My friends and I often discuss how easy it seems to host a party, at least to those who have never been in the trenches actually running the event! But the rest of us who know what it’s like to finish cooking the food and getting it out to guests while it’s still hot and tasty know that it can be a challenge. No matter how organized we think we are, serving the meal at its peak to your guests can make the host feel like a hamster on a wheel.
In my early days of hosting, I always figured the party would be in good shape if I could get my cooking completed before guests arrived. But, over the years, I’ve learned that preparing the food is only one small part of hosting and the real test comes when it’s time to serve.
Eventually, I’ve learned some strategies to simplify my job as the host. I admit that I learned some of these tips through my own experience, but others were picked up by watching other seemingly un-frazzled hosts in action. I know enough not to assume that it’s easy for anyone who works to ensure the happiness and enjoyment of their guests, but there are ways to make it easier, giving the host a little space to enjoy his or her party too.
I love appetizers but I rarely prepare challenging recipes when I host a dinner party. I prepare the more involved appetizer recipes when I am participating in a potluck party and don’t have five other dishes to cook, or when it’s a cocktail party and the appetizers are the main event. Otherwise, I like to choose easy to serve nibbles before a meal that require little else aside from placing them on an attractive platter. For example:
Prepare a Cheese Board - Choose a variety of different cheeses from hard to soft, or select cheeses from one country as your theme. Add fresh fruit such as in-season strawberries, grapes, apple slices, or peaches depending on how they pair with your cheese selections.
Offer Savory Selections - Spend a few minutes surveying the olive bar at your gourmet supermarket. Choose a selection of olives, pickles, pickled beans, roasted peppers, etc. that can be found there. Remember that the way you present these items is the key to making them appear attractive to your guests.
Meats - Unless your guests are vegetarians, it will be hard for them to resist a platter of cured meats including hard sausages such as Spanish Chorizo and Sopressata and sliced varieties like Prosciutto or Serrano. Serve them on an attractive plate that’s been lined with colorful lettuces.
The Main Event
Serve your main course family style. You’ll want to stock up on attractive bowls and platters that will make a dramatic impression when you bring them to the table filled with your hot food. It gives guests the initial “aha” moment as they take it all in, and provides a reason for guests to interact as they pass dishes around the table. Plus, it’s a lot less running around for you in the kitchen if you don’t have to plate each dish perfectly and rush it to the table. However, if you’ve hired a waitstaff to help with your party, you can just show them what to do with your plates, have a seat at the table and enjoy your guests as the food is served to all of you.
A do-it-yourself meal is a variation on serving family style. In this case you’ll provide all of the ingredients for guests to assemble their own meals. A Make-Your-Own Taco party is one very popular option. Another option is a do-it-yourself chili party where you offer several made-ahead varieties of chili which can include beef, chicken, and vegetarian, along with plenty of toppings like sour cream, shredded cheeses, hot peppers, sliced green onions and anything else you like. In the spring and summer a make-your-own burger bar is another fun way to simplify the effort of serving and maximize the fun for your guests. Prepare all of the toppings and condiments before your party to set out on a table by the grill for easy access as the burgers are cooked.
The Sweet Finish
The easiest way to simplify your hosting duties at the dessert course is to plan another do-it-yourself option. Prepare all of your ingredients before the party and have them pre-arranged on serving trays. Your guests will be tickled by the options for satisfying their sweet tooth, while you join in the fun.
Set up an ice cream buffet. Offer selections of ice cream, sorbet, and frozen yogurt. Include different sauces like hot fudge, fruit sauces, or marshmallow cream. The more toppings guests can sprinkle on the better, including: chopped nuts; crumbled candy bars; fresh fruit; gummy treats; classic sprinkles.
A variation on an ice cream buffet is a make-your-own brownie sundae bar. Offer a selection of bar cookies including chocolate, lemon, and banana bars. A couple of ice cream flavors, whipped cream, sauces, and a few final toppings will elevate this treat to legendary status.
Dessert fondue is another alternative for a do-it-yourself treat. Whether you mix up a batch of chocolate fondue or use a chocolate fountain, you’ll supply guests with platters of dippers to dunk away to their hearts’ content. Dippers can include: chunks of pound cake or angel food cake; fresh berries; marshmallows; pretzels.