Whether you’re having an intimate get-together with a few friends or a big family gathering, the key to a successful dinner party is always in the planning. By ensuring you’re fully prepared and organised ahead of the event, you can make cooking a far less stressful experience – leaving you relaxed and free to enjoy the evening. Here’s a simple planning checklist to help your next party go off without a hitch.
Any dietary requirements? Check whether your guests have any dietary requirements or preferences before you start planning your menu. That way, you can avoid the unnecessary panic of having to whip up a vegetarian dish (or something suitable for someone with allergies) at the last minute.
Take a look at our quick guide to the most common dietary requirements to help plan your menu.
Pick a theme. Try to find a coherent theme or style to bring everything together when planning your menu. Serving lots of complex dishes hailing from different parts of the world is likely to confuse the taste buds of your guests.
Don't overcomplicate things. After all, there’s no point in cooking three courses of hot food if you're barely able to spend any time with your guests. If you're cooking three courses, focus the majority of your energy on the main and choose simple recipes for the starter and dessert – great presentation can make even the simplest dishes thoroughly impressive, and your guests will value your conversation as well as your fantastic food.
Prepare in advance. Make your life easier by preparing a few things in advance. Sauces and cold desserts can be made the day before the dinner, whilst vegetables can be peeled, chopped and stored overnight in a container with dampened kitchen paper. Ingredients that have a tendency to discolour (like aubergine or avocado) can be sprinkled with lemon juice or stored fully immersed in cold water for freshness.
Make a time plan for what needs to be done and when, and try to stick to it. Whilst you don’t need to do everything with military precision, it can be hugely helpful to put a basic schedule in place – that way you can avoid getting flustered and forgetting the little details.
Have a trial run on your family: the more familiar you are with the processes, the more confident you’ll be on the day. This is especially helpful for complicated dishes you’re trying out for the first time – better to have your family be willing guinea pigs than your dinner guests!
Order the ingredients in advance for peace of mind, particularly if you’re buying from local suppliers. You wouldn’t want to visit your butcher on the day of the dinner to find he’s sold out of that all-important rack of lamb.
Tableware check. Check that you have enough cutlery and dishes to cater for all your guests in advance, and make sure everything is spotless and shining before you start laying the table.
Keep on top of your dinner party planning with our handy print-out checklist: