Throwing a dinner party seems so grown-up and sophisticated. Imagine yourself flitting between guests, refilling drinks, and calling everyone in to a meal that will surely be complimented later. In reality, dinner parties are thought of as “grown-up” because they require planning and alcohol is usually served.
Before you let the idea of time management, preparation and general adulting scare you away from the idea of hosting a dinner party, try these few tricks. With a little guidance and some tips, you could be on your way to being the perfect host.
When it comes to planning, it’s best to keep your limitations in mind, both emotionally and logistically. It’s important not to spread yourself too thin or to overextend your resources. After all, you want to have fun at your own party.
Invite a number of people that is doable for your space and for mingling. If you live in tight quarters, a party of 12 is going to be an uncomfortable affair. On the other hand, if you only invite two other friends who don’t know each other, things are going to get awkward really fast. There is a sweet spot. A number where the conversation can flow, the sardines won’t be packed, and you can easily feed the bunch.
When you have reached your magic number it is time to choose your special guests. Try not to make all the attendees strangers. This isn’t the movie Clue. When the only thing guests have in common is the host, conversation can dry up very early in the evening.
Besides the general invitation information presented regarding the what, when and where, also give your guests an idea on the theme of party. Let them know what type of attire is expected. Will this be a casual potluck where Sharon’s Dynamite Bean Dip and basic threads are welcome? Or is this a swanky soirée where cocktail attire is required?
Cocktail Batching to the Rescue
Murphy’s law, we are all familiar with it to a painful extent. But what you may not know is that if your guests have a drink in their hand, they really don’t care whose law it is or why it matters.
Cocktail Batching is where that little bit of preparation makes you look like an adult host. Simply put, you’re premixing large quantities of cocktails rather than mixing them individually later. Having drinks ready for your guests can take the pressure off of you, and also cover for you if you don’t have dinner ready quite yet.
Before you start batching, make sure you have some tools on hand. You will need some empty vessels large enough to mix, store and serve these drinks. These may be pitchers, punch bowls, or empty liquor bottles. You will also need measuring equipment, a funnel, a ladle if a bowl is involved, and the ability to store and chill these batched cocktails until it’s party time.
Cocktail batching is a wonderful way to keep your guests happy without trapping you behind the bar. Pick a couple of spirit-based drinks that lend themselves well to batching. Some easy batching go-tos are martinis, old fashions, Manhattans, and Sidecars. Avoid drinks that include dairy or eggs as those ingredients do not age well.
Be sure to taste test. Some drinks are poured over ice and dilute themselves. Others may need a little water added to them. The only way to know is to try it out.
Punch-style drinks are a great way to cocktail batch for a casual party. The alcoholic version of punch often consists of a combination of juice, spirits, syrups, fruits and sometimes a carbonated element. In preparation for a party, everything but the carbonated liquid and the fruit can be pre-combined a day or so before, sealed and refrigerated. Pre-cut fruit can be added to the non-carbonated liquid concoction at the same time the carbonation is added in a punch bowl or other vessel of choice.
Mixing and Mathing
If you are mixing things up more than a day before the party, the rule of thumb is that like ingredients go together. Your spirits can be pre-mixed with liqueurs or your juices can be combined with other juices. Adding booze and juice together should be saved for day-of, but can still be done prior to the party. Easy sugar-based mixers like simple syrups can be added to either mix at any time, but watch out for bitters, those can get pretty potent on you so keep those to the day of and be conservative.
Now to take a recipe from one drink and make it into several drinks. How you approach this process is entirely up to how much of a purist you are when it comes to the cocktail arts. If you’re just looking to make some nice tasting cocktails and have plenty of them, focus on ratios. Where a drink calls for one ounce, change that to a cup. There are eight ounces to a cup so essentially you have turned a recipe for one drink into eight drinks.
If you prize yourself on your ability to mix the perfect drink, you’re going to need to be more precise. Get out your calculator and your liquid scale, like Escali’s Aqua Digital Scale. It’s not a difficult process, but will take a little more effort to get that perfect balance of flavors vs. the loosey-goosey method which will just get you pretty close to the mark.
Keep it Simple
You can approach your food menu much like you approach your drink menu. Do as much as you can ahead of time in large batches. Much of your chopping and portioning can be done ahead of time, or better yet, prepackaged. Your meal should be something easy and one that doesn’t require a lot of your attention during the party.
Food doesn’t need to be complicated to be delicious. Guests don’t usually leave a party thinking, “Steve’s food was yummy, but I wish it had been more of an involved process to make it.” There is no shame in prepackaged salad. Think of it as adding more time for your guests.
Make sure you have enough cutlery and dinnerware for your guests. Coming up six spoons short on party day is not an opportunity to suggest bonding by sharing. Take stock of your utensils and dishes before-hand and use disposable or borrow if you have to. If your party is a potluck, check to see that you have plenty of serving tools.
Prior to settling on food choices, it is a good idea to confirm RSVPs and any dietary restrictions that your guests may have.
Set yourself apart from other dinner parties by engaging your guests in an old-fashioned practice made new again, the digestif. A digestif is exactly what it sounds like, an after-dinner sipping drink that is supposed to aid in digestion. Science hasn’t backed up the claims of these drinks being digestive aids, but your guests didn’t come to your party to learn hard science.
Why not combine the idea of coffee and a digestif with this Espresso Martini? Use a stovetop espresso maker, such as this one from The London Sip to get the richest flavor. And to really impress your guests, make your own simple syrup by heating up equal parts white sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved. When measuring, remember that both liquid and dry ingredients (like sugar) are most accurately measured by mass with a kitchen scale like this one from Escali.
- 1 part Kahlúa
- 1 part vodka
- 1 part espresso
- ½ part simple syrup
Add ingredients into shaker over ice and vigorously. Pour contents into martini glasses, add coffee beans or chocolate covered coffee beans as a garnish, and enjoy!
Set up for Success
There is no secret trick to a great party, but there are certainly tricks you can use to make it look like you know a secret or two. Taking advantage of time saving products like a rotisserie chicken from the deli, making all of your mixed cocktails ahead of time, and keeping your numbers manageable can help you plan a great event and enjoy it.
Oh! And don’t forget the ice!