The No. 1 response I get from people who are hesitant to host a dinner party is: “I don’t cook as well as you do.” Well…I beg to differ!
Almost everyone has a “signature dish”—a one-pot or crockpot or casserole-dish meal they absolutely ROCK. It might be lasagna. It could be chili. Maybe a simple pasta dish or soup or Sunday roast or pot pie. There’s high potential it’s a family recipe passed down through generations, so it doesn’t feel “special” enough for a dinner party. But let me assure you: It is!
Most guests are simply delighted to be invited to dinner. They don’t have to cook or clean up afterwards. They’re served in a comfortable setting, under no pressure to plow through their meal so the server can clear the table and seat the next patrons waiting in the lobby. They don’t have to scan the menu to see what they can afford. They don’t have to leave a tip.
Doesn’t that sound like a winning scenario??
The No. 2 response I get from people who are hesitant to host is: “I don’t have fancy things.” Well. Do you have a tablecloth or table mats? Do you have everyday dishes? Water glasses? Paper napkins? Do you have enough silverware for everyone? If not, could you borrow some? I’ve done that!
And guess what? Most dinner guests are absolutely delighted to contribute to the meal. When they say the magic words—“What can I bring?”—be ready with a little tidbit you know about their cooking skills. Do they make a killer dessert? Suggest that. Do they have good cheese instincts? Good enough to put together a little charcuterie board? Score! Are they bread makers? Dip makers? Deviled-egg makers? Take that opportunity to let them shine! If they’re not particularly handy in the kitchen, do they have an excellent wine collection? They’d probably love to share a bottle or two.
See what we did there? We put together a delightful evening with one phone call. It’s really that simple. So go through your worn, tattered recipes and select the one you know is a winner. Then pick up the phone and invite over a lovely person or couple or family today. You won’t regret it.
I’m not a particularly picky eater. Seriously. The food could be patio-grilled. It could be straight from the crockpot. It could be gourmet or even takeout. But if you serve it on paper plates with plastic forks and a paper towel for a napkin, you’re gonna lose me.
My husband Jimmy realized this the very first time he asked me over for dinner. We hadn’t been dating long. His place was squeaky clean, fragrant candles glowed invitingly, soft 80s music played…and then he offered me wine in a red Solo cup.
I’ll pause as you imagine my internal scream.
“Ohhhh…” I murmured in a squeaky voice. “Do you have a glass? Of any kind? Even a juice glass?” He dug around and found a heavy beer glass that may or may not have been cleaned in the previous year. I took it. The next time I was invited to dinner, actual wine glasses stood proudly on the counter. And that’s when I knew he was a keeper.
See—anyone who’s special to you deserves the real things at a meal: non-disposable plates, metal utensils, serving bowls, glassware, not-paper-towels napkins. Note that I didn’t list bone China or sterling silver or lead crystal or fine linen. If you have those—great! Use them! But if you don’t, just go with your everyday dishes…that are actual dishes. They don’t even have to match!
And don’t forget the placemats. Everybody deserves a placemat. Yes—even the kids! My brothers and I ate off laminated placemats of Michigan landmarks. There was often a battle for the Mackinac Bridge mat. So fun…and educational! Mom just wiped them clean after meals.
If you’re feeling particularly bold—or if your guest is particularly special—add some flowers and candles. Put your condiments in little bowls or cups. Get completely ridiculous and add a centerpiece. Lose your mind with wine glasses. Voila! Beauty abounds!
Your table doesn’t have to be gorgeous every time, but it’s a great habit to form, educational for kids, and a step up in social dining skills. So, explore your cabinets, assemble the elements, and try it tonight!
My husband Jimmy and I have an ongoing battle over the dining table centerpiece. Meaning: I want one, he doesn’t. I adore a dramatic bowl or vase or jar of eclectic, conversational items. He doesn’t. I like to layer a base, then a vessel, then an assortment of interesting flowers or items. He—wait for it—doesn’t.
If it were up to him, the dining table would be starkly, sadly naked.
Now, he has a point sometimes. If the table is loaded with dishes and food, and all sides are packed with laughing people, a three-foot vase of gladiolus just gets in the way. But if it’s a small gathering—three or four people—a low bowl of hydrangea blooms or pinecones adds a sophisticated touch.
If you struggle with dreaming up a table centerpiece, you are not alone. They were commonplace with our parents and grandparents (I give you: the cornucopia), and still take center stage during business luncheons and fancy parties. But a centerpiece doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated or even floral. It just needs to be interesting.
If you have a cutting board, you have a base. If you have an artsy bowl, you have a vessel. If you have a collection of anything—marbles, dried flowers, copper utensils, artificial fruit or vegetables—you have a filler. You can skip the vessel entirely and put a houseplant on the cutting board. Voila! Centerpiece.
Let’s give it a try: Choose a board, put it on the table, then look around your house. Bring some odds and ends over. Try different combinations. Grab a glass bowl, fill it with water, then float some candles or mature blooms from your own gardens in the center. Lovely!
And you know what? You don’t have to throw a dinner party to showcase your table creations. They can be just for you and your family. Before long, every decorative item in your home will have centerpiece potential. And then my work will be done.
A Michigan farm girl transplanted to the South offering hospitality hacks.