Is there anything more exciting than planning a dinner party at home with your nearest and dearest, Come Dine With Me style?
Minus the excruciating scoring-in-secret part that is!
If the Channel 4 reality series is your go-to guilty pleasure as well (couples edition, of course!), then you’ll be just as excited as I am that dinner party season has arrived once again. So, when I was asked to create some dinner party themed content by build-to-rent operators Get Living, at their New Makers Yard neighbourhood in Salford, I naturally jumped at the chance.
I have to confess I’ve not thrown nearly as many dinner parties in my own home over the years as I would have liked, which is a real shame, because entertaining in the comfort of your own home is such a thrill Obviously the level of panic and stress involved directly correlates to the fussiness of your guests and, of course, your own cooking abilities but, in my opinion, a dinner party should be far more about bringing friends and family together —both old and new— and creating a warm and inviting environment in which everyone can truly relax and enjoy themselves, than serving up impressive and intricate dishes that chain you to the kitchen for hours, leaving your guests unattended.
Of course, there is always a place for a fancy dressed-up-to-the-nines dinner party —if you’re celebrating a special occasion or have finally perfected a recipe you’ve been working on for months— but I don’t think dinner parties should be the sole preserve of a momentous moment and should, instead, be hosted regularly, without the need for pomp and circumstance. More tried-and-tested-favourites-that-can-be-made-ahead-of-time (and popped in the oven when guests arrive), more bring-a-bottle-and-help-yourself-from-the-bar-cart, and more comfortable-attire-kick-your-shoes-off-at-the-door kind of vibe. Don’t you agree?
That’s not to say you don’t need to put any effort in.
In my opinion there are four things you need to curate a relaxed, but highly enjoyable, evening at home with your friends:
- A well-stocked bar cart, including delicious options for non-drinkers (or those who just don’t want a heavy night). You might also consider a signature cocktail for the night, especially if you’ve decided to opt for a particular theme, but also just for ease of serving
- A menu that caters to the tastes of your guests (considering any dietry requirements or keen preferences) and can be easily prepared, as much as possible, ahead of time
- A great selection of card or board games, or specific ice-breakers if you’re hosting a group of friends who’ve not yet met one another
- A well curated playlist to set the tone for the evening
A theme is entirely optional, and can be as subtle or overt as you like, but can be useful when it comes to setting the right ambience for your evening and creating a harmony between your drinks, food, decoration and playlist choices. Your theme may be linked to your cuisine of choice for the night e.g. a Françoise Hardy playlist and Kir Royales to complement a Parisian bistro inspired menu, or to a particular era such as 1920s glamour or 1970s retro. The important thing is to not be too rigid in sticking to a theme; if your guest wants a lager instead of a negroni, no problemo!
For my fantasy dinner party at New Maker Yards I opted to serve two local drinks brands as my primary offerings for guests; Seven Bro7hers ThrowAway IPA (modern & hoppy), and Four Sis4ers LS Lowry gin & tonic, served with a wedge of orange. I love having a brand story to share with my guests when hosting, so the fact that both of these brands create their products just down the road from my old flat in Salford endears them both to me no end. And, while I can’t personally vouch for the beer because I don’t drink it (although friends do, and can!), I can wholeheartedly recommend Four Sis4ers gin as one of my favourites, and a brand I always keep well stocked on my bar cart at home.
While I don’t think you need to go all out decorating your home when you host a dinner party, tablescaping is an important element to consider as your dining table really does form the focal point of the evening’s festivities. While it can be tempting to go all out and really laden your table with decorations, you must remember that the main function of the dinner table is a place to both eat and converse, so make sure to leave space for dishes to be placed comfortably on the table, and avoid blocking your guest’s sightlines across table with too many tall decorative displays.
My checklist for chic but effective tablescaping is as follows:
- A good tablecloth helps elevate your table from ‘everyday dining table’ to ‘dinner party table’. A single neutral colour is always easiest, and more versatile, to style time after time. H&M Home* and John Lewis* usually have great options.
- Low bud vases that can be filled with a few simple cut stems will always look chic, and can again be repurposed time after time to create different looks simply by changing the flower type. Here I’ve used vases from Dunelm* and Form Lifestyle Store, and supermarket bought roses.
- Cloth napkins are always more elegant than paper ones —and more sustainable too. They’re also a great way to inject colour and/or pattern into your tablescape if you’re using a plain tablecloth.
- Menus and placecards instantly add a touch of class, and convey far more effort than they really require. You can use Canva to create a quick and easy design to either print at home onto parchment card, or send to print with a local printing service. If you’re feeling really creative, you could even write and illustrate yourself!
- A simple but stylish crockery set. I don’t believe you need to keep china ‘for best’ and would personally recommend investing in a set you love that you can use everyday, which can be mix and matched with different colours and patterns through the table linens and accessories you choose. My favourite places for crockery are Fable, John Lewis* and Monoware, although you can also find great options at IKEA and Dunelm*.
- Taper candles are perfect for creating a sense of ambience and occasion. I just love these slim brass candle holders, available in two sizes (small & large), to set the candles at different heights to add interest to the tablescape. I personally like to match my candles to my napkins in colour, but choosing contrasting tones would also add a great visual impact.
For my fantasy dinner party menu, I kept things really stress-free by utilising FieldGood’s ‘field-to-freezer’ selection of ready meals, which really do make planning a dinner party menu an absolute breeze.
While I’d definitely lose points if my friends were scoring me on Come Dine With Me’s made-from-scratch rules, I think that as long as you’re serving up great food that everyone can enjoy, the night’s bound to be a success. My dinner party menu included tarragon chicken and beef bourginon as mains, with hasselback potatoes and miso butter Hispi cabbage alongside, followed by melt in the middle chocolate brownies and apple & blackberry crumble.
Winners all round!
I’d recommend rounding out the night with a good dessert wine or espresso martini (or tea/coffee for those who need to get up early!) and a rabble-rousing board game to appease any competitiveness amongst your guests. Monopoly is always a failsafe but Cards Against Humanity has probbaly become our most popular household game in recent years, especially once a few drinks have been consumed!
So, tell me, are you a regular dinner party host —or keen to get into it this year? What would your dream menu consist of? And —most importantly— who would be your dream guests? Tell me, tell me!
This post is in collaboration with Get Living but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Photography © Kate Baxter, shot on location at New Maker Yards, Salford.