Entertaining at home is a lot of fun but it also can be a little overwhelming, especially for first timers. Even just thinking about what you'll serve while keeping with your fingers crossed that everything tastes delicious is enough for anyone to start sweating. But done right, and your friends will be talking about your hosting skills for years to come. And inviting themselves over at any chance they get!
Long lunches and dinner parties are a great excuse to spend quality time with friends. They are also a very cost-effective way to have fun at home. Depending on where you are in the world, you may only be able to host a few close friends. Or maybe you can invite them all! Whichever your situation, it's time to make long lunches and dinner parties easy, yet fancy AF.
So, whether you're planning a long lunch with a few close friends, or a more formal dinner party with place settings and multiple courses, with a bit of planning and my tips below, you'll be armed with everything you need to host a successful, stress-free event at home.
Create the guest list
The first thing you need to do is think about who you will invite. Are you wanting to host a long ladies lunch with your best gal pals, or a couples dinner so you can have some adult time - without the kids? Perhaps you want a mixed bag and invite different friends to come together, or maybe you want to invite your work colleagues. Entertaining at home don't necessarily have to be for your BFFs only. Mixing new friends with old friends gives everyone the chance to meet each other and make long lasting connections.
Set a date
Once you have your guest list, it's time to set a date. Check the calendar and see if there are any important dates in the pipeline, such as public holidays, weddings, parties, baby showers or other events. If you're inviting a group of friends who know each other, it's a great idea to initially send a group "save the date" text message and to offer a couple of dates for them to choose from. If you're inviting a mixed bag of friends, it's best to contact your guests individually to see what their calendars are looking like for the upcoming month. No matter who you're inviting, it's always best to give your guests at least one months notice. If some of your guests are parents, it allows them plenty of time to organise a babysitter or to call in the grandparents for extra support. It's a bit of minefield finding a date that suits everyone, but once the groundwork is done, it'll feel amazing on the day. Also, it's ok if not everyone can come - there will be plenty of more wonderful opportunities to entertain at home.
Once you have a date locked in, it's time to send a formal invitation. These days, this looks like a group text message with all the event details such as date, time, location, dietary requirements, what to wear and what to bring. Or perhaps you might like to get a little creative and old school by sending a printed invite - go you! Whichever you choose, make sure you let your guests know you'll check in again a week before the event to confirm their RSVPs. This also helps you cater accordingly.
Find out dietary requirements
When you send your invitation, it is always prudent to find out if any of your guests have dietary requirements, such as allergies and preferences. There is nothing worse than having a meaty BBQ when one of your friends is a vegetarian or a pescatarian - no one wants that to happen. It's best to find out as early as possible because between the time the invites are sent and the time you collect the RSVPs, you'll be busy planning a beautiful menu and you don't want to have to change it a week out from the event...if you can help it.
Plan your menu
This is my favourite part! I absolutely LOVE choosing a menu and I love choosing a theme. By choosing a theme, it means you can really hone in on the cuisine you want to cook. Will you be cooking Italian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Scandinavian or modern Australian? You can choose one or many, but I find it keeps things simple for you if you choose one (maybe two).
A couple of weeks before your event, start to planning your menu. Look at your favourite cookbooks for inspiration and jump on Pinterest to get a feel for the cuisine you have chosen. From my experience, choosing simple recipes that are packed with flavour reigns supreme. Even better, choose recipes that can be made in advance so you're not having to cook everything on the day. You do want to be able to enjoy yourself too, you know.
For the mains, I always make sure I have a meat dish, a fish dish and a vegetable dish. If you there are any non-dairy and non-gluten guests, I absolutely make sure these main dishes are taking this into account. When you plan each dish, note down the cost of ingredients and how long it will take you to prepare and manage on the day. Avoid overspending and spending too much time in the kitchen - you want to make sure you have plenty of quality time with your guests. As a sample, this is how I usually plan my menu:
Create a beautiful table setting
When you know your menu, it's time to start thinking about the table setting. I know I said creating the menu is my favourite part, but truly, I think it's creating a beautiful table setting! The first thing you need to consider if your colour palette. This should be guided by the dishes you are serving for maximum impact, but is also guided by what ceramics, kitchenware and centrepieces you have at home. I always recommend raiding your cupboards first, and if you need anything extra, visit your local charity shops and secondhand stores. Invest in pieces you know you'll use for years to come and that will look stunning across a multitude of differently styled table settings.
Get those RSVPs
You've set a date, you've invited your guests, you've chosen a theme and menu, and you're table setting compliments your dishes - what next? A week before your event, check in with your guests and confirm their RSVPs. Let them know how excited you are, remind them of the start time, and let them know if they need to bring anything, like BYO booze. RSVPs are obviously essential so you know who's coming, but it's vital for knowing how much food you need to buy and prep, which is ultra important. I also find this is a great time to create a Spotify playlist to enjoy on the day. If you don't have one, see if one of your friends do - it'll save you a tonne of time using theirs.
It's time to go shopping
When you know who's officially coming, it's time to make your grocery list and check it twice. Even three times. I have been SO guilty of overbuying in the past but over the last few years, I have become a bit of a drill sergeant with my grocery list. The best place to start is by looking at each dish and the ingredients against how many guests are coming. Look at what you already have in your pantry and fridge, see if any ingredients double up, get savvy with measurements, and write a final grocery list divided into two segments - "the week of" and "day before". Some items you can buy a week ahead, but other items need to be super fresh and you'll need to grab them the day before. This little extra step helps manage your timeline throughout the week of your event.
The day before
The day before your event is crucial. Block out the entire day if you can (get a babysitter if you have kids or call in the grandparents to help), and get your final groceries in the morning, then spend the rest of the day prepping and making what you can. It really helps having a spare fridge in the garage (I cannot tell you what a lifesaver ours has been), but if you don't have a spare fridge, get creative with how you pack and store items in your kitchen fridge. If something doesn't really need to go in the fridge the day before (like capsicums), leave them out on your bench. I also use the day before to assemble my table setting elements, and I like to group ingredients by their dishes on the kitchen bench for extra organisation. I like to lay out the serving dishes too so I know what dishes will be served on what plates, platters and bowls. Another thing I do the day before is check the weather. Unless we're eating by the fire pit, our two entertaining areas are under cover. Whatever the weather is looking like, make sure you have a back up plan because you may need to move your event inside if you're planning on having it outside.
On the day
Get up early, get that table set and start on the food prep, baking and cooking. Send your guests a text letting them know you're excited to see them at the time your event is commencing. Make sure your beverages are cold and that you leave about an hour before your guests arrive to have a shower, get ready and make any final adjustments. Light those candles and remember, have fun! There are bound to be a couple if hiccups on the day, but that's only normal. Enjoy yourself and the company you share. Don't worry about the washing up either until after your guests have left - just give everything a quick rinse and deal with it the following day. But if you're lucky, your guests may rally in the kitchen and help you clean everything up. And those are the friends you keep forever :)