My food blog, which has just celebrated its second birthday, was created to inspire its readers to entertain at home, so they can experience the joy associated with having guests. In the past 2 years, entertaining made easy has provided its readers with a myriad of recipes, tips and hints, ideas and articles – all designed to take the stress and guesswork out of entertaining. Reflecting on the past 24 months, I felt it was time to take a step back and talk about the basic elements of entertaining – the keys to making your occasion as enjoyable for you as it is for your guests.
So many people associate entertaining at home with stress, hard work and very little reward. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The key to successful entertaining is planning and organisation. Lists, checklists, and advance preparation will ensure your occasion is seamless and will allow you to feel like a guest at your own party, instead of a kitchen slave.
A good place to start is to ask yourself the following questions:
Why do you want to entertain? The reason may be to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or occasion, or just an excuse to catch up with some friends. This will play a part in the style and degree of formality of your party or gathering.
How much is your budget? How much time do you have to prepare the food? These criteria will influence the type of food you will serve and the number of guests you will invite.
When will you hold your party or gathering? Both the date and the time may be influenced by the time of the year.
Who will you invite and how many? The number of people will depend on your budget as well as your confidence with cooking and entertaining. Your guest list will determine many aspects of your event, including food, ambiance, location, etc.
Where will it take place – around the dining table, buffet-style seated randomly around the home, outside on the verandah?
What style is the occasion and will there be a theme? Will it be a formal three course dinner, a relaxed al fresco barbeque, a stand-up cocktail party with finger food? What type of food will you eat?
Once you have a clear picture of the type of event you will be hosting, it’s time to start making lists and get organised!
Start with the guest list. Extend the invitations, making sure to ask of any dietary restrictions. As your guests reply, tick them off the list, noting their ability / inability to attend.
Decide upon your menu based on the responses of the guest list, your budget and in keeping with the type and style of occasion. Know your limitations (cooking skills and available time) and keep it balanced (flavours, texture, colour). Choose dishes that can be prepared ahead of time as much as possible and avoid those that require complicated or time consuming last minute preparations.
Make your shopping list, remembering to adjust the recipe quantities for the required number of guests. Don’t forget to check your pantry and refrigerator to determine what you already have.
Do an inventory of glassware, tableware, cutlery, serving ware, table linen and equipment. Make a list of what you need to hire, borrow or buy if necessary.
Make a timeline of all the things you need to do prior to your party. For example, purchase the groceries, press the linen, select the music, clean the house, set the table, chill the wine, buy some fresh flowers, etc.
Determine approximately how long the food preparation will take (many recipes give an indication of preparation time) and make a list of the order you will prepare the dishes, noting any dishes that can be prepared a day or two ahead. Always read each recipe in its entirely first so you know if some foods require advance preparation such as marinating. Remember to factor in time for clearing up between each recipe.
Make a running sheet of everything that needs to be done once your guests arrive, including times. For example, pre-heat the oven at 7:00pm, put the potatoes in the oven at 7:15pm for 30 minutes, etc. This way you will know exactly what needs to be done and when, and everything will run smoothly. It is also a useful reminder if you have enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine!
Finally, be a gracious host and enjoy yourself, even if things don’t go exactly according to plan. The attitude of the host dictates the atmosphere of the occasion. Entertaining should be an enjoyable and stress-free experience, and a relaxed host is the key to the best party.
P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please vote for me on Project Food Blog, a competition for food bloggers. Voting takes place between September 20th and September 23rd 2010.