How to be the Ultimate Dinner-Party Host

If you’re throwing a dinner party for the first time, then it’s easy to feel the pressure. But the fact is that provided the food’s good, you can’t really go wrong: if you’re inviting people you know and like, then you can be sure that the conversation will be stimulating. Provided you follow our advice, the evening will probably go off without a hitch!

How many people should I invite?

If this is your first time hosting, then it’s better to start with just three or four guests. The fewer people are there, the less of a big deal it’ll be when something goes wrong. Moreover, the less food you have to make, the easier life will be. Close friends will be a little more forgiving of kitchen mishaps. If you’re lucky enough to have an extendable dining table, then you’ll be able to accommodate everyone without having the furniture dominate the dining room in day-to-day use.

What should I serve?

You want to be able to wow your guests with your culinary skills. But even if you’re an expert in preparing a few platefuls every evening, you might find that catering for eight adults is a slightly different proposition. Don’t try anything new on the night. Don’t try anything that requires complicated assembly three seconds before service, or that needs to be cooked in batches. 

For example, if you have to fry eight sirloin steaks, then the first is surely going to be cold before the last has had a chance to properly rest. Get around this by frying them to rare ahead of time, and then finishing in the oven. The more you can take care of before your guests arrive, generally speaking, the better.

What about starters and deserts?

For reasons of simple convenience, cold starters and deserts are usually preferable. A cheesecake can be brought out right at the end as a reliable crowd-pleaser. A prawn cocktail can be prepared before your guests arrive and served cold without too much trouble. You can make simple ingredients like feta seem super-fancy by marinating them in advance.

What about drinks?

Choosing the right wine to go with your food is critical. Basically, the fattier the meat you’re serving (if you’re serving meat), the more tannin you want in the wine. A beef stew will stand up to a deep, rich chianti, while a delicate side of plaice will complement a nice chenin blanc. Again, test your pairings before you invite the guests over.

What about afterwards?

After the last plate has been cleared, you can’t simply call the evening a success and dismiss your guests into the night. Arrange a round of brandy, scotch or some suitable after-dinner drink while you’re getting everything in place for the post-meal games.

What about games?

Great, safe choices include charades, Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit. Alternatively, you might go a little more high-tech and download a party game or two for your games console or PC. Just make sure that everyone’s phone is fully charged and get Jackbox or something similar on the main screen.