How to Plan a Dinner Party.

One question I get asked a lot is how do I make sure everything is done at the same time. Quite often, I cater dinner parties. Whether it is a birthday or a special dinner for a group of friends, its all the same to me. I go through the same routine for every event. I thought itd be fun to take you through what my process is and how by careful planning and organization, throwing dinner parties can be a stress free success.

First.

The Menu.

You need to sit down and create the menu. Do you have a theme? Perhaps you are throwing a party for someone special. Do they have a favorite dish? I find it best to keep things simple. Sometimes the more items you have or the more complicated you make those items, the bigger risk you are taking.

When I sit down with a potential client. I always try to pick their brain first. I give them the floor hoping for them to give me an idea of what theyre looking for even if theyre not sure themselves. If we have a jumping off point, its easier for me to guide them the rest of the way.

I like to mix the difficulty level of things when creating a menu too. Have a nice variety of things that can be made ahead of time and things that need attention to detail. Lets take the menu below as an example:

This was a dinner party I did for about 10 people. It was so simple that it was really enjoyable and fun for me. Which should be how all dinner parties should be. Agreed?

The dessert was tiramisu. That is something I could do ahead of time. So I did those the day before. That way all I had to do day of was garnish them. For the salad, all components were done the day before, i.e: beets, vinaigrette, toasted pistachios. Day of all that was needed was assembling it all together. Those were the really easy things.

Lets look at the appetizer. The blackberry sauce was made the day ahead, just needed to be heated day of. Corn salsa was made the day ahead, giving it a chance for the flavors to meld together. I did taste it day of and adjusted the seasonings as needed. Scallops were seared day of, everything else was ready and just needed to be plated.

For the pork loin, I brined it two days ahead of time and cooked it day of. The vegetables accompanying the pork, were prepped [peeled, cut, blanched] the day before and cooked the day of. The reduction was made the day before. The polenta was made day of.

Do you see where Im coming from when I say a variety of things that can be done ahead of time and things that need attention?

Second.

Cost it out.

Okay. So youve got the menu. Phew.

Now this is the part I personally hate, but its a necessary evil.

Ive never been a good number person. Im a visual girl. Im good with being creative and making a nice looking plate. I leave the number crunching to my accountant friends. Heres lookin at you, Fervent Foodie. 🙂

You need to know how much the menu is going to cost you to execute. What your cost of goods are. If you are doing this professionally and have a staff, labor needs to be taken into account as well.

Third.

Shopping and Prep list.

This is one my favorites. I love to go and pick out and buy the ingredients I need to prepare the menu at hand. I also am a huge nerd, and am a list fiend. When I go shopping I want everything on my list to be organized. I usually separate my lists by a few categories:

Produce, cooler, dry, bread, meat, misc.

This way it prevents me from having to run around the store like a mad person.

[Call me OCD if you must].

zucchini

I also love to make prep lists. I literally go down the menu, start to finish, menu item by menu item. I list every ingredient and step that goes into that menu item. This way nothing gets missed. Everyones on the same page. Idiot proof if you will.

Plus I really love to highlight tasks off of the list once complete. It gives me personal satisfaction. Im weird, we know this.

There are things that can be done in advance. Trust me I dont do all of this preparation in one day. That would be crazy.

You start with things that will hold for the longest period of time first. Usually this includes things like making condiments, toasting nuts, etc. More delicate things like prepping vegetables and greens for salads you dont mess with until the day before or day of even.

Fourth.

Execution.

Of course this is my favorite part of this whole party planning process. Cooking. I mean I hope its my favorite, thats why I got into this industry to begin with right??

If things are organized, you have your lists, you have hands to help, this part of the process usually goes smoothly.

Lets talk about the picture above.

In the picture above I am filling cucumber boats with a flavored cream cheese filling.

The filling was made probably a couple days before the day of the event. Its a condiment, it will hold. I scooped the cucumber boats out the day before. Everything was wrapped, labeled, dated and ready to go! On the the of event, all I had to do for this was let the filling sit out at room temperature for a half hour or so, pipe it into the cucumbers and garnished them. Boom. Done.

Does this all make sense?

When doing a party or event, the idea is to skillfully plan out every aspect of it. You have to get all the components for each menu item ready that way day of, all you have to do is assemble or cook things.

At the end of the day its all common sense if you think about it.

I hope this gave you all a little insight into the behind the scenes of my job. I also hope this was a concept easy enough for you all to grasp and apply in your own lives. If anyone needs anything to be explained in further detail or has a question about planning that I did not already answer, feel free to leave a comment or email me!!