Busy schedules crammed into a limited amount of time means a few weeks spent without seeing your closest friend can suddenly stretch into months. When you finally run into each other, you decide to remedy the situation by also getting together with some of your other buddies. But figuring out where to meet up can seem like an impossible mission with high menu prices and the limited financial resources most 20-somethings face. After a quick chat, it’s decided that you’ll host a dinner party.
Wait, what? There are so many things to consider, including food, music, and the guest list. Millennials new to hosting might feel overwhelmed, but don’t go into panic mode. We’ve put together some of the best tips to help anyone look like a complete pro. With this plan of attack, you’ll rule the dinner party circuit.
1. Number (and combination) of people
While it might sound fun to gather 20 or more people for a huge bash, it’s best to keep things on the small side. That way, you can be sure everyone fits into your space and you’ll avoid having to yell over the crowd. Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar suggests between eight and 14 people to make sure people can interact without becoming too cliquey. He also likes to invite people from a few different groups of friends to keep things fresh.
While mixing it up is good, avoid potential clashes. If you have one friend who drives everyone else crazy, this is not the time to hope things will work themselves out. Adam Roberts from The Amateur Gourmet also recommends skipping people who make you feel nervous. “If you’re at ease, everything else will be easy,” he says.
2. Make a timeline
It might sound incredibly corny, but having a schedule will do wonders for your sanity. And this tip goes for veterans as well. Ina Garten told Food & Wine she always notes how long dishes take, marks down the steps, and then drafts everything into a timeline. It takes all the worry out of the equation and ensures you won’t forget anything.
Michelle Lettrich from The Brown Eyed Baker takes a similar approach. She suggests figuring out the amount of time for each dish and working backwards through the day. She also offers some great tips on how to plan the menu, which leads to the next topic.
3. Don’t experiment in the kitchen
Whipping up something new and exciting is great when flying solo or entertaining a single friend. The same is not true for a large gathering. “Don’t attempt a maiden voyage,” Bon Appétit says. It’s much better to stick with something you know will produce consistent results. Food Network has scores of dinner party recipe ideas to get you started.
If you’re really itching to try something, give it a test drive a week or two in advance. It’s better to learn that homemade tortillas are not feasible for that many people when you’re not relying on them for some beautiful tacos.
4. Cook ahead of time
Whenever possible, try to make the main course in advance. Even with a detailed schedule, it will be a lot less stressful if you make something that can easily be reheated, freeing you up to focus on side dishes the day of. You can even enlist the help of your slow cooker. Some great budget-friendly ideas include carnitas and braised chicken.
Even for dishes that you want to save until the last minute, much of the prep work can be done ahead of time. The Kitchn suggests chopping all the vegetables the day before. Another easy tip includes setting the table in advance.
5. Make sure you have enough music
Unless you’re shelling out extra money for streaming services, most of them have ads between every few songs. That’s fine for listening on your own, but it kind of ruins the mood when you’re hanging out with friends. Making a playlist is a better route, but make sure you choose wisely. Real Simple says the songs should flow into one another, rather than completely changing tempo or genre.
Kyle Linden Webster of Expatriate, a cocktail lounge in Portland, told Tasting Table that you want to aim for something that will last for four hours. That might seem like a lot of tunes, but it makes sure that no one will lose their mind hearing the same songs on repeat. If you have a turntable, encourage guests to bring their favorites and take turns.
6. Put your friends to work
For some reason, most people decline offers from friends to help out. Resist that temptation! They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t mean it, and it helps take some of the pressure off you. Nancy Silverton told the Los Angeles Times her biggest tip is enlisting the help of friends who know what they’re doing and want to pitch in. Dividing the responsibilities will make the work a lot more manageable.
Even if all of your friends are complete klutzes when it comes to cooking, they can still lend a helping hand. You will never have too much ice, so always consider asking for a bag or two. And speaking of drinks, consider your options. If you choose cocktails, have one of your pals make one or two large batches to pour all night. If you’ve got a wine-savvy friend, let them take care of finding some good budget bottles.
7. It’s OK to cheat
Don’t feel pressured to make everything from scratch. Things like cheese with crackers, marinated olives, pies, and tarts all fall under this category. No one’s going to stop you if you want to make an over-the-top opera cake, but no one will be expecting it either.
Dessert is one of the best opportunities to get a little bit of help from a bakery or grocery store. You can add a few touches of your own to make it feel more special as well. Woman’s Day has a ton of ideas to make store-bought poundcake into something fancy. For more of a nostalgic feel, Bon Appétit recommends a grown-up ice cream bar. Any party that ends with a cherry on top is definitely a winner.