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The Perfect Dinner Party
Hosting Thanksgiving this year? We’ve got you covered.
By Madison Russ

The holidays are quickly approaching, so it’s likely your to-do list soon will be overflowing. If you’ll be planning Thanksgiving dinner – or any dinner party – we’ve got some tried-and-true tips to wow your guests.

 

Serve it up Right

Cooking dinner for a big group of people can, frankly, be daunting. But plenty of successful hosts know what it takes – from planning to preparing – to really pull it off. Tracy Bay, sous chef at Wegmans in Mount Laurel, shares how you can get dinner out on time, serve up a fantastic meal and be able to join everyone at the same time.

 

Don’t Skimp on Prep

“You should be working on your head count a month before. Find out exactly how many people you have to feed and if you have to worry about allergies or anything like that,” says Bay. “A week before, start your shopping.”

Bay says the rule of thumb for how much food you’ll need is 1/2 lb of food per person for the entrée, 1/4 lb per person for the side dish. When it comes to dietary restrictions – whether it’s allergies, or someone is vegetarian or vegan – it’s never a bad idea to ask guests directly (or put a spot on the RSVP where they can list their needs). That way, coming up with a menu that’s friendly to all your guests won’t be such a headache and no one will feel left out.

“Keep the menu as basic as you can while hitting everyone’s needs. Make sure you have options, without overwhelming yourself in the process” she says.

 

Keep it Simple

Want to blow your guests away with a new intricate dish or have 20 different appetizers? A dinner party probably isn’t the best time for that.

“Most people are more concerned with running out of food, so they go a little heavy, which is always better than going too light. You definitely don’t want to run out of food,” explains Bay. “But sometimes, people will offer too much variety. If they kept it a little simpler, they would make it easier on themselves.”

Bay suggests sitting down and writing out a menu ahead of the party, crossing off some items as you go along. If you’re thinking about trying a new recipe you found on Pinterest, it’s better to stick to what you know how to make – and make well.

“Narrow it down: maybe two – maybe three – appetizers at the most, an entrée and a couple sides. Just try to keep it as basic as you can,” she says.

“This is the time for foods you may only cook a few times a year, but you really enjoy them. Share that with everyone.”

 

Keep it Small

When it comes to crafting that guest list, don’t feel like you need to invite all the neighbors, everyone from your PTA group and your best friends from college. To make your party a hit, intimate is best.

“If you’re the only one doing the cooking and preparation, it can be really hard to do a large event by yourself,” says Bay. “If you’re going to do something bigger, maybe reach out for help or change it up with something like a potluck.”

 

Enjoy Yourself

“I think sometimes people get so wrapped up in the preparation, planning and execution of the event they lose focus on the big picture – they should be spending time with their guests,” says Bay.

She recommends spending the day before prepping as much as possible and setting up everything, to keep you from scrambling the day of and spending all your time in the kitchen. And, don’t feel the pressure to cook it all. Catering some items, while cooking others, can be the perfect balance to keep you out of the kitchen.

“Maybe you’re making your dinner and picking up your appetizers or deserts premade to make it a little simpler on yourself,” says Bay. “The day of, try to make a timetable when it comes to getting your items cooked, that way you have everything ready on time and you get to enjoy your dinner versus running around getting everything ready.”

As for the dishes? Leave them. “I just put them in the kitchen until my event is over,” Bay laughs. “The main purpose of your event is to spend time with people you care about. So don’t let the menu and planning overwhelm you.”

 

Setting the Scene (and Table)

Want a few special add-ons to make your table stand out?

Try a printed menu. It doesn’t take much to add this design element to your table. Make a list of the foods you’ll be serving, place your family’s name and the date on top, and print in a unique font on special paper. Have fun with your menu – maybe use a different color paper for each guest or a photo of a past holiday dinner.

Go with placecards. You can answer a lot of questions about “Where would you like me to sit?” by using namecards at each setting. And this is a great opportunity to get creative. Try painting the name on a pumpkin or, if you have access to old photos of your guests, frame their yearbook portrait for a guess-who place setting.

Don’t forget the candles. No matter if you’re going formal and fancy or cool and casual, candles set the mood. Set candles at different heights and be sure they are lit before everyone sits down. And if you’re using the candles to light the room, make sure you have enough.

 


Want to make your party planning even easier? Enter our Friday Giveaway to win apps on us! Click here.

November 2019
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