How to throw a dinner party – and stay sane
Last year, the hosts of US public radio show Dinner Party Download published a book, Brunch is Hell, which bemoans the popularity of brunch, calling it an Instagram photo op and “a forum for overpriced eggs”.
In an increasingly disconnected and divisive world, they argue, the dinner party is “the cornerstone of civilised society” – an occasion to put down our phones and engage in real-life conversation. Eating out is practically a sport. But, says Kate Stewart-Dixon, the creative director of En Pointe Events, “there’s still something very special about hosting a dinner in your home”.
So we asked Stewart-Dixon for a few tips on hosting a super-fun, stress-free dinner party for the modern era, with advice from florist Fleur McHarg.
Keep it simple
Put down that recipe for consomme or coq au vin. Unless you’re a foodie with something to prove, you are better off hosting a dinner party with simple but enjoyable fare.
“I purposely try and make it feel quite low-key or achievable,” Stewart-Dixon says.
Choose dishes that won’t easily overcook or undercook. Skip the roast duck, for example, and go for a slow-roasted duck curry, which won’t suffer if you accidentally leave it on the stove for an extra 20 minutes.
The same goes for decorations. You don’t need to spend money on decorations when you can probably make do with grandma’s old dishware or some foraged greenery.
For creating memorable floral decoration, in her new book, The Flower Expert (out now through Thames & Hudson) McHarg, who has designed events around the world and featured in Vogue, recommends sourcing the vase before the blooms.
“Start by creating a sturdy base, using one or more types of foliage,” McHarg says in her book. “Soft, small-leaved foliage is best for vases. Once you have a good base, you can start adding flowers to create height and depth.
“It is generally better to have an odd number of flowers. Vase arrangements should have a sense of movement, so let the stems lean naturally.”
Position the largest vessel in the centre when arranging a cluster of vases, McHarg says.
“Flowers should sensitively reflect their surroundings and not be over the top. They should complement the decor, rather than compete with it.”
Prepare the night before
“The more you do in advance the better,” Stewart-Dixon says.
Don’t attempt to make three hot dishes that require attention throughout the evening. Instead, opt for cold entrees and desserts, which can be prepared a day ahead and don’t require reheating.
Pick a theme
Choosing a theme can be an icebreaker around the dinner table and can help you focus your party planning. That doesn’t mean you need to throw an OTT Mexican-themed fiesta or fancy dress.
A theme can be as simple as a letter of the alphabet. Stewart-Dixon planned a recent dinner with a “B” theme, which included bruschetta, beef cheeks and boysenberries.
Ask for help
Guests can pick the music, contribute dishes or bring flowers. “Then you make people feel like they’re part of hosting and you don’t have six people bringing cheese,” Stewart-Dixon says.
Always ask for professional help if you need it, particularly when you have 12 or more guests.
- The Flower Expert: Ideas and Inspiration for a Life with Flowers, $50