Top 10 dinner party tips

Ten ways to make the most of your dinner party talents and make entertaining easier...

Top 10 dinner party tips

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have friends over for dinner and be hailed the new Nigella or told you give Gordon a run for his money? Not many of us have the time or, let's face it, the skills to pull off a really flash dinner party...or do we?

You'd be surprised, that with a few tricks of the trade all manner of miracles can be performed with your err..manna.

Here are our top 10 ideas for making the most of your talents:

1. Resist the temptation... cook some exotic Japanese dish that you're not even sure how to pronounce and had never laid eyes on until you opened Google five minutes ago. Cook something you're confident with. Don't try a recipe for the first time (unless you are, in fact, Nigella).

2.  Keep your balance 

When planning your menu, avoid too many heavy dishes and think about how they go together. Would you fancy eating quiche, followed by pie, followed by tart? Too much pastry, too much stodge! You might want to choose a theme too, like Italian or Spanish food.

3. Avoid nasty surprises 

Not asking your guests if they have special dietary requirements doesn't make them go away. If only. Check with people upfront if there's anything they can't eat and make at least two of the courses suitable for everyone to save you work.

Beef wellington on board
4. Plan your time 

Do a timeplan and think about what oven/hob space you're going to need. If your starter, main course, side dishes and pud all need time in the oven it's going to be tricky.

5. Relax 

Avoid anything that's going to keep you in the kitchen too long. You don't want to have massive gaps between courses and then emerge from the kitchen flustered, covered in food and having missed half the conversation.

6. Go seasonal 

Try a simple dish that showcases seasonal ingredients like this Tomato & basil granita in summer. You get points for being in tune with the food seasons and you'll be using produce when its flavour is best. It'll be cheaper too.

7. Prepare ahead 

Avoid a last minute flap by cooking at least one course, from start to finish, at leisure and ahead of time. If you want to do something complicated, that's definitely the one to choose. You'll be surprised at some of the dishes that can be made ahead. Consider each course and think about which bits you can do beforehand. If the answer's nothing, you might want to choose something else.

Creme brulee in pot
8. Pro-cooking 

There are certain dishes that scream 'pro' that are not as difficult as you might think. A soufflé, for example, doesn't have to be a scary thing. Try these easy Make-ahead mushroom soufflés or think restaurant classics, like Beef Wellington, Pork belly, Crème brûlée and Panna cotta too.

9. Is it homemade? 

Your guests won't expect you to have made the little extras. Cheese straws, spiced nuts, a quick, no-knead bread, ice cream, chutney or chocolate truffles are really easy to make and can be done in advance. We're not suggesting you make all of them but if you add just one of these to your spread you can guarantee people will be impressed.

10. Finishing touches 

Great presentation can turn a relatively simple dish into something really special. This Pea, mint and spring onion soup can be made ahead and is served with homemade Parmesan biscuits (really easy!) and garnished with sliced spring onion and mint. 

There are lots of simple finishing touches you can use to ensure your dishes wow the crowds. Here are a few of our favourite ideas: 

To starters and mains, add: 

To puddings, add: 

  • A dollop of mascarpone or extra thick double cream 
  • Fresh seasonal fruit eg berries, physalis, pear or apple crisps 
  • Use a tea strainer to sprinkle over icing sugar, cinnamon or cocoa powder 
  • A sprig of mint 

For general presentation:

  • Try to avoid food that is all the same colour, lift a lemon tart with a sprinkling of raspberries or a sprig of redcurrants. 
  • Go for unusual serving dishes, like these cute little jars for serving paté or potted crab. 
  • Serve the main focus of each course in individual portions. This chicken parfait looks great in little pots. Lasagne's nothing special in a big dish but plate it up for each guest with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze, garnish with a big sprig of basil and it's magnifico!

These are a few of our ideas, tell us what you do to make your dinner parties something special.

Comments, questions and tips

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30th Apr, 2015
The comment made about food presentation being an art is 100% right on. I studies at a catering college for 2 years and was an apprentice in the actually catering industry for a year before I started to really understand that the importance of the presentation as an fine art. They say the first bite you take is with the eyes and in my years of experience this is spot on. Any budding chefs (be it amateur or soon to be professional I would suggest check out this sight for some really really valuable tips ( I only worked there for a year but it’s the company that showed me what all the other top class catering companies didn’t.
14th May, 2015
There are plenty of top class catering companies out there, I’ve never heard of Kudos know how but there are many other factors to it than simple presentation ? look at any restaurant these days and you can see the class difference in venue management! This is , for me, the big difference, sure presentation is important and in home entertaining may be it is the important factor. Look at the venue management style in a top Mayfair hotel, or a venue like Gibson hall ? now look at a cheaper local restaurant ? there is no comparison.
philthom4s's picture
6th Apr, 2015
I had never heard of stodge until that second tip. It is a pretty fun word. But tip number one is my favorite, for you must indeed make something you know you can so you don't ruin it for you and your guests.
28th Jun, 2014
Thank you I am only a child but me and my friends are doing a children's come dine with me and these tips were helpful xx
7th Apr, 2014
The dinner party is all about good foods and a lot of people together having a lot of fun right. But taking it to other level means a lot of task. You can add fun to your dinner party which often become boring if a person isn't a great foodie so alongwith good food if you offer them with something like Dance heads games. Its a win win situation for all.
22nd Mar, 2014
Food presentation and garnishing is an art. How you garnish your food, this completely depends on your skills. Loved the way you have shared to utilize the easily available resources.
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11th Oct, 2015
Great tips, but I have another one - think about how much crockery and cutlery you have and whether the dishes you want to serve are going to require that you frantically rewash them between courses. This is a complication most of us can do without! So if your first course needs to be served on a small plate and you don't have enough small plates for the dessert to be served on as well, choose a dessert that can served in bowls.