Although a dinner party is about the people and conversation
, some guests will still be expecting dinner. To plan your dinner party menu
, break it down into the following 4 steps:
Step 1: Assess ResourcesAssess Resources
Step 2: Lay A Foundation
Step 3: Build the Menu
Step 4: Add Wine (Optional)
The available time, space, and equipment
relative to the number of people attending is a significant factor in what you can serve. However, most limitations can be circumvented by planning ahead.Time
Plan your menu based upon how much time you have to prepare the day of and day before
the party. Everything will take longer than you expect, so keep things simple
The critical time factor is the amount of last-minute preparation required
to serve a particular dish. In addition, the more guests, the more last-minute preparation required
; unfortunately a larger party also means you will have less time (and ability to concentrate) for cooking.
Therefore, plan dishes that can mostly be prepared ahead
and require simple last-minute cooking and finishes. For example, you can achieve complex flavor layering
in your dishes by preparing casseroles, soups, dressings, and sauces a day or two ahead
then just cook the dish, protein or pasta before serving.
This method also gives you the opportunity to try new things, then start over or abandon dishes, if they don't turn out as planned.Space
Throughout the planning process, stay conscious of the amount of space
you will need to refrigerate, cook, prepare, plate, and drop dishes
- Number & size of cooking burners
- Oven space
- Counter space
- Area to drop dirty dishes
- Plating area
- Refrigerator space
Choose dishes that can be baked at similar temperature
s if you only have one oven.Equipment
Verify that you have the appropriate equipment
to prepare each dish at the right time, as well as, storage containers for any ingredients made ahead. Especially:
Lay A Foundation
- Pots & pans for cooking
- Baking sheets for cooking and storage
- Plastic bins to drop dirty dishes
Lay your dinner party menu foundation by choosing your main or specialty dish
. Start by creating a list of possible dishes
based upon food choices, your cooking experience, and preparation time required
Select important foods and ingredients first to narrow down possible dinner party dishes. Factors influencing food selection include:
- Your party’s theme or color
- Your budget
- Fresh, natural produce available
- Guest of honor preferences
- Guest food restrictions
Choose dishes you have (successfully) prepared before
. Your cooking experience will largely determine what type of dishes you should attempt.
Your dinner party is not a good time to be overly ambitious
. But, if you want to serve a new dish, be sure you practice the recipe before your party.
As mentioned, choose dishes that require very little last-minute preparation. Make soups, sauces, dressings, casseroles, ahead of time
to reduce the amount of work and stress you have during your dinner party.Build the Menu
Build your dinner party menu to support your selected premier dish
. To keep your party manageable structure your menu to 2 to 4 courses
, plus an hors d’oeuvre
served during the cocktail hour.
Feature only one specialty dish
, otherwise keep it simple. Plan your menu courses starting out light and getting heavier
toward the main course.
A list of the most common meal courses:
- Main Course
- Dessert with Coffee & Cordials
*Serve an appetizer course after seating, in addition to hors
d'oeuvres during cocktail hour.
Be careful not to overuse an ingredient or repeat a style of cooking
, however do stick to a theme
throughout the meal.
Like exceptional parties, complementing and contrasting
are key principles in delicious dishes and magnificent meals. Within each preparation
, and between each course
, plan your flavors, textures, and colors
to balance and distinguish your ingredients and servings. Go with the flow with flavors
, but be careful not to repeat. Contrast
with light and heavy or hot and cold. Also, contrast
flavors during a course
, such as sour, acid, or bitter with sweet;
savory with salt; piquant or spicy with neutral or bland.
Like flavors, try not to repeat textures
too often while you contrast between courses and within dishes. Specific textures include crunchy, soft, smooth, hard, chewy, flaky, creamy, chunky, dense, silky, grainy, and juicy.
Finally, plan the presentation of your color combination
on the plate. Coordinate the visual effect
and avoid having too many foods of one color. Vegetables offer a wide variety of colors
and garnishes offer an easy way to add color, including edible flowers, carrot curls, green onions, chives, parsley, radishes, herbs, chopped red pepper, lemons, limes, and oranges.Add Wine (Optional)
If you wish to serve wine with dinner and do not have a lot of experience, keep it simpl
e by focusing on the body
(aka weight) of the wine. Besides the separation of white (lighter bodied) and red, wines are generally further classified as light-, medium-, and full-bodied
These classifications usually follow the alcohol content
of the wine (more alcohol=more weight). Use light-bodied wines for lighter courses and wines with more body for heavy courses.
Choose a store with a large wine selection and consult with the staf
f. Ask for suggestions based upon your sauces, as well as the ingredients
of your dishes.
Plan on serving 1/2 bottle per person
, and choose a wine paired with the main course
. It is not necessary to select a wine for each course, but you may optionally
choose to serve a lighter wine more appropriate for the early courses
Wine offered to you as a gift by a guest should not necessarily be served during dinner.