how (not) to throw a dinner party

You read lovely tips all the time on how to throw a better dinner party, advice like having a house cocktail and sending an actual paper invitation. I don’t disagree, but before we get to those nice suggestions, there are a lot of other things you need to get right first.

I throw a lot of dinner parties, mostly because I actually want to be at more dinner parties, and along the way, I’ve had (still have)…hiccups. You might be able to spare yourself some expense by learning from my examples, so I’m sharing them with you–tips on how to throw a dinner party, and also, how not to.

1. Start earlier. Way earlier. I don’t know why but on the day of a dinner party, even my tried and true recipes seem to take longer. Maybe I’m paying more attention to how I cut things or trying not to make a mess? I have, honestly, served guests at 10 when I intended to serve them at 8. Actually, I regularly did that in the beginning. So when you’re thinking about a workback, give yourself lots of wiggle room.

1-a. A tip connected to the first, do your makeup 1 hour before. No really. Just stop what you’re doing and get party-ready. And interpret the rule as necessary. If you don’t have makeup to put on, brush your teeth, iron your shirt, spritz your cologne–it’s now or never. Someone will arrive early and you will have to grin and answer the door in your pajamas that you never bothered to change out of when you woke up at noon on Saturday and started cleaning and prepping for the party. Maybe. That could happen…to someone.

2. Know your audience. There are friends who don’t mind staying until the wee hours of the night, in which case what time you serve dinner is irrelevant. There are others who have a babysitter to relieve at exactly 11pm. Once I hadn’t even preheated the oven when a couple told me they had to leave in an hour. Perhaps we could share a little guilt on that one but still, my bad for assuming we could stretch things out. Better to leave the really long lingering until after dinner. Also, it’s your lifelong friends that will think it unnecessary to remind you of their peanut allergy or gag-reflex to mushrooms. Think hard when you’re menu-planning, especially when “oh, it’s just so-and-so coming over…”.

3. Don’t get drunk until after you serve dinner. I know, duh, but sometimes your liveliest friends start pouring the drinks, including yours, and while you absolutely should have a tipple with them, remember you still have things to do and they don’t. It’s not a good idea to keep pace with them until your work is pretty much done. I’ll tweet you pictures of burns 4, 5 and 7 on my hands and arms if you’re still not convinced.

4. Don’t forget the other details, and I do all the time. The table looks nice, sure, and this time there’s enough ice and a playlist has been set. But an empty vase to receive flowers is a good idea, or you may set them aside until you can deal with them, only to remember them when your generous guest and you spot them wilted and forgotten by the door as they leave at midnight. And your wine glasses are clean and sitting, ready, on your shelf, but did you check them for huge while watermarks? They’re there.

5. This last one, thankfully, I feel I deliver on. Spoil your guests. Don’t spend beyond your means, but splurge where you can in a way that your guest will be grateful for. If you know your girlfriends really love awesome blue cheese then that’s where to be a little generous. I am not dessert-minded so that is often the one thing that I buy instead of made from scratch. Get flowers. Warm the milk for tea.

Got all that? Good. I’ll be wait for my invitation, which I assume you’ll mail.