From the moment the invitations are sent, to the moment the first person rings the door bell, there is a lot of planning involved when entertaining at home. As most of you know, hosting a party at your house is not always an easy task especially if you only have your two hands and no one else to help you. The little details involved in planning and executing a great party lies in time management. It’s not just about the food as the whole house has to be cleaned, organized and prepared for your guest’s arrival. This does not happen overnight. It takes me a few days to plan everything and I know first hand that it can seem very daunting to someone who has never done it before.
Hands down, menu planning is one of the hardest parts of hosting a party at your house. It is hard because you have to cook or order just the right amount of dishes with enough variety to please the guests. When preparing a menu, it is important to keep a few things in mind such as the age of the guests, their cultural background, food allergies, diet restrictions, the season and their likes and dislikes if you are aware of them. Sometimes it can get tricky. For example, you might have 30 guests between the ages of 1-90 yrs old. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone’s taste palette with every single dish that you serve. In this case, it is essential to have a variety of textures, colours, consistencies and flavors.
I’ve been told often by my guests that I go overboard in preparing the number of dishes that I am serving. I do this on purpose!!! I want every single guest to be able to enjoy a couple of the things that are on the table. Some people like dry food such as appetizers or salad, whereas there are guests who won’t even touch a salad! Gravies are a must for some people and they cannot eat their meal without gravy on hand. The same goes for desserts. Always have at least three desserts at a party. Everyone does not like chocolate, coffee, cream or fruit in their dessert. That’s why you could serve an apple flan, tiramisu and brownies on the same night and allow your guests to choose what they want to eat.
That being said, you have to accept that every dish you make will not necessarily be liked by all of your guests and that is perfectly okay. It does not mean that it didn’t taste good. It just means that everyone has the right to a different opinion when it comes to food. If they have ample choice, they will go home happy and have lots of nice things to say about your food.
Clients ask me what menu items they should choose for their event and I always ask questions about the guests that they are inviting and what they are planning to make themselves. We create custom menus for the client’s needs. We don’t always like to give them a set menu as that is very limiting and does not necessarily satisfy all their needs, so we give them options to choose from.
Creating a menu which has a little bit of this and a little bit of that is what makes it extra special for your guests. In the future, I am going to provide you with some menus to use at parties that you may be hosting at your home. For now, experiment with different cuisines and try making new things for your family. Who says we can’t have a chicken tikka pizza or Singaporean rice all in the same meal? It’s all about variety and experimentation.
Here are a few general categories that I like to use when deciding a buffet menu for myself or for a client:
Drinks – Hot
Drinks – Cold
The number of items to serve under each category will depend on the event, indoor or outdoor, the number of guests, if you have any help on hand and how long the party will be for. Let’s say that you are planning a brunch for 15 adults. I would suggest 5 appetizers, 2 main courses, 2 sides, 1 salad, 3 desserts, two hot drinks and two cold drinks. Breaking this down even further, I like to serve one drink such as a mango milkshake as the guests are arriving along with a tray filled with a variety of nuts, dry fruits, mini chocolates and candy. This gives them something to munch on while they are chatting with each other. It also shows that you care about them since you offered them something almost immediately after they arrived at your home.
Since I mostly host buffet style meals, I like to keep two separate tables for food and desserts and drinks. I use the table in my dining room for the food and the table in my kitchen for desserts and drinks. If you do not have two tables, you can use a kitchen counter or a coffee table for the same purpose. You can also use an extra table from somewhere else in the house and cover it with a nice table cloth. It can then be placed in the hallway or against a wall and used to serve anything you like. Use what you have to create separate stations for guests to get their food. It not only makes it interesting for them, but it spreads out your guests over the house so that no one room is crowded. When having a barbecue for my guests on our deck or in the back yard, I like to use two tables in exactly the same manner.
In order to take things a step further, it helps if you use candles and seasonal decor all over the house and if you color coordinate things. For example most of the dishes I have are cream or white. Just by changing the table cover, napkins and plates to say black and white plates, orange table cover and orange napkins with gold and silver flat ware, I am able to create a fall inspired table. On another occasion, I may use blue dishes, platters, blue glasses, white, blue and turquoise plates with white napkins and white cutlery. For me this would work well for outdoor entertaining as all of these blue and white items are plastic or melamine made for that purpose. In short, use what you have but try to coordinate things. You don’t need to have a lot of items for entertaining, but try to always buy items to match what you already own.
Once I’ve set the table, which is usually the night before, I write down the names of all the dishes on little pieces of paper and place the papers in each dish, platter, bowl or tray. This helps me a lot on the day of the party. It keeps me in track of what is on the table, in the fridge, on the stove, microwave or oven. I cannot forget anything as the empty bowl with the written reminder will keep me in check. Also, I won’t have to run around at the last minute trying to figure out which bowl to use for what item.
Sometimes I use warmers or chafing dishes to serve the main courses. This works well when you have more than 20 guests as you don’t have to worry about the food getting cold or refilling the dishes as often. The warmers I have allow me to place any heat proof dish directly on top of it. So I can take it out from the oven straight to the table and not have to worry about it.
When setting the desserts and drinks table, I like to use trays to categorize items. For example, I place the pitchers of water and juice on a tray and all the crystal glasses I’m using on another tray. If using a punch bowl that day, I place it in the centre of the table as it’s very big and acts as a centre piece. I like to place tea cups or mugs on a tray as well so that when I’m serving tea or coffee, there’s no dripping onto the table cloth. This allows everything to have a designated spot and things look tidy and clean. As for dessert, leave ample space on the table for placing a couple of desserts, bowls, plates, forks, spoons and cocktail napkins.
If you are giving away favors to your guests, you can place them on the dessert table or on an entry way table so that you don’t forget to hand them out as they are leaving. Also, if you would like to give close family and friends some food as they leave; make sure to have plates, foil or boxes handy so that they make take whatever they like.
It makes life so much easier to have everything written down and posted on your fridge way before the event. As I prepare each dish, I tick it off on my list. If you are preparing the meal yourself then you can use that list to buy ingredients for each dish. This way you won’t have to run to the grocery store at the last minute. If you are having your meal catered, then you can set your table with the relevant dishes, bowls, platters, stands, cups, glasses, cutlery etc. to go with your menu.
Planning is important at every step. It is the main secret of hosting a good party at your house. The guests come to meet you and to enjoy themselves at your house. They may not remember what they ate at your place a few months from now, but they will always remember the effort you put in to entertain them.
hAPPY eATING & kEEP sMILING
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