How to host the ultimate post-covid dinner party
By Laura Campbell
With Covid-19 on the decline, we can meet and eat with our “good eggs” friends again. As we welcome people into our homes once more, it is best to remember a few key dinner party skills…
Invitation: What to say
Post-covid, many people seem to have forgotten basic communication skills. Therefore a Whatsapp message is fine. Dinner parties involve inviting a few people (as many as you can fit around a table- flat/home size limited) into your private living space, so don’t invite complete strangers. However, it is key you invite people you know but that don’t know each other.
In the invite, state the location, time and make it relaxed. A “Hey I am having a few people round for a meal on Thursday at mine(add the address as a reminder) at 7 for 7.30 dinner. I would love you to join,” message is perfect. Make sure to add “let me know if you are veggie, vegan, gluten intolerant or dairy-free” so you don’t cook food people won’t eat. Also add “please RSVP before Wednesday so I know how many to buy/cater for,” so you are not left out of pocket with loads of leftover potentially wasted food if people do not turn up.
What to cook: preparation is key
A traybake, roast or big casserole is always a fabulous idea when catering for many. I suggest getting two big casserole dishes (one for veggie and one for non-veggie if required- or else just one big shared dish) and making something like one of Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson’s traybakes or a three-bean chilli traybake. Simple, easy, and delish food that doesn’t require one million expensive ingredients that you never use again and that will cater for all levels of food snobbery or fussery.
Then batch boil a bunch of new potatoes for twenty minutes, cut them in halves and coat in oil, add salt and pepper and roast for twenty more minutes and serve to all. Nothing beats roast potatoes at a dinner party and I recommend adding cherry tomatoes to them too when you roast as these always go down a treat. They also add more colour to the plate, making it look more palatable.
What to do when cooking
I find myself snacking on ingredients as I cook. To stop yourself from having a meal before the meal, I recommend drinking herbal teas and going on a long walk so you feel more energised and less likely to binge on ingredients. Remember, the more you eat before, the less there is for the guests, which is embarrassing and so save the food for the meal.
It is essential that you follow the recipe precisely, as a mistake on the day is time and wallet expensive and you don’t want to land up with a gross tasting meal or burnt dinner. It is always a good idea to practice the recipe, dinner date style in a small batch, before the event and so you are less stressed and well-rehearsed with what to do when cooking the ingredients.
Do not slack on ingredients or swap one thing for another! Every ingredient is there for a reason. I have made this mistake multiple times and arrogantly swapped an ingredient for another and been left with food that doesn’t taste the way it should. It never tastes as good as it could.
On the day
I recommend cooking about an hour or two in advance. If you finish work at 5.30 and work remotely, this is perfect. You can cook the meal and then change into clothes which you feel comfortable in, but also show your friends you have made an effort for them, and thus that you care and respect them enough to do this.
Lay the table in advance and even if this means squeezing ten people awkwardly around a tiny table, with some on random bathroom stools, give everyone placemats and a properly laid out knife and fork. It is also nice, once you know who is coming, to name the places, so people have an ordered seating arrangement. Put people together who haven't met before, separate partners and try to make it boy-girl-boy-girl, so it makes it more interesting and encourages conversation. Dinner parties give people an intimate opportunity to meet someone new, and you could even play cupid and set people up romantically.
When people arrive, give them a drink and wait until everyone who is coming has arrived before seating guests. Once everyone is around the table, play host and go round the group doing a big introduction of everyone. Flatter guests with “this is…., I have known her for…amount of years. She is amazing and works as a…..and is extremely talented at…” to make them feel confident and positive. This also means when people sit down, they don’t have to introduce themselves, know something about the stranger now sitting next to them, and have instantly something to gel over and talk about.
Get the drinks flowing as this gives everyone something to do with their hands and plate up the food within twenty minutes of everyone arriving. Make sure if a guest brings flowers or wine, that you put them on the table or serve the wine.
During the dinner, make sure everyone has the same portion size, and that there is enough for seconds if people want. You can save any leftovers for you the next day, or give them away in take-out Tupperware boxes to people as they leave.
After each course, tidy and wash up. Many people feel this is not great manners, but I disagree. It means that you cannot snack on leftovers and are not left with a huge pile of washing up at the end. It also allows for conversation to flow, slowing down the meal, between courses.
Always provide options for dessert. A big apple tart or pie with a fruit option. This caters for every dietary requirement. Put the options on the table with a stack of plates and say to guests, “what would you like, a big or small pie, fruit or both” and plate accordingly. A hot dessert in winter always goes down a treat, as does a cold one in summer and always have a tub of vanilla ice cream in the freezer in case people want it with the pie, or don’t like the desert.
After the meal
Tidy away everything. Do not eat off other people’s plates, you are not a human dustbin, but recycle in the food waste recycling bin, what you can for the environment. Save leftovers for your and your housemates for the next meal, or allow guests to take them home. Always offer guests a box (even a cheap box of celebrations chocolates is fine), of post-dinner chocolates and a coffee, tea or herbal tea. This keeps people around the table and conversation flowing for longer. Inspire anecdotes that connect people.
What to talk about
If people don’t know each other but all know you, it is up to you as host to bring them together. Start with generic topics about work that everyone can join in with, like talking about evil bosses or holidays you have planned and then go onto more broad topics like issues in the news or funny stories you have shared that will get everyone laughing. The idea is to gel the group and make everyone leave feeling noursished both with good company, good food and a good experience.
After the event
If people message you with thanks, make sure to thank them back for coming and welcome them again. Build bridges wherever you go and remember friends are everything, they are your investment for life. They are your companions, therapists, confidants and add warmth and love to your life. Dinner parties are not posh, snobby things, they are just warm and lovely ways of bringing people together and helping people meet new people. Dinner parties can build communities and relationships and spur romances. They are exactly what we need post-covid.
Time to bring people together over some delicious dinner dining!
Copyright Laura Campbell 02/02/2022