Hosting a dinner party
hosting a dinner party

When hosting a dinner party there are a huge number of details that, when ironed out in advance, can mean a successful and stressfree night. Here are our best tips for hosting a dinner party.

The guest list

You may have rashly declared you host a dinner party to a bunch of friends or aquaintances - in this case the guest list is sorted. If not, think carefully about your guest list. If you have a friend who is party central and a friend who is quiet and finds loud people grating, it is best not to have them at the same dinner party. 

If you want to keep things as simple as possible inviting four guests means a nice size and it is more likely you will have enough dinnerware, cutlery, glasses, chairs and place settings. 

Can I bring something?

Most New Zealand guests will offer to bring something - and this is an ideal opportunity to make your night easier. Seize the opportunity to suggest they bring the canapes or cheeses. Otherwise dont miss the opportunity to suggest red or white wine - or even a sticky dessert wine. 

Plan your menu:

You will want to offer nibbles or canapes on arrival. These are best if they are bite sized and have no wastage such as toothpicks or bones. This makes it easy for the guest - and less tidying up for you. Don't go too generous on the canape's as you will have a stunning line up of other courses prepared. Ideal canapes do not require heating and can be plated up and ready to go when the guests arrive.

The best entree is one that you can have plated up prior to the guests arriving while an ideal main is one that can be served quickly and easily. Carving up meat is time consuming - dishes that feature an individual serve along with a few vegetables are perfect.

Many people are moving away from big heavy desserts. If you have had red meat, a citrusy or custard dessert matches well.

How to lay a formal table correctly:

A formal dinner table setting is used when there are multiple courses and you really want to splash out to make the evening special. You need to have enough matching cutlery and crockery settings for each course

  • To create ultimate elegance at your formal gathering, add matching flowers, a guest note card or keepsake, and a wine charm to each glass. Seats are generally assigned, so a handwritten place card or personalized setting is perfect. Hosts should always sit at the end of each table as a courtesy to the guests and party. 
  • The glassware. Red wine is served in larger balloon-style glasses to white wine, and it is the wine glass that should sit above and slightly to the right of the knife. A soft drink or water glass will go directly above the knife's tip. The champagne flute will go behind the wine glass. 
  • Cutlery is important and the general idea is that the main course fork and knife will be the largest items in the setting. Then you place the cutlery for the first course on the outer edge and the dessert cutlery inside the main course cutlery.  Think from left to right: entree fork, main fork, dessert fork - dinner plate - dessert spoon, main knife, entree knife, to help visualize the setting!
  • Keep table decorations low so they don't obscure people across the table

Dinner party timeline

2-3 weeks before - send out invitations

2 weeks before - finalise your menu

1 week before - count up plates, cutlery, glasses and chairs and borrow what you don't have. Think about your table decorations

1 week before - make a shopping list for non-perishables, items that can be bought a few days in advance and items to be bought on the day

1 week before- buy the wine and beer and the non-perishable goods and ice if needed

The day before - clean out the fridge as much as you can. Put all those mustards, sauces and mayonaises in a chilly bin in the garage.

The day before - prepare as much as you can. Anything that can be made the day before - do

The day before - set the table (see notes above)

More top tips

  • Set up glasses for red, white and sparkling wine plus beer ready for when guests arrive
  • While not the most stylish, wine glass identifying tags can be useful to reduce the number of wine glasses used
  • Find out if your guests have food allergies or food preferences well in advance so you can plan appropriately 
  • Try and offer a variety of meat ie don't offer chicken for the entree and main. Mix it up a bit with red and white meat, seafood and even vegetarian
  • If you have a teenage child or relation, try and rope them in to helping you for the night. Having an extra set of hands to serve and clear will leave your partner free to do the actual hosting while you are busy. 
  • If your fridge is at the back of the kitchen, set up a large ice bucket near where the glasses are laid out - this way people won't be trying to get bottles from the fridge just as you are serving of pulling out hot dishes from the oven
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