, hour by hour starting at serving time of the final course working backwards to make sure you have enough time to get everything done. These might seem like “no brainer” tips but you would be surprised at how many times I have found myself in the middle of a recipe (with company on the way) only to realize I don’t have enough space in my oven, or that I’m missing a key ingredient. Yes, really!

4. Do a “practice run” of unfamiliar recipes

I can’t stress the importance of practice. If you’re brave enough to make a new recipe for a large gathering, be smart enough to practice beforehand. For the timing, for the technique, and mostly, for your peace of mind, so you’re not madly Googling a step of a recipe you don’t understand when your guests are waiting for you. And yes, I have been known to excuse myself so I could Google something I was unsure of in the middle of a dinner!

5. Be flexible and have a backup plan (and backup food!)

So you’ve done a trial run of a couple of new-to-you recipes and maybe they didn’t turn out quite as expected. Be prepared – make sure you have a “B” list of fallback dishes. Even more importantly, be prepared in case something goes wrong on the day with some backup food (especially desserts) and plenty of wine!

(Bonus tip) 6. Have fun!

Don’t stress out too much. Enjoy your company. Enjoy sharing the food you prepared. You guests won’t have a good time if you are stressing out. So sit back and relax. Cheers!

A version of this post originally appeared on the Sobeys Better Food Blog.

Win a copy of Corey Mintz’s How to Host a Dinner Party (international!)

Thanks to the kind folks at the House of Anansi, I have one copy of How to Host a Dinner Party to give away (and since I’m paying the postage, I am happy to send it anywhere in the world!)


How to enter:

1. Leave a comment on this post with your best tip for hosting a dinner party!

2. For a bonus entry, tweet the following message:

“Win a copy of @coreymintz ‘ new book from @houseofanansi and @eatlivtravwrite Details:”

Then come back to leave me a separate comment letting me know you did.

Eligibility and contest rules

  • Open to to anyone, anywhere in the world
  • No purchase of any product necessary for entry.
  • Winner will be chosen using from all qualified entries on Tuesday, June 25th 2013 after 6pm EST.
  • Winner will be contacted via email on Wednesday June 26th 2013.

31 thoughts on “Five tips for hosting a dinner party (and a giveaway!)”

  1. Well. Dinner parties in our home are far and few between, only partly because I freak out at the very thought of planning, organizing and cooking for a group of people. After a few near disasters and me going into high-panic mode, husband took over, doing all the cooking. Except dessert.

    I like your list and it is definitely the best and only way to approach a dinner party. With the most important step: don’t panic, have fun.

    I admire you and your parties!!

  2. Under promise, over deliver. And, don’t take yourself too seriously. Make sure to have fun with your guests (this can easily be acheived if you hire someone to clean up!).

  3. Make a playlist that fits the mood of the party, and play music while your guests are dining! Playing music while you’re cooking can also help de-stress you before your friends arrive. I also love to add fresh flowers and candles to the table.

  4. Never make a new recipe on the same day of the party, try it ahead of time because if something goes wrong you’ll at least can have enough time for a back up or a retry.

  5. Have a great cocktail/appetizer spread so that if things don’t happen as fast as you thought in the kitchen- no one will notice, and choose things that just need to be thawed/heated/neither so that you aren’t in the kitchen when you should be having fun!

  6. Have a theme for your party – maybe not quite as elaborate as your “black and gold” party – I’m not quite as talented as you! 🙂

    I like picking a theme or country early in the planning process. I find that having a theme makes dish, wine and cocktail selection so much easier and get the creative juices flowing. Plus it’s fun to pick up some decorations that fit in as well too!

  7. Make one recipe that is your signature dish! It will give you something to talk about and you’ll have confidence it knowing it’s tried and true!

  8. I try to chose recipes that can be prepared ahead of time…then I can just enjoy myself…and practice makes perfect…just keep having people over…most are really happy to have someone else cook!

  9. My tip is to keep it small – I’ve found it’s way more fun to cook for a group that can all sit together around the table.

  10. Only do one ambitious/show stopping thing per party. It could be a stunning dessert, or a mind blowing appetizer, or a thousand paper cranes to decorate a table with a very minimalist meal – that way you will be less stressed because it’s only ONE big thing to take care of, and your guests will have a focal point for memories and stories for years to come!

  11. Make sure to have a few really easy appetizers, low-fi but high end at the same time. This could be really great (purchased) babaganoush and locally-made tortilla chips. And always have a reliable wine that you can enjoy yourself.

  12. Know your guests: Is there anyone with allergies? A vegetarian? I always inquire so that no one leaves hungry or disappointed.


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