We see it all the time in shows and movies. They make it look so grand. The house is spotless, with everything in its place. The host or hostess hears the guests coming to the door and they are ready to “put on the dog”. The hostess is perfectly dressed, made up in her pearls and heels. The host dons a suit and a tie with perfectly polished shoes.
As the guests arrive and are met at the door, their coats are whisked off out of sight. As they walk in they see that the dinner table is beautifully draped, a centerpiece of fresh flowers adorn the middle, the dishes and silverware are placed with precision. The co-host offers a cocktail and pulls ice right from the bucket with little tongs, or shakes up a convenient martini complete with little olives on a stick. All this is happening while guests stand around making polite small talk. The hostess appears with a tray of lovely canapes and passes by each guest as she receives a compliment on her food, her table, her dress or perhaps the new sofa.
Dinner Is Served
Upon the announcement that dinner is being served, the dinner guests make their way to the table to find a little handwritten place card with their first and last name carefully appointed in the center of their place setting. The side dishes are all awaiting them in perfectly covered serving dishes. The seating arrangement had been well thought out in advance and carefully crafted by the hosts. After the guests are seated comfortably, the hostess magically appears with a decorative and well-staged tray containing the main dish. The dinner guests make approving noises and gestures just at the sight of it. The dinner conversation is engaging the discussion is a bit more in-depth with guests sharing about current events and often a tad bit of gossip. Once dinner is through, everyone convenes in the parlor or living room for an after-dinner drink, dessert, and game of charades.
As the evening winds down guests are given their coats and our host/hostess sees each one out the door and waving as they drive off. We see that dishes are piled up in the kitchen and we hear our hosts proclaim that they can wait till morning.
The next day we find that career opportunities, business deals, and power meetings are all products of that gathering of handpicked dinner guests. That dinner party set the tone for success.
Hollywood makes it all look so easy, so natural. If only you could pull this off you could create a magical evening that your guests will talk about for months. You could orchestrate new friendships, career moves and be known as power-hosts, and gaining a seat at one of your coveted dinner parties is seen as a status symbol.
So why isn’t everyone doing this all the time?
While Hollywood plays up all the outcomes, it fails to show the details of hosting a flawless dinner party. It never shows all the hard work that goes into pulling off a successful event. That is why most often the closest we can get to creating this is meeting up at a nice restaurant for dinner. Have you ever planned a wedding? Think of having a dinner party akin to having a mini wedding.
Although the number of guests attending will be less, the same amount of attention to detail must be present. Details such as what each person will do as they arrive, where will their coats and or bags go, what they will drink, who will make said drinks? What will they be served with their beverage and on what serving vessel? How will the guest eat the appetizers, with a fork or just a napkin? This is only the first stage of the guest’s evening. Prior to that, all the food and table settings have been given the same amount of consideration.
Perhaps you have hosted a dinner or party or two and even if they were very successful you know the reality of the amount of time and effort that went into planning, hosting and cleaning up. I once hosted a themed murder mystery dinner party that took me over a month to turn my home into New Orleans Mansion. It was fabulous fun that I will always remember, people talked about that dinner for years, however, that was over ten years ago. Why do you think I did not host another since then?
Lots of Preparation
Dinner parties do not have to be as elaborate as a murder mystery. They can be as simple as having 6 to 8 people over for an evening of enjoying food and conversation. I don’t know about you, but here is what the reality of that has looked more like for me.
I spend a week planning and selecting a guest list. Spend time researching and coming up with what the menu should be (in full disclosure, sometimes I select the food first and figure out who would appreciate it most to compile my guest list). I decide on a signature cocktail, then I shop for the food in multiple grocery stores, including the liquor store.
My house needs to be cleaned meticulously and not just the inside. I must include the entrance that may include power washing stairs, cutting grass and even planting flowers. I most likely have to re-arrange the furniture to accommodate my guests.
Two days before the dinner party I prep the food that can accommodate being prepped days in advance, and I use my freezer if I must. I also start my table decorations at this time and pull together plates, choose serving vessels, silverware, napkins and shine the wine glasses. I bathe and groom the dog, wash sheets and clean toilets.
The Day Of The Dinner Party
I wake early and address anything that still needs attention. I reach out to all my guests to let them know I am looking forward to seeing them. During the day I will answer a multitude of texts about what can they bring, where they will park, etc. Cooking begins and updates made for any needed adjustments in my menu.
Approximately an hour before my guests arrive I will start fretting that I need a shower and that I have not decided yet what I am going to wear. (I am someone who can not stick to a wardrobe plan as the weather really determines how I will dress and what I will do with my hair). I now do not have time to blow-dry and straighten my hair so I opt to throw it up on top of my head and focus on at least having makeup on my face.
It is usually at this point the dog decides to act up. He tears up a toy and poops on the rug, or some other distraction before I need to attend to drinks and appetizers. I throw on any old sundress and maybe earrings if I remember and realize my nails look terrible. In the midst of planting and cleaning the house, I had wrecked my manicure. I have to decide to paint over my nails and sacrifice the time for them to dry or remove all color and have naked ugly nails. I am feeling the panic of time ticking away and worry that I will not have dinner prepared on schedule. I opt for ugly nails and get back to the kitchen.
The First Guests Arrive
As I am putting finishing touches on the first round of appetizers the doorbell rings. It is my first guest arriving early, carrying flowers that need to go in a vase and a bottle of champagne that they insist we open before others arrive. I grab a stool to climb to find an available vase in the upper cabinet since all my others are in use. While I have the stool pulled out I reach for champagne glasses from the cabinets without checking to see if they are properly cleaned. I spot a lipstick stain on the rim and put that one in the sink.
I trim the stems off the beautiful flowers that my guest gave me, place them in the vase and take a sip of champagne. Now the dog decides he wants to go out to pee. I am really feeling stressed and need to focus on my food in order for it to be cooked properly.
Darn, I remember now that I needed more butter, out to the freezer I go. My guests are talking to me while I am trying to concentrate on my recipe for the main dish and while I am simultaneously platting my first round of appetizers. I am trying to keep a smile on my face but in full disclosure, I am only half-listening as my attention span is wearing thin.
The doorbell rings again and it is my second guest arriving. She hands me a previously borrowed Tupperware dish and a melon that she insists needs to be cut up with dessert. I am secretly peeved that she could not bother to slice this ahead of time and that it does not even compliment my well thought-out dessert. I am really stressed, I am not having fun and want to pour another glass of champagne to take the edge off.
I am somewhat relieved when I realized at least now maybe my guests can talk to each other so I can get back to cooking. As I stir my sauce and answer questions about how I am making it and what they can do to help I am wondering how I could have been more prepared? What would make this dinner party better?
I set up appetizers in the living room but as guests arrive they are congregating in the kitchen around my previously spotless but now dirty sink and greasy stove with drips from my spoon. I look down at my sundress and I am wearing a drop of sauce now too. How did I forget to put on an apron? After urging them to move to the living room for the third time I realize this was pointless. I pour some champagne for myself and the doorbell rings. I am in the middle of cooking so I ask one guest to let another in.
Time to plate another appetizer and offer everyone a signature cocktail. The oven timer beeps and I must turn my attention away from my guests to tend to my cooking dinner. Once the dinner is done I am relieved to start cutting and preparing my platters and serving dishes. I assign the task of opening and pouring the wine to a guest.
This is not going at all like it does in the movies.
Time To Dine
We are ready to move to the dining room. finally moving away from the kitchen that looks like a bomb hit it. As we approach the table, my heart sinks a bit as I never put out the handcrafted and well thought out place cards that ensured those best connections and power-conversations ensued. I placate myself by thinking “oh well, everyone has gotten to know each other quite well standing around in my dirty kitchen anyway”.
We pass the serving plates and begin to eat when I hear a timer going off. It is my dessert. I jump up and run to the oven in mid-conversation and have to apologize for being distracted. “Geez, you would think I never had a dinner party before!”
As I get back to the table everyone else has finished dinner and my plate has been hardly touched. I clear all the dishes and fend off the offers by my guests for help as the last thing I want is everyone congregating back in the kitchen over a sink full of dirty dishes. I need them to stay put. I hand them another bottle of wine to open as this will distract them long enough for me to plate the desserts.
My dessert did not turn out at all as it looked on Pinterest. Oh well, maybe my guests are tipsy enough to not even notice that my dessert is ugly. I know at least it tastes good. Back in the dining room as I empty my glass of wine, I scarf down a whole plate of ugly dessert and realize that it is the first plate of food I have had all day.
The conversation drones on until late in the night and I am sleepy and barely able to keep up. It is now past midnight and I have been up since 5:30 AM. Guests start talking about opening another bottle of wine and normally I would be up for it but tonight I am thinking about all the dishes I have to do. I am secretly thinking if I sneak off to the kitchen I could get a jump on them. But this is not an option with this crew of guests as they would all insist on getting in the kitchen with me.
A Very Long Evening
I will just have to be a good host and pour myself more coffee. At 2:00 AM people are finally leaving. I am wide awake and now suddenly very hungry. As my last guest pulls out of the driveway, I plate food for myself that has by no doubt sat out too long and has become dry and stone cold. I pour a glass of wine with it and look at the mess I have to clean. It will be 4:00 AM before I get to bed.