The main draw of a dinner party (besides the good company) is the food! You want to make sure that you select a menu that is a crowd pleaser, but also something that you will enjoy preparing. Here are a few questions you should consider before selecting your menu.
What is your cooking skill level? This is an important question to ask yourself before you get too far into the menu planning. I’m not saying you can’t have a beef wellington if you’ve never successfully made boxed mac and cheese before, but attempting something uber complex while hosting 6 friends at your house might not be the time.
The primary goal of a dinner party is to enjoy some spending time with people over a good meal, you don’t want to ruin that experience by stressing out over attempting something way above your current skill level. I don’t believe you need to recipe test everything you plan on making during your party, but you should feel comfortable cooking that type of dish.
What do you (and your guests) like to eat? Think about what you typically eat when you are with the group of friends that you are inviting. Do you all usually go for healthier options? Then maybe a nacho bar isn’t the right fit. On the other hand, if you are a strictly pizza and French fries crowd, maybe kale shouldn’t be the star of your dinner. You want to make sure that people will enjoy the food you make!
Also, make sure to ask if people have any food allergies or restrictions. Having only meat options isn’t great if your crowd is 50% vegetarian and you want to avoid major allergic reactions.
How many people are coming? What’s your budget? Another thing you want to consider before setting your heart on the prime rib is your budget! Sometimes I find it helpful to think about my cost per person. For example, if you are hoping to spend no more than $150 and your inviting 5 people (plus yourself) you should be paying no more than $25 per person. Of course, this number will need to also include alcohol and any other costs (such as table linens or centerpieces), but it should give you a starting point.
The most significant cost for food tends to come from the meat you choose or if you need some pricier produce. While I don’t think you need to find the cost of every item included in your recipe, take note of anything that may have a bigger price tag.
Okay now that you've taken stock of what you'll want for your menu, now you've actually got to pick the food! Your choices are pretty much endless and can be a little overwhelming. I find it helpful to think about the style of food I will be serving. While these five, aren't the only options, they are a good starting point.
1. Apps and Desserts: Appetizers and desserts are often the best part of any dinner party, so just skip the boring stuff and just do appetizers and desserts. You’ll want to make sure to have lots of appetizers since you won’t be doing the main course (typically about double the average amount). 2. Simple Family Style Dinner: This style of dinner keeps things simple, but still gets everyone sitting down at the table together. For this simple, family-style dinner, make something one big pot of something easy and delicious. Big pasta dishes or soups can be a great crowd pleaser (add a salad or a loaf of bread to really impress).
3. DIY style: If you want something a little bit more customizable try something that has a DIY element! I love hosting a taco bar or a homemade pizza night. This type of menu can be great if the group of friends you’ve invited don’t know each other too well. Having an activity before everyone sits down can break the ice. Adding a DIY component also takes a little pressure off of you and allows people to customize their dishes to their personal tastes and dietary restrictions. 4. Classic Dinner Party: When I think dinner party, I think about a menu from this tier that I’ve dubbed “Classic Dinner Party.” For me, this means dinner with multiple more complex side dishes and maybe even an extra course or two. These types of dinner parties don’t have to be overwhelming or involve complicated recipes but do take a little more planning than a one-dish dinner. 5. The Fanciest Affair: This is the kind of dinner party where people wear tuxedos and pearls. The menu might include 5 or 6 courses with crazy complicated recipes and ingredients. If you love cooking and want an excuse to come up with a unique and exciting multi-course meal, then this might the perfect time to flex your culinary muscles. And it doesn’t have to be stuffy! You can serve people escargot and soufflés in their pajamas if you want. It’s your party, you do you. I’d love to come!