For the hostess with the mostess, it’s the perfect season to host a chic winter lunch or dinner party. This event can take place at home, indoors or out.
The problem with any party is if you haven’t organised things carefully the hostess can simply end up being an unpaid tea lady, endlessly putting together platefuls of food for family and friends who say, ‘Gosh, this looks divine’, before disappearing to chat. Here are 20 of our favourite ideas that will inspire you to throw your own gathering.
What you want is a help-yourself buffet, which doesn’t need constant tending, and the easiest way of achieving this is to spread everything out on a table and leave your guests to it. Buffets have to be well organised to be a success.
Always invite at least eight people, never less, for a lunch or dinner party.
Choose a menu that can be prepped and cooked earlier in the day. We’re big fans of room-temp food. We like getting things done ahead. Start with a collection of smoked meats, salmon and cheeses. Fresh ricotta is a great addition, too. For main courses, think: grilled proteins, from chicken and shellfish, paired with grilled vegetables and grain salads. One of our fave tips: marinate the main proteins overnight by submerging them in a good olive oil. Throw them on the grill the next day and finish with sea salt. This is a buffet your guests will remember.
When it comes to the drinks, we, have one rule: keep it light and clean. Forget serving sugary cocktails and stick to wines that are all-natural and lower in alcohol. You don’t want people to worry about how many glasses they’re drinking—and you want to make sure what’s in their glasses won’t give them a hangover the next day. Pare the selection back to three: a light, starter wine, such as a naturally fizzy Pét-Nat, an unexpected, fun way to start the lunch or dinner and perfect with anything starter-wise, a coastal white , full of salinity and minerality— perfect with vegetables, seafood, proteins, followed by a good, reliable red. Alcohol is the great ice-breaker – don’t underestimate it. Read more, ‘What Not To Order For Drinks.‘
It’s amazing what a couple of glasses will do to relax a room and get everyone laughing and talking animatedly.
Make sure you have non-alcoholic drinks on hand too. Bubbles gee up even a sober drink – and this is not the time to break out the generic-brand stuff. Keep drinks flowing all night. Never leave your guests looking forlornly at an empty glass. It’s a bad look for them and for you.
Forget fancy stemware. It makes everyone tense and your evening (and theirs) will be ruined if a lead-crystal heirloom is broken and all you (and they) can think is ‘that will cost $200 to replace.’
Round is best for conversation. Long and thin is best for flirting – for fun, put women along one side, men along the other. Try it. It’s better. A long linen tablecloth hides all number of indiscretions. Read more, ‘The Truth About Posh Table Settings.’
No big centrepieces that people have to peer over.
Children are banned with the exception of coming to say hello to guests for a maximum of five minutes – and under no circumstances are they allowed to perform.
A dinner party should start at 7.30pm and dinner should be dished up at 8.45pm as serving the food later than 9pm is unacceptable.
Food is only as good as the atmosphere around it. Add flowers and greenery in common areas of the party, like the bar, the buffet, the dinner table, and side tables.
Set a pretty table that looks good and welcomes people the minute they walk in.
Use candles of all different heights and widths on your table; positively threatening in their sheer numbers. Avoid anything too scented. You don’t want people asking, “Does anyone have a couple of Nurofen, please?” Read more, ‘This Trick Will Help Your Fancy Candle Last Much Longer.’
One of the most important rules about winter lunches and dinners is don’t skimp on pudding; so many people think that if the lunch or dinner is full and varied they can sit back after the main course and vaguely offer a lump of cheese. This is absolutely wrong and a dreadful anti-climax. Start with a nice apple or pear tart served warm with vanilla ice cream and a huge dish of raspberries. Plus fresh tarts of every kind and small profiteroles.
Don’t get fancy with the chocolate – coffee beans in coats are ridiculous things. People love supermarket chocolate broken up.
13. Set up a bar
Whether this is a bar table or an impressive array of drinks that spans an extra-long table, this will encourage guests to gather around it.
14. Rely On a Caterer
Some hostesses are just not cut out to cook for crowds. If this sounds like you, organise a caterer for the main meal. When guests come, the pressure will be off, and you’ll be free to mingle with everyone.
Create a playlist specifically for the party. Pick songs that boost the mood or keep a theme. Use Bluetooth speakers to make sure the sound is just right outside.
Light up the trees. If your garden has beautiful specimen trees, make sure they are uplight with spotlights once the sun goes down.
17. Light a fire pit
After the sunset, gather everyone around a fire pit complete with chairs. Add extra firepits made from stones to your driveway. Complete with chairs, they are perfect to sit around, and the festivities will get a second wind.
18. Don’t think you’re doing all the hard work
It takes effort to be a good guest, too. Your guests have rushed home from work, and paid or groveled to have their children minded. Now they’re here making chitchat with strangers and singing for their supper with amusing anecdotes – have some sympathy. Don’t overdress. Don’t frighten them with food so overcomplicated they’ll be scared to invite you in return. Keep their glasses topped up, and above all, never leave them on their own.
19. Make your guests sound fabulous
It will make them feel special, and whet the appetities of everyone else to get to know them better. There’s nothing like an ego boost to make people sparkle. Try something like this is Amanda Mello – Amanda is a private eye and owns more shoes than anyone I know. Read more, ‘How to Be The Perfect Guest.’
20. Don’t move furniture
People are always clearing furniture when they entertain or have a party. Don’t do it. People would happily pay an entrance fee to snoop inside other people’s houses: don’t rob them by making your rooms as personality-free as a Masonic hall. Clean up but don’t clear out. Bare walls never show a house to best advantage – they make your look poor or boring, and your guest feel that you view them as delinquent teenagers who are likely to smoke or steal.