The idea of entertaining guests for dinner can result in heart palpations for many. Our desire to please all of our guests can over take us. Visions of Martha Stewart and Ina Garten dance in our heads. We envision ourselves in a stainless apron, pearls, smiling over a table straight from Pottery Barn catalogue. We are possible smiling at our guests thinking, “how easy is that?”
I will admit over time I have come close to this ideal. Although I have learned its great to aspire to achieve this scenario, it is not necessarily what matters. Many of my DishItGirl friends have asked if I had any holiday or entertaining tips. To start with, I am so excited that you are taking on this venture! While I am not means an expert, yet! Here are some things I have learned a long the way from watching my parents and having gatherings myself. The most important part is through all of this remember you are doing something wonderful just by having people get together. Opening up your home is opening up your heart. Everyone appreciates that, and if they don’t then say a quiet prayer for them.
-Menu planning to me is the most fun part! Once I have fleshed this out I usually find that all of the other details take shape.
-Plan out your grocery trips carefully. It is possible you may have to go more than once. You may be to do a big shopping trip 4 or 5 days in advance for most items. Things like fish or meat that you want to be a bit fresher you may reserve for closer to the date. The reason why I split it up is because closer to the holiday the longer the lines. Being able to run right to the butcher counter and straight the express line helps!
-Make sure all of your dish towels, cloth napkins, and table cloths are clean. I would say get this laundry out of the way earlier in the week. Also gives you a chance to assess whether or not you even have a table cloth!
-I use the weekend before to clean and pull out all of my linens. That way I can make sure I have what I need. If I need to run out to the store, I have time.
-Try to get a head count before you go out food shopping.
-Consider your budget. For example, alcohol can get really pricey! Instead of having every type of alcohol or soda, I will do one signature drink. Then offer a wine that goes with dinner, water, ice tea, or lemonade. Sometimes even putting out a cheeseboard can end up blowing your whole budget. Try putting together one that is a complete appetizer once put together. For example, Manchego cheese goes well with figs. So put the cheese on a platter with fresh figs if you can find them, with a fig spread and crackers. Guests can put it together how they want!
-Think about how you want the party to flow. Is it a sit down dinner with 3-4 courses? Will you be serving family style or plated?
-When planning out the menus I try to make sure I dishes that are easy and ready fast. You don’t want every dish to be complex, you will never have time! For example, if you are making Porchetta pair it with Idahoan Signature™ Russets Mashed Potatoes . This way you have time to tend to the labor intensive Porchetta while knowing one of your sides is taken care of!
– I usually like to have something for guests to graze on when they arrive. Italians refer to this as antipasto. Then if I am serving family style I usually like to have a main dish, salad option, and two side dishes. Usually one starch and a vegetable. Throw in some pop overs or garlic bread if you are feeling crazy!
-If you know far in advance that you are having a dinner party or holiday try practicing some of your dishes. Trying out a recipe for the first time when having guests over can really up the chances of a disaster.
-Always make extra gravies or sauces. I have run into this problem many a times when making a pasta or a roast. I make it according to the recipe and even if double the recipe I can come up short in this department. I always make extra or even a separate batch. It has even saved me from drying out a dish!
-Pre-cut, chop, peel, and whatever you can do the night before. You would be surprised how long peeling potatoes takes, or chopping up brussels sprouts.
-Consider leftovers. Now my family always has aluminum pans on hand so people can take leftovers home. It cuts down on food going to waste and people taking all of your precious Tupperware!
-Always start with a clean kitchen! Dishwasher as empty as it can be. Your prep station is set with cutting board and knives. Your potholders are out and ready for action. It is so helpful and gives you a sense of a control.
-Black garbage bags are your friend. The small kitchen garbage bags seem to leak and rip when I have a party. They can’t handle the amount of garbage and all of the food. If anything, at least have them on stand-by to put your regular kitchen bags in. It will make taking the garbage out much easier!
-Take all of your platters and serving ware out the night before. Use post it notes to label them with what you are using them for. This way you aren’t wasting time looking for your favorite cheese board while people are walking in. Also, if someone arrives early and wants to be helpful let them grab the cheeseboard and start arranging. This way it helps avoid someone staring at you while you are trying to do a million things!
-Consider your fridge space. As you start cooking, your fridge can start filling up. During colder month’s garage space is helpful! Make sure your fridge is organized for maximum space allowance prior. Maybe even grab a large cooler to use as well. Yes, I have done this before!
-Weekend before do a comprehensive house cleaning. Give all your bathrooms and main traffic areas a good once over. That way closer to the day you will have minor touch-ups to do.
-If you have guest bedrooms/bathrooms have the sheets already changed and extra towels all ready.
-Make sure there is extra toilet paper in bathrooms easily accessible. I will leave that tip right where it is haha!
-Think about where people congregate and the space you have. No matter what I do people seem to end up in the kitchen. Which I am so used too now it feels right. Try putting some appetizers on the coffee table by the TV. Or set up the drinks on a table in the dining area. That way it encourages people to flow to different areas.
-Set up all of your glassware, utensils, and eating spaces prior to the day. I always have the table set and the beverage station done the night before. It is such a big relief the next day. My mom even had the coffee urn and etc. set up the night before any of her events!
-Wake up early go for a run if you want or have your coffee. Give yourself an hour to get your head on straight and take a shower! Because the morning and the day will get away from you. Before you know it your guests are arriving and you are still in your PJ’s.
-After this I usually do an hour or so of prep pertaining to things that have an early start time. Once I get that done I return to things like blow drying my hair or making myself look somewhat presentable. I give this another 20-30. If you need more than plan accordingly. Make sure you have clothes picked out before the gathering
-Make sure YOU eat something!!! There is nothing worse than a hangry cook or host. Since I am cooking and prepping so much I like to keep things on hand that are not labor intensive. Yet they will fill my belly and give me stamina for all of the work ahead. I love to keep a stock of Blake’s all natural pot pies in the freezer. They also make for great meals to have on hand when you have guests staying the night!
-It is okay to designate a friend or family member to help facilitate some parts of the party. There are always people who feel honored to have a small job! Things like making sure the Ipod is always playing or maybe keeping an eye on the ice bucket. I personally love help with greeting guests and getting coats hung up
Keep in mind some of these tips are meant for larger holiday gatherings. Every time you have people over you are not going to need to prep sheets and towels. You know the type of celebration you are having and the guest list. Trust your instincts, you know how far you need to go in prep. Remember, all of this comes with experience. No matter what the worst thing that can happen most likely will not happen. The worst thing is that everyone spends these special times alone and your house is empty. That is much worse than being short a cloth napkin or burning the dinner.
Have any helpful tips of your own? Share them below, and spread the love!