If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to start entertaining again. Whether it’s creating an over the top celebration, or simply having a few friends over for dinner, gatherings are my true love language. And while it is a language that comes intuitively for me, I do have a few of the key elements I always make sure to check off when creating a menu for my guests.
COCKTAIL UPON ARRIVAL
I always have a drink ready to go when guests arrive in my home. What I serve depends on who I’m hosting and the menu I’m preparing. For instance, if I’m serving Italian, I’ll likely start the evening with Prosecco or an Aperol Spritz. If Mexican, perhaps a Mezcal based cocktail or if I’m going with more of a farm to table dinner, I’ll create a drink using fresh produce or other seasonal elements from the market. I almost always serve wine with dinner, so typically avoid it at the beginning of the evening unless I know my guests are strictly wine drinkers.
SMALL, EASY TO MAKE NIBBLES
Always have something for your guests to nibble on as soon as they arrive. Again the menu usually dictates the direction I go, but I always choose something that I can make ahead and items that aren’t overly fussy. Sometimes it looks like pretty crostinis using fresh ingredients from the market, simple bowls of olives and almonds, perhaps some chips and guacamole or even a grazing board filled with little nibbles for my guests to enjoy. I’ll share more specifics and recipes soon, but no matter what, have a little something for guests to dive into right away.
SPACE OUT THE TIMING
While I wouldn’t go as far as having a formal cocktail hour, I do recommend allowing your guests to get settled in, enjoy a cocktail and have good conversation before sitting down for dinner.
As mentioned, I almost always offer wine at dinner. I typically don’t overthink it and keep at least one nice bottle of red, white and rose on hand. If the menu is clearly better with one varietal over the another, I’ll offer that option specifically. If not, I simply ask my guests what they’re feeling like that evening.
Don’t forget the water. I personally like to offer flat and sparkling. While simple, sparkling water is a touch people don’t expect in your home and it’s an easy way to elevate your dinner. Don’t forget to leave both on the table and refill as needed for guests to help themselves to throughout dinner.
While I typically serve my meals family style, I still like to course them out a bit. It allows me to control the pace a bit more based on the energy of my guests. With that in mind, I usually start with a salad that compliments the menu I’m creating. A beautiful stone fruit paired with soft cheese, nuts and a bit of honey and olive oil, goes a long way for a farm to table dinner. I love a kale caesar salad with jalapenos and avocado added in for my Mexican inspired feasts. And you can never go wrong with arugula and shaved parmesan if serving flatbreads or other Italian inspired menus.
I try to create a menu that allows me to be present with my guests. For this reason, I almost always serve a main that takes 15 to 20 minutes of finishing in the oven. Before I bring out the salad, I’ll put the entree in the oven so when we’re done with the salad, the entree is ready to go. Depending on the main, I’ll bring it out with the proper sides or accoutrements for the dish and this looks different every time. If I’m making fish tacos, for instance, I might bring out several accompaniments from salsas and pickled onions to beans and roasted corn. Or if I’m making a nice piece of salmon, I might serve beautiful seasonal veggies and an easy to make potato dish. Whatever it is, it should be beautifully presented but low maintenance. People come to your home to spend time with you. Leaving them for too long to prepare food kills the energy no matter how good the dish ends up being.
While I’m personally not a dessert person, I do like to end the meal with a little something sweet but also easy. Entertaining can be time consuming, so I don’t make my life harder by trying to bake something perfect for the occasion on top of creating a beautiful meal. Instead I find the best dessert I can make beautiful with presentation. This can be as simple as high quality ice cream with honey, sea salt and perhaps a bit of fresh fruit on top. Or I’ve even been known to pick up a beautiful tart or cake from a local bakery. I do try to stay true to the menu created and personally opt to go to a specialty bakery or ice cream shop for these products as the quality is much better than anything I’ve personally found at a normal grocery store.
AFTER DINNER TEA, COFFEE OR COCKTAIL
Much like the sparkling water, most guests are often surprised and delighted when offered tea, coffee or an after dinner drink. It lets them know you’re still excited to continue the evening and invites them to linger that much longer.
I’ll share so much more about designing cohesive menus and other tips for creating a great flow in your home. In the interim, I hope the above checklist not only makes gathering at home a bit easier but also gets you excited to entertain again.