How to host a dinner party like a grown-up

Adulting 101.

If you’re reading this, it means you’re probably evolving from fledgling to fully-grown adult. 

Your eye-rolling and sarcasm are becoming finely honed skills – good for you! It’s at this point in life that you might feel ready to take on hosting your very own dinner party. 

Unlike driving or doing your taxes, learning how to host a proper dinner party is one of the most enjoyable, tasty life lessons you’ll ever master. And you don’t need to be living in a three-bedroom terrace house – or even own a dining table, for that matter – to host a grown-up dinner party. 

You just need to know a few essentials. 

Understanding ambience

One of the best dinner parties I’ve ever attended took place in a park on one of those disgusting 700 degree Melbourne nights. 

A trestle table, five metres of checkered cloth, a mess of fairy lights and voila! Chic central. But even if you’re eating on your living room floor around a coffee table, it’s good to know that you’re still able to control the most important ingredient – ambience. 

The lighting should be soft. Not The Bold And The Beautiful soft, but definitely flattering. Just don’t overdo the candles. You don’t want your guests to worry that you’ve secretly invited them to a key party. 

Which brings us to music. Nothing ruins a nice antipasto board like those first three jarring chords of Baby by Justin Bieber. If you go down the Spotify playlist route, make sure there are no hidden surprises. 

If you have a record player, asking your guests to pick a record to put on can be a nice way of distracting them from any last minute preparations.  

And can we talk about flowers for a minute? I don’t care what your budget is, at least some of it should go towards flowers for the table. Even rosemary sprigs will do, in a pinch. 

Something to drink

I like to prepare food with a glass of wine in-hand. I like to think it lends a chic, Parisian vibe to my cooking, but the main reason I do this is to lower my stress levels. No one should be able to tell that I am shrieking on the inside – it should all look effortless. 

One of the pleasures of cooking for a bunch of people is that you can request they bring the wine. If each person brings a bottle, there should be enough, plus a drop or two left over for a nightcap. 

Just one rule: serve the wine in proper, stemmed glasses. Remember, you’re a qualified adult now. If you’re feeling extra fancy, offer a classic aperitif on your guest’s entrance. A gin & tonic with a sprig of thyme is a simple and tasty way of saying I’ve arrived, in more ways than one. 

The food

When it comes to dinner, age has taught me that you only really need to know how to cook two things. One should be simple, basic and rustic. The other should be exceedingly complicated, so as to wow your guests. 

If this is your first dinner party, it’s advisable to stick to something you’ve nailed before. The pressure of feeding five other people will give you a newfound empathy for your parents, and you will be too distracted by this to concentrate on a Neil Perry recipe. 

A simple roast, ragu or pie are classic crowd pleasers. You just need to put together a side salad of lightly dressed leaves and some quality crusty bread and no one could be disappointed. 

Don’t worry too much about entrees – you’re not trying to win MKR. If you’d like to put something out to start, a grazing board is a very easy thing to throw together. Buy some good olives from your local deli, a hard and a soft cheese, some lavosh and a dip. If you don’t have a fancy serving paddle, a wooden chopping board is a decent substitute. Be sure to serve the dip in a small bowl, not in its plastic tub. Remember, it’s all in the details. 

To finish

At no point should you feel the need to attempt some sad soufflé or try to force any sickly frozen treats upon your guests. If you’ve done your job right, everyone should be full of food and wine, unable to contemplate another course. 

But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt after six years of dating an Italian, it’s that when It comes to excessive eating, you should never take no for an answer. At the very least, snap apart some good dark chocolate and scatter it onto your prettiest plate. Put this out on the table with some cherries or mandarins, and a small bowl for the pips. You’re done. 

This is also a convenient set-up to suggest to your guests that the night has drawn to a close. Because, let’s face it, hosting a dinner party is basically the Olympic Games of adulthood and you’ve just crossed the finish line. 

You’ll no doubt be feeling exhilarated, rewarded and confident that it will be at least another 4 years before you try that again. Well done!

Illustration by Twylamae.

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