The perception of a perfect dinner party has come a long way since its formal days of starched linen and polished silverware.
In the 1950s, the hostess-with-the-mostess spent their day ironing tablecloths, stuffing olives and polishing silverware in preparation for her guests 6.30pm arrival.
However, the modern-day dinner party host is no longer trapped behind a closed kitchen door praying that her soufflé will rise.
Nathy Gaffney, etiquette expert and contributor to the new e-book The Perfect Dinner Party, says these days simple dishes with fresh produce are enough to impress guests.
“A dish doesn’t need 15 ingredients to be considered spectacular,” says Gaffney.
“A modern day dinner party is much more about connecting with friends and family and meeting new people, rather than the ‘pressure to impress’ that has been traditionally associated with hosting.”
Here are Gaffney’s eight essential hosting tips:
1. Don’t be too ambitious
If you’re not Heston Blumenthal or world-renowned French chef Jacques Pepin, then it’s best not to put a baked Alaska or croquembouche on your dinner party menu.
Most people are simply happy not to be tied to the stove for a night, they will be happy with a cheese platter, a stew bubbling away on the stove, a salad and a chocolate cake.
2. BE PREPARED
Unless you’re aiming to become a celebrity chef, don’t spend your entire evening in the kitchen preparing food while your guests are having all the fun chatting and tasting your wine.
“Never let lack of time or culinary expertise get in the way of the desire to entertain in your home,” says Gaffney.
“Our cities and suburbs are rife with provedore, delis, markets and fine food outlets full of divine, readily prepared food.”
Choose a main course that you can bung in the oven – so no risotto. For dessert, a dish that can sit happily in the fridge will be your best friend.
3. KEEP YOUR TABLE SIMPLE
Everyone is impressed by a giant swan carved out of ice sitting in the middle of the dinner table, but there’s really no need to decorate the table with more than some fresh flowers.
“The table occupies centre stage, so it is important that it looks welcoming and well organised,” says Gaffney.
“This of course doesn’t mean that it has to be complicated or perfect.
“If you’re short of time – less is more, but clean linen, sparkling glassware and fresh flowers always impress.”
4. THINK OF GUESTS COMFORT
Make sure your guests know where the bathroom is, know whether they have food allergies, and don’t seat politically opposed diners together, Gaffney suggests.
“All these things contribute to a guest’s overall experience, allowing them to relax and enjoy themselves.”
5. BEWARE THE SAD MUSIC
While you might be fond of Jeff Buckley, there is a time and a place for this music. To create an intimate, fun mood at your dinner party you want to avoid music that will have your guests crying into their wine glasses.
“Lively music is great for mingling at pre-dinner drinks, then something a little more laid back during dinner, so as not to overpower the conversation,” says Gaffney.
6. CANDLES CREATE AN INTIMATE MOOD
“Lighting should be gentle, ambient,” says Gaffney.
“If you are using candles on the table – make sure you use dripless unscented candles.
“Always ensure there is enough light for guests to see what they are eating.”
7. NO NEED TO MAKE EVERYONE WEAR FANCY DRESS
“It’s definitely not vital to have a theme,” says Gaffney.
“Obviously for special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries or calendar holidays – the theme is already provided, but if it’s simply a get together with friends – there is no need to dress it up as anything else, unless you have a real desire to do so.”
8. INVITE PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW EACH OTHER
Gaffney likes to host Six Degrees of Degustation-themed dinner parties.
“It’s where everyone coming knows me – but none of the guests know each other,” she says.
“It’s a wonderful way to create new friendships and networks.”