How to Throw a Stress-Free Dinner Party

A successful dinner party doesn't require a fancy menu with multiple courses. When you're the guest instead of the host, you're delighted at the invitation and as interested in the company as in the food. Keep that casual attitude as you plan for your big dinner event.

Don't Overdo It

The "too-many" syndrome typifies many party givers' first dinner-party attempts: too many guests, too many dishes, too much food that you can't prepare in advance and too many recipes from outside your familiar culinary repertoire. Let the “Keep It Simple” principle guide you to a manageable, effective menu drawn from your can't-miss meal ideas.

For the sake of your sanity, don't clean your oven on the big day, even if your range has a steam-cleaning cycle to handle light soil. Do it well in advance. That's one more task than your schedule won't miss. Likewise, run your vacuum the day before, paying close attention to any areas with high levels of pet popularity.

Making a List, Checking It Twice

You can't please everyone with everything you serve, but you can avoid ingredients that set off known allergies or don’t accommodate food preferences and diets. After you finalize your menu, take a digital approach to planning your shopping list. Computerize your recipes so you can create your shopping directly from their ingredient lists, including amounts or quantities. Scan your cupboards and refrigerator for any of the items you need. If your refrigerator includes a flexible-use drawer whose temperature you can set to match the requirements of specific foods, use it to store ingredients as needed. Before you shop, check your smartphone for offers and freebies that can simplify your trip and save you a buck.

Share the Wealth

To save time and reduce pressure, scan your menu's ingredient lists for shared ingredients that require chopping or peeling and combine the prep work into one batch of onions, mushrooms, tomatoes or spices. Instead of inviting your guests to bring something for the menu itself, leave a small last-minute task for them to share, letting them feel like part of the process and giving you a chance to mingle in the kitchen. If you skip the recipes that require tight timing to avoid disaster—souffles, for example—and stick to dishes that don't rely on rushing them out to the table, you leave time for guests to linger over a course. For the ultimate in shared preparation, use a range with a divided oven that lets you cook two completely unrelated dishes at the same time using different temperatures for each, all without making your pie taste like beef or your baked potatoes smell like dessert.

Music, Maestro

Even if it remains in the background, music adds a social flavor to your evening that can fill in or smooth over transitions in conversation, or simply set a mood that relaxes everyone, including you. Plan the playlist ahead of time the way you plan your menu, giving you one less task to accomplish on the day of your party. With a wirelessly enabled home theater system, you can draw elements of your playlist from your home computer, smartphone, tablet or media player for playback on one system. Some audio-dock systems enable you to connect multiple devices simultaneously so you can invite guests to bring music to share.

Photo Credits: Kristyn Robertson/Demand Media

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