What could be more delightful? Good company, hot food, cold drinks, conversation with friends, all under your own roof, so you can roll straight into bed afterwards…
Plenty, it seems. For many, throwing a dinner party comes up on our list of life’s essential pleasures somewhere between nursing the dog through a chronic gastric complaint and disinfecting the bins.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are my hard-fast don’ts for feeding your friends without losing your mind. Believe me, I’ve put in the fieldwork.
1. DON’T EXPECT PERFECTION
No matter how many lists you make or how elaborate your time plan, something will go wrong. People will arrive late, drunk, with unexpected kids/ dogs/ sexy strangers they just met in the pub. Pull up another chair, stretch the moussaka (more bread, extra salad), and relax.
2. DON’T APOLOGISE ALL THE TIME
There’s nothing more tedious than a monologue on why the fish isn’t quite up to par or the mousse hasn’t set. In the words of the late, magnificent American cook Julia Child: “Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis.”
3. DON’T SHOW OFF: YOU ARE NOT A RESTAURANT
A chef friend confided he worried when people came to his house they expected mile-high souffles, ballotines and sugarcraft when all he wanted was cassoulet and gallons of wine. There is something limply desperate about people who stack food into towers at home. Do not be that person.
4. DON’T OVER POUR
There’s a difference between a good time and an outtake from The Lost Weekend and the person who is supposed to know the difference is you. It helps if you get food in people reasonably promptly. If you invite folk at 7.30pm and don’t feed them until 9.30pm, you’ve only yourself to blame if you’re wiping up blood and/or tears by 11.30pm.
5. DON’T INDULGE THE DIFFICULT
If someone is deathly allergic to something, of course accommodate them. But if they breezily announce as they walk in the door that, surprise!, they’re vegan now, or are off dairy, do feel free to sit them down with a nice tin of soup and an oat cake. It’s a kindness, really, as this self-indulgent faddishness is not to be encouraged.
6. DON’T DISRUPT THE FLOW
Don’t say: “Shall we sit soft?” and drag everyone away from the table when they’re having a raucously wonderful time. Unless of course you’re desperate for a fleet of Ubers to arrive at your door within the next 10 minutes. You know when you’re in the middle of your very best story and a waiter comes up to tell you about the specials? Never be the bad waiter at your own table.
7. DON’T INFLICT ‘ENTERTAINMENT’
Considering after dinner amusements? Proceed with extreme caution. If you have to resort to fire-eating or close-hand magic to lift the evening, you’ve lost the crowd.