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How to Host a Gourmet Dinner

A French philosopher once said that eating alone was sadder than destitution. Certainly, no one likes to eat alone. Now that you have perfected that filet mignon, or vichyssoise soup, (or whatever your signature dish is), you will want to show off to your friends! But hosting a gourmet dinner is much more than good food. In order to truly impress your friends and acquaintances you must use as much skill and attention to details in entertaining as in the preparation of the food. Don’t shy away from hosting if you are not by nature the next Martha Stewart. This article contains tips to turn your meal into a real event.

Phase One: Inviting your guests and planning the menu

Unlike barbecues and family reunions, dinner gatherings are meant to be smaller intimate affairs; so your plans should promote lively, yet amiable, conversation. Limit your guest list to six to twelve friends, aiming for around eight. Unless your guests already know each other, you must also do a little social engineering. Consider the interests and personalities of each individual as you make your list. Diversity is great, but make sure your group has enough in common that nobody will feel alienated or left out of the conversation. Be aware of any strong opinions your guests may hold—you don’t want your friendly dinner to end up being the clash of the titans!

As you are drawing up your guest list, you will also want to start planning the menu. Your guests may have food restrictions that will affect your menu. If the couple next door is vegetarian and your cousin Dottie is allergic to tomatoes, you may have to exercise creativity in your menu. Take the season into account as well. You don’t want the house to be an oven when your guests arrive. Rather, you want the right aromas to greet your guests at the door.

A theme can dictate your menu as well as inspire your décor (see section two: capturing the right mood). If you are an inexperienced host, it’s a good idea to choose one big main course and a few easy accompanying dishes. Furthermore, dessert can be kept low-key: ice cream with store-bought cookies, or fresh fruit sprinkled with powdered sugar is always sure to please.

Once you have solidified your guest list, chosen a theme, and decided on a menu, you may want to send out invitations. These don’t have to be fancy—unless fancy is your theme for the night. Whether the invitations are computer-generated or store bought, addressing the envelopes in your own handwriting gives them a personal touch.

Phase Two: Capturing the right mood

Restaurant owners know that the atmosphere is as important as the quality of their food when making an impression. Preparing your home for guests doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, and it doesn’t have to be time consuming if you use a little creative thinking, and follow a few simple rules of thumb. Mainly, you should consider the lighting, sound, and table settings.

Nothing creates ambiance like lighting and music. Dimmed lights and candles and soft jazz can turn your dining room into elegance personified. Alternately, playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and opening your windows on a bright sunny day can feel refreshing and Italian. The mood should reflect the meal.

Since the table will be the focal point of your evening, you must give it some thought. If you already have a beautiful dining room table, that’s great; but the night’s not a bust if you don’t. Any long surface propped to the right height will work, and once it is covered with a table cloth no one will know the difference anyway. Think outside the box. I once served country fried chicken on bales of hay topped with red checkered tablecloths and daisies. I’ve known friends to “set” the floor—they literally spread a table cloth on the floor, and used cushions for guests to sit against. If space is tight, or as a last resort, it’s not a sin to seat guests on the couch with their plates on their laps.

Here are some tips for setting your table. First, use real plates and china. If you don’t have them you can buy a set at your local thrift store for almost as cheap as a package of Dixie cups. (There’s no rule that they all have to match…) Likewise, use a real table cloth and napkins. If you have none and funds are tight, try a fabric store. A flat bed sheet works in a pinch. Use your creativity for napkin rings, or check out a book on folding napkins. Consider making name tags, especially if your guests don’t know each other, and keep centerpieces short enough to see over comfortably.

Phase Three: The big day

If you have entertained before you know that timing is the biggest challenge you face. You don’t want to be rushing around the kitchen getting everything done while your guests try to stop their stomachs from rumbling. However, you don’t want everything done so far in advance that it is dried out and tasteless by the time everyone is at the table. Solve this dilemma by setting out appetizers and drinks as your guests arrive. This buys you the time you need to assemble the meal. Make sauces ahead of time and blanch vegetables so that all you have to do is sauté them. Consider doing the European thing and serving salad after the main course, so that your guests don’t fill up before sampling your pièce de résistance! Keep water and drinks at the table to encourage guests to lingering and conversation.

As a final touch, start your dinner with a traditional toast. This fosters a feeling of community and starts the evening out on festive footing. Without a doubt, drinking to your good health and friendships will make each meal a memorable one.

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About The Author: Emma Snow is a gourmet and freelance writer. Writing for Gourmet Living and BBQ Shop .

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