Be Our Guest: Your Guide to Hosting the Dinner Party of the Decade

A Kate Foo dinner party, circa 2010

Individually, awesome people and food are both pretty great. If you want to have a truly magnificent time, why not combine them for a good old-fashioned dinner party? (Jesus approves.)

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking that dinner parties are for Sex and the City characters or rich old people with nothing better to do. If you agree with that sentiment, I am here to tell you simply that dinner parties can be absolutely lovely.

Yet, hosting a party can be a stressful affair for anyone! Even for someone like myself, who loves playing hostess, things always seem a little more complicated than one would like. Hopefully these tips help you become a confident and prepared host(ess) so you can spend more time enjoying the company of your friends than fanning the smoke off of a burning quiche. Which is something that definitely has never happened to me.

Basics

First and foremost, select a date and time. Duh. Seems obvious, right? But as a weird old ghost once told Indiana Jones, “Choose wisely!” For optimal attendance, I would select a Saturday night at least two weeks in advance. Weeknights are usually reserved for unwinding after work. Even on a Friday night, getting all gussied up for a dinner can seem like a chore first thing after a long week. As for a time, invite people over approximately 30 minutes before you intend on serving dinner. This will give people time to mingle, give latecomers time to make it, and everyone to ask what that delicious smell is wafting from the kitchen.

Theme

No, I am not suggesting you have a Spongebob Squarepants-themed dinner party complete with coordinating cups and paper plates from Wal-Mart (though, for the record, I would totally attend). But it is important for you to consider if you want this to be a cocktail-dress kind of affair, or just a t-shirt and jeans sort of thing. Personally, I am a proponent of using any occasion I can as an excuse to dress up. Why not have the ladies break out their finest and the gents don their sport coats? I promise, it will feel less like an office party and more like dress up. If that’s not your thing, though, wear what suits you!

Invitations

The theme, a.k.a. the classiness level, of your party determines how you should invite people over. If it’s a simple get-together with a few close friends, an e-mail should do the trick. If you have a bit of a larger group, consider creating a Facebook event so you can keep track of who is and isn’t attending. If you really want to go all out, consider sending invitations. Yeah, it’s a little bit old-school, but who doesn’t love getting a fancy-shmansy card and feeling like they are in second grade again? Tip: If you do choose to send out invitations, make sure you stay on top of attendance. Not everyone will R.S.V.P., even if they plan on showing up. Shoot your friends a text or give them a call so you can make sure there is a place set for them. However you choose to invite people, make sure they know the exact time, date, location, how to reach you, and especially what to wear!

Decor

When it comes to decor, I go by the rule that it’s best to work with what you have. Don’t stress yourself out by making repeated trips to Bed Bath & Beyond for a centerpiece or a table runner that you really don’t need, but are trying to convince yourself will change the entire outcome of your get-together. Whether you are going all-out or hosting a simple affair, be resourceful! There’s nothing wrong with using a folded-in-half index card as a place marker, as long as you take the time to make it look special. If you need some creative inspiration, check out the DIY section of Design*Sponge and let the snazzy-ess commence.

People

So now that everyone is there, enjoying cocktails or admiring your hand-crafted crochet place mats, it’s time for you to officially enter Host(ess) Mode. Even if your party is simply close friends who all know each other, still make sure you make your way from group to group and do a quick catch-up. If your party is a mix of people who aren’t necessarily familiar with each other, make introductions! It can seem a little uncomfortable at first, but if you have a close friend and a co-worker who have never met, but both have a huge obsession with Lord of the Rings, I highly doubt they will mind a quick introduction so they can enjoy a discussion of Gondorian battle strategies in Two Towers vs. Return of the King.

Food

This is what it all comes down to, right? After all, these people aren’t here just to stand around and make small talk for a few hours…they want to EAT. Plan a menu that includes an appetizer, a main course, a side dish, and a dessert. Tip: Have a vegetarian friendly option. This can be something as simple as serving the chicken and the pasta on separate plates in the case of chicken alfredo. My people will be forever grateful! Most importantly, make sure the meal is something you are comfortable cooking and know you can cook well. If you want to try a new recipe, don’t make it the main course. Not that you all aren’t five-star chefs, but on top of everything else, do you really need to worry about learning how to prepare baked Alaska?

With all of this in mind, you should be pretty well equipped to pull off a kick-ass dinner party for the books. Is there anything I forgot? Anything that has or hasn’t worked for you in the past? Most importantly…what’s your go-to dish to serve?

Mother’s Day Gifts That Don’t Blow

Mother’s Day is this Sunday–but judging by the fact that everyone is panicking over what to get the woman who bore them, I’m guessing you already all know.

I saw a commercial the other day that suggested “Get mom a Dyson this Mother’s Day!” If you do that, you are doing it wrong.

The problem is that, to compensate for the fact that we have no idea what to do, we convince ourselves bigger is better and over-think to the extreme . This scenario usually ends with us sending a $300.00 Edible Arrangement basket to her office and feeling bad about ourselves because we know it really doesn’t mean that much (my apologies to the makers of Edible Arrangements, but if I want to pay $20 for a strawberry cut into the shape of a heart, I will buy one, cut it myself, and spend the remaining $19.50 on shoes).

There are also those who go the opposite route and attempt to put meaning to something with no real value. First, I want you to look up the meaning of “cognitive dissonance.” Then, I want you to take a long, hard look at that macaroni necklace you have sitting on your dresser. I know, I know. You thought it would be “ironic” or “unique” right? Wrong. Go boil dat shit, sprinkle some Parmesan on there, and let me know how it tastes.

All in all, Mother’s Day can be tricky. So let’s try and fix that.

  • Tickets

A pair of tickets are the Mother’s Day version of killing two birds with one PayPal button. She gets a gift that says “Hey! I’m going to get to spend time with my kid! They don’t want to disown me after all!” and then (surprise!) she gets to spend that time with you!

Check out listings for upcoming concerts, ballets, operas, etc. and find something you can see her loving every minute of. When browsing, try not to rank each event on the likelihood of you falling asleep or whether or not the venue has cheese fries.

I would be your mother if you took me to see La Boheme.

  • Somethin’ for the Workin’ Woman

If your mom works, get her something that she can keep on her desk or hang on the wall of her office. That way, each time Debbie from Accounting royally screws up her day, she can look to the picture of you on her desk to calm her nerves instead of going on a murderous rampage.

Artwork, picture frames, and other knick-knacks (God, there has to be a better word…) can very quickly venture into the cliché, so it’s important to personalize this to the max. If you get a unique frame, take the time to choose a great picture. If you are shopping and see one of those porcelain farm animals or hand stitched tapestries of Elvis that usually make you go “Why the hell would anyone buy a ceramic chicken? Ever?” but it suddenly reminds you of a great trip you two took to a farm in Connecticut years ago, it could make for a great, sentimental present.

The only issue with this, due to your constant presence in her workspace, you will now receive ten times more office chain e-mails with subject lines akin to “Funny Pictures of Cats!!!!1!”

If your mom doesn’t have a desk/office due to the fact that she is a nurse or a fighter pilot, I think the next option will do quite nicely.

  • A Home-Cooked Meal

Nothing could really be more stereotypical than cooking someone dinner, but oftentimes, nothing could be more special. Even if you didn’t make the cut on last season of Iron Chef, this is truly a case where it’s the thought that counts. Set out a full spread and cook something simple and classic. Might I recommend lasagna, rosemary chicken, or Irish stew? Don’t rush through dinner, either…have a great conversation, relax with coffee or tea after, and maybe put on a guilty pleasure movie.

Mmmmmmmmmmm

  • A Subscription

This is a very flexible suggestion, but there’s so much fun to be had with it!

If your mom loves to decorate or garden, subscribe her to a magazine that will inspire her interests (Amazon.com has awesome discount prices!)

If she is too busy to keep up with what’s happening on Mad Men, register her for a Netflix account.

If she is a food connoisseur, sign her up for a wine or cheese of the month club.

Yeah yeah, it sounds silly and pretentious to put it that way, but if you pick something she’s really interested in, it will be something she looks forward to every month. I believe Cousin Eddie put it best when he said “Clarke that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year!”

  • Nothing

Get a straw and suck up the Dr. Pepper you just spit everywhere at the thought of not presenting your mom with a well thought-out gift this Sunday. Hear me out–it doesn’t take much consideration to realize mom’s don’t care if they get a monogrammed silk bathrobe. They look forward to the day because it means spending time with their family.

So, why not try skipping gift-giving all together? No, this doesn’t mean you kick up your heels and think to yourself “Yep, I am doing a good deed–my mom doesn’t need any worldly possessions as a validation of my love! I am such a good person.” Wrong.

Take her out to a movie or lunch and let that be that. Then, a few weeks or months from now, treat her to that something special for no real reason at all (aside from the fact that your mom is awesome).

In the end, the day is about her–gifts are just a customary extension of that fact. No matter what you decide to get her, even if it’s ye olde flowers and chocolates, as long as it’s given in an earnest way, it won’t go unappreciated.

What do you plan on doing with/for your mom this Sunday? Let me know!