Make it an adults-only party.
This isn't meant to sound x-rated, having an adults-only party is merely a chance to have conversation without distraction. When we sent out the invite for the dinner party, Mark and I requested adults-only because, let's face it, we all need a break and it's fun to get dressed up and go out sans kids for a change!
Make sure all of your dishes are ready and clean.
I made sure to have all our plates, cutlery and wine glasses ready for the party, but I didn't clean extra glasses. We keep our wine glasses in the dining room and they tend to get dusty and because they're in the dining room, people automatically reach for those even though I had some ready on the table. Next time I'll make sure everything is clean and ready to go so people aren't reaching for dusty glasses!
Make something simple, and make it in advance if you can.
I learned this from my dad and Mark's aunt. Well to be honest both of them make a ton of food, but they are super organized and have it mostly done before everyone gets there.
Here's the big pro to making dinner ahead of time: you get to visit with your guests. Too many times we've had dinner, or been for dinner with friends and family and you never see them. They're in the kitchen the whole time putting last minute touches on the food. This is a party for me too so I want to visit. I invited them over after all! Also when my friends got here Friday night, they all congregated in the kitchen which would have made it really tough to get anything done last minute.
Originally I wanted to try something new: stuffed portobello mushroom wellington from my Southern Vegetarian book but I chickened out. I think I would rather try this with a smaller group.
Instead, I made a mushroom and spinach lasagna from Real Simple. I made it in the afternoon and kept it in the fridge so that all I had to do was pop it in the oven and serve it when my guests arrived. To accompany the lasagna I made a super delicious salad, also ahead of time (dress the salad right before dinner) and bread. My friend offered to make this insanely yummy dessert so we were set.
Clean up as you go.
There is nothing worse than having a BIG pile of dishes staring at you in the face when you have to run upstairs and get ready. I always try to clean up as I go which leaves fewer dishes to deal with after everyone is gone. Plus, if everyone is going to be hanging out in your kitchen, you don't want them staring at your mess from earlier in the day!
Have some appetizers prepared.
I wasn't going to put out any appetizers before dinner because by the time everyone got to the house we were going to be eating right away. But last minute, we put out some cheese, nuts & crackers and it's a good thing we did.
As I mentioned, everyone came into the kitchen to chat for a bit before dinner; one couple was a bit late and another was putting their baby to sleep upstairs (back to the first point: sometimes you have to bring the babies to the party so be prepared for that too! We had a pack & play ready to go upstairs for the baby), so it was nice to have a few appetizers with our wine while we waited.
Make sure you get your timing right.
Now something I'm still learning is when exactly to put the food in the oven. Because we were a bit late eating, my lasagna was a bit dried out. I'm still working on that timing thing. I tend to get overly excited and sometimes put my food in too early! I think the best thing to do is to put it in a bit later than you think!
Those are my tips for having a pretty simple dinner party. We don't go crazy, but we always manage to enjoy our company and relax for the whole dinner. The point is to have fun!
Have anything to add? What's your best tip for throwing a dinner party?