Some people panic at the idea of hosting a party or having guests over to stay. Worse still, some people don’t put in any effort at all and think they’re doing a great job. Even more infuriatingly, some of those people (supposedly not putting in any effort at all) are actually the best hosts ever. Well, I want to investigate what it takes to be one of them.
First basic step to dinner party planning: Have a clean house. Not fastidiously clean to the point of obsessive compulsive disorder. Just clean. Actually clean. You don’t want to have to do dishes before your guest can have a drink. That can be kind of uncomfortable for the guest and annoying for you. But, moving a newspaper from the table after they turn up is alright, you know? You still have to live in the house.
Now, you need to be able to offer your guests nice things to break the ice. Tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, juice, cordial, wine, beer or something even more interesting. Your call – just have something available. The more choice the better. And be generous! If they drink all your wine they’ll probably bring a bottle to share next time if they’re nice. Same goes for nibblies: Cheese and crackers, olives, bread, chocolate biscuits. Offer whatever you have and put it on the table. You can always put it away later if it’s not eaten. Relax. The magic trick with drinks and nibblies is to prepare early. Buy things well before you think anyone will be dropping in and don’t eat them in the meantime! The next magic trick is to make everyone feel at ease by ensuring it looks like no effort at all to put on a nice snack and drink for everyone. The only thing I can say there is if you are prepared it will feel easier. So, just be prepared. Easy!
Right, well now we’ve got your guests onto nibbles and drinks it’s worth thinking about a meal. Again, preparation is the most important thing. If they turned up spontaneously then they’ll be less trouble than if you invited them deliberately, since spontaneous guests don’t really expect to be fed a real meal. So, you’re doing great if you can offer a meal.
For all meals though, consider any dietary requirements. Have you got any vegetarians? Any wheat intolerant people? Diabetics? Chilli intolerant? Get the details before you start cooking. If they are unable to eat something in particular they may offer to help you to come up with something they can eat. Something vegetarian or very light on meat could work especially well if you are on a budget. If they turned up unannounced it is perfectly reasonable to say “I have nothing to eat. Let’s order pizza”. They’ll get over it. They’re your friends.
While you’re cooking, make sure that there’s ample nibbles on the table, drinks are topped up and some appropriate music is on in the background. In fact, continue topping up drinks, replacing nibbles and ensuring the music is appropriate until the night is over. Music is something you’ll have to adapt to the crowd, but generally put on something quiet that the people there like. If you have no idea what people will like then something quiet and hopefully without lyrics is probably best. So, jazz or lounge music (fairly quietly) is great. Because, unless you want this to turn into a raging, drunken party it’s probably best to avoid your favourite 80s collection of stuff people want to sing along to. No, really it is.
So, we have the basics covered. People are eating and drinking and having a good time at your place. But what if you have the chance to plan who is coming? Who do you invite? Well, start by deciding who the important people are. Who have you been meaning to see for ages? Start with them. Do they have a partner? Add the partner. Right, what does the partner do? Hobbies? Work? Whatever? Who out of your friends (or your partner’s friends) might get along with them? Invite them and their partner. What do they and their partner do? What do they like? Who might get along with them? Etc. Etc. Now, which of your friends are good at getting along with just about anyone? Maybe invite them too. And add a partner. Get it? Easy!
You might want to mix it up a little more by having a part of the evening dedicated to a particular activity and invite anyone interested in that, ie games night, wine and cheese night or a cocktail party. Invite anyone interested in said activity and ensure a few of your “social glue” socialite friends are definitely coming. Put less thought into the people and more though into the activity if this is what you’re doing.
So, now we get to the end of the night. Is anyone unable to get home? If you have people staying there are a few nice things you can remember to do. This could be the unplanned “too drunk to drive” stay or it could be (in another style of scenario entirely) having rellies over for a week. And again, it all comes down to planning things that can be ready long before you even know there’s someone coming over. This is far easier with a guest room. If you are without a guest room then at least make sure you have a space with some blankets or a sleeping bag for each of your guests. Not many people mind being left fending for themselves in the morning as long as they can easily get a shower, breakfast and leave if they require. So, put a list of things people might need to know on the side of the fridge and/or in the guest room. Let them know where the towels are. List any quirks of the house that might hinder them from flushing the toilet or getting out the front door, etc. Make sure they know if any of the clocks in the house are wrong. Let them know how to use your washing machine. Let them know where to find breakfast food and bowls. Make sure your phone numbers are listed so they can write it down and call if they forget to take something home.
The rest of this is really dependent on how long they are staying and how well they already know your area. If they’re staying a while, then give them a key to the house! Your phone numbers are even more important for longer term guests – just in case they get lost or want some advice. Let them know a little about the local area too, like where to find the bus stop and shops. If you’re really good, you might get a copy of the bus timetable for them or info on where to hire a car. If you’re an angel then you might lend a car or a bike. But no-one expects you to be that good. Other info people might want if they’re staying a while could be on the location of parks, swimming pools, beaches, dry cleaners, takeaway places, pubs, libraries, theatres, movie hire places, cafes and night clubs etc. If they’re from far away they might even want some info about sightseeing in the wider surrounding area. Oh, and if they’re even the teensiest bit geeky they’ll love to know passwords and details for your wireless network or computer so they can get online. Handy hint: If you’re renting a house out it’s a good idea to write a similar list for your tenants too!
Having guests over regularly is a great way to avoid the TV, generally slow your life down and stay in touch with your favourite people, so being ready and willing to host small dinner parties is a talent that goes a long way towards a great life.
Basically, if your guests are self sufficient they will feel more comfortable and won’t be relying on you to entertain them and look after them all the time. You will be more relaxed and reassured that they are happy and entertained. It’s not rocket science. It’s just a teensy bit of planning. Get organised!
Image Credit: Bob Walker