At least one time in your life, make it one of your bucket list goals to host a multi-course dinner party. It is one of the most rewarding challenges for cooks or chefs to pull off successfully. Showcase your favorite recipes, your culinary and plating skills, entertain and delight your guests with crazy whimsical dishes, and most of all take joy in knowing that you are nourishing the bodies of your friends and family.
1. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
Start off with a few basic questions. Including yourself, how many guests do you expect? You will absolutely need a fixed head count number. Will your dinner be indoor or outdoor, and if away from the kitchen what prep do you need to do to prevent large lag times in food delivery. What order do you plan on serving the food and what recipes do you want to cook? Will you need someone to help you with serving, washing dishes, and/or the cooking? Will you have enough time to cook something hot in between the courses but not fully disappear from the table of guests you are hosting for long time periods. What recipes and ingredients do you need as well as drinks/alcohol (you will always need to provide at least one non-alcoholic beverage). Do you plan do decorate or keep the table basic? How many plates, dishes, glasses, cutlery, do you need and do you have at least a few backups in case something breaks? (Each course will require at least one dish per person).
2. ORDER YOUR DISHES
Different countries order the food in different ways, so there is variety across the globe, but the basics are..
For a full on 9 course meal, the order is as follows.
8 ) Fresh Fruit, Crackers, and Cheese
9) Nuts and Raisins
For a 5 course meal:
3) Roast or Fish with Veg and Starch
5) Dessert and Coffee
For a simple 3 course basic meal:
1) Soup or Salad
2) Roast or Fish with Veg and Starch
3) Dessert and Coffee
3. CREATE A MASTER LIST
Literally compile all the recipes you will need in one handy place and chart exactly how long each dish will take to create, cook, what ingredients you'll need to add last minute, or any extra prep that are needed with each dish. Double check this list and make sure your shopping list includes all the ingredients listed. Creating a master list will ensure that even if you are frazzled during the dinner, you can look to this chart, and know what you need to do and cross of what you've already completed. It is also important that if you are working with hired staff or family/friend, that they know exactly the order of dishes, the timeline for serving them, what goes where, and how to find things in your kitchen.
4. CREATE THE LAYOUT
If you have 6 guests including yourself, for a 5 course meal, you will need 30 plates and/or bowls in total. At least one water and wine glass if serving alcohol, and napkins, and cutlery for the dinner you are serving. If you aren't serving soup, you do not need a soup spoon. No alcohol, no wine glasses needed, so place things according to the meal you are actually serving. The cutlery is always also placed in the order you are serving it from the outside in, so if your first course is a soup, the soup spoon would be furthest from the plate, and work your way in according to the dishes you're serving with the exception of the dessert and bread utensils which rest above the plate. Also, especially important if you have helpers or staff with you is to label what dish or pan goes with what. Are the tiny bowls for your soup or your dessert? What are the 3 glasses on your table (in case they don't know or you don't remember which is which, create a picture guide like the one below. You and they will need to know. So lay everything out, and label everything and of course set your table way ahead of time.
Informal Place Settings
Formal Place Setting
5. PREPARE 95% OF YOUR FOOD AHEAD OF TIME AND *CHEAT!
Desserts, soups, salads, and many side dishes can be prepared ahead of time (even weeks if need be if packed and frozen correctly). Do this as much as you can with your meal and go ahead and plate all of these dishes save for the ones that need a bit of heating up or cooking on the stove or in the oven, and store as much as you can fit in the fridge or on a waiting counter top about an hour before guests arrive. Also, this is one time in life where there is no shame in cheating. Need some chicken for your soup, hack it off the store bought rotisserie. In need of a quick easy dessert because you can't even after cooking the previous 7 courses...buy a store bought pound cake, top it with some beautiful fresh strawberries, and some whipped cream and you're done. Don't feel like having to chop all your veg or your salads, buy them pre-packed or frozen and just run with it. I mean no one actually thinks you grew those vegetables yourself do they (unless of course you did, in which case make a HUGE deal about it).
6. DISHES THAT NEED TO BE MADE FRESH
You cannot pre-fry food, or saute a scallop 2 hours ahead of time. Some things absolutely will need to be made fresh and on the spot. If you are hosting alone and without helpers, it is not a good idea to do labor intensive dishes such as frying where you can't just walk away and come back. If this is your first go at a dinner party, work on dishes that you know their final cook times for, and allow them to slow roast in an oven ON A TIMER or cook in a crockpot so you can avoid the stove all together save for heating up soup or a side dish quickly.
8. ADDITIONAL TIPS
Check with your guests ahead of time about allergies and things like, if they are a vegetarian before you roast a whole pig.
TASTE EVERYTHING. Never serve anything to your guests you have not tasted. This should be a no brainer, and yet it happens all the time. Food may look great, but if you forgot the salt, its not going to go over well, so taste, taste, taste.
Don't try to cook something for your dinner party that you've never cooked before. You're playing with fire especially if its totally out of your wheel house and a new recipe. Practice cooking the recipes ahead of time before the big day so you can learn what each dish entails.
If something goes horribly wrong, try to improvise first (forget about the candied oranges that just all fell on the floor for your dessert and just call it vanilla cheesecake) skip the dish entirely if your soup burns in the pot and move on to the next dish, or if the whole thing burns down before the guests even arrive, order pizza and have a good laugh about it.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you need a hand serving dishes, or watching something on the stove for a second, or with the beloved end of dinner clean up, enlist the help of a willing friend ahead of time or during the party if need be. They will see how hard you're working and offer to help you if you get caught in the weeds. Or, just go ahead and hire some waitstaff.
If something breaks or spills via your guests, don't lose your cool. Have some quick cleaning supplies on hand, do a quick spot touch or dab, and let it be or pick up the broken glass and move on. Make sure if you know you have children in attendance or some really clumsy people, you aren't using your most priceless heirlooms if you know you'll cry for hours if one breaks. Basic white dishes from even the dollar store, go along way.