5 things you may not have thought of for planning your dinner party
1. Ask your guests if they have any special food allergies
There’s nothing worse than finding out on the night that someone is allergic to something you’ve lovingly spent hours preparing. On the other hand, it is up to people to make their hosts aware that they’ve got any allergies – particularly if they’re life threatening. Call me crosspatch, but I draw the line at food fads. If they rock up saying they’re on a “no red foods after 7pm” regimen just to squeeze into their size 0 hotpants (boys, you know who you are), then it’s tough luck. I find the diet brigade the best at chowing down the leftovers anyway, all restrictions forgotten when there’s good company and good food laid out.
2. Lists, lists and lists. Did I mention lists?
Make a list of everything you need, course by course. You may be surprised by what you forget. From olives for the martinis, right through to sugar for the coffee. Think about where ingredients double up -you may need cream for both the blinis and the chocolate mousse. A 500ml carton is going to look pretty paltry when you’re serving up the pudding.
3. Where will you store your drinks?
For a dinner party of eight, there’s a surprising amount of liquid to think about. Not just the wine, red is easy, but white wine needs to be kept cold. Do you really want to dart back and forth to the fridge every five seconds ? Wine purists hate them, but ice buckets can be really useful, and absolutely vital in the summer. But also the soft drinks. Water can be kept in jugs on the table, and if it’s cold enough, outside on a window ledge or balcony. You could also think about filling up the bath with cold water and ice – something that always looks like something out of an American frat movie, but super effective. The beer can go in there too.
When you live in a climate like ours, it’s always good to think about how you’re going to store coats (gloves, hats, umbrellas, balaclavas), particularly if it’s been raining or snowing. If you have children, this is a wonderful job to delegate – just train them to hang coats up onto racks and make sure scarves don’t get mixed up. If you have the space, think about buying a really cheap coat rail (Ikea do them for peanuts, natch) and putting it beside the front door. That way people can robe and disrobe without getting your lovely floors wet. Of course, if you have no space at all, then all the coats will have to go sprawling on a bed. But then again, who hasn’t had an adventure on the coats with a random stranger at a party – it’s practically a rite of passage.
If you can, grab an unsuspecting babysitter / nephew / niece / godchild to help you serve drinks and canapés, and even clear up plates between courses. It’s a great way for them to earnextra pocket money, and a brilliant way of freeing up your time to spend with guests. You’ll notice that I don’t have son/daughter in the list above – think carefully before you ask them to help nearer the end of the evening. Your rendition of “The Power of Love” may be hilarious for all your dearest friends at 1 in the morning, but powerful ammunition for your offspring when they’re negotiating the next Christmas gift.