A dinner party needs to get three vital elements right: the
location, the people and the food.
Not every winter table has to have a northern hemisphere Christmassy theme to it. Though we can take a few pointers and add a little ‘Southern’ charm to it. Warm + elegant + cosy = winning romantic snuggly ambiance. So how do we work up the milieu to that cuddle?
A table doesn’t just get character from a centrepiece. Senses are very important when it comes to atmosphere. What you smell, taste, hear and most importantly feel is setting the tone for any successful dinner theme, so use your senses when planning your table. There are a few givens when it comes to a winter theme. The rest is up to you and your imagination, style and organisational skills.
The host and/or hostess set the tone. If I am relaxed, my guests will feel more comfortable and enjoy themselves
in our home. If you are organised and prepared, you will be relaxed and not panic about whether everything is running smoothly. It’s not a formal banquet with the Queen (unless it’s a tongue-in-cheek theme party which could lead to quite a lot of fun and shenanigans), it’s a casual and relaxing get-together with friends. If you are too nervous to entertain them, you normally have to go and pick some other friends who are comfortable around you and vice versa… simple. Southern winters are in the middle of the year when there are not many holidays and all work is usually at a hectic pace. Relaxing and comfortable yet fun and interesting is what your guests will appreciate around this time of the year. Now we just have to find that darn elusive balance.
Over the next few days we will cover a few elements that sets the tone for a dinner party in winter, including:
- Aromatherapy for a winter mood
- Lines, materials, texture and balance
- Flowers and centrepieces
- Budget… yes budget
- Suitable food for a winter dinner
- The role of the host/hostess
- Meal courses
- Preparing in advance
- Wine pairing
- Table setting
- Menu planning
Don’t worry if you miss some of the postings on facebook. It is in our group and on our page. The articles will be saved in one blogpost on our website and the link will be provided with each facebook post. We know how busy you are and if you want to refer back to it, you know where to go to find it. You can also share them on your timeline if that is more convenient for yo
u, that way your friends might also learn a thing or two. Every theme will be followed by a special winter product offer that will also be linked to our online shop.
Nothing says warm and snug like candles and fire. The lighting should add most of the warmth and set the mood without you
having to go ballistic on decorations. It should be warm and inviting. A natural sense of ‘fire’ is so much more valuable to setting a mood than artificial coloured lights. So play it safe and invest in plain natural coloured candles and some firewood or driftwood, if you are fortunate enough to have a fireplace. Outdoor or indoor strung fairy lights have the same effect as candles. If you have dimmers, remember to set them as well. There is a great demand for Calex Globe light bulbs, which have smoky brown- coloured glass “invoking an age of gaslight and log fires, perfect for a romantic setting.
I enjoy a good candle, candles, candles and more candles, especially scented candles. Tres dramatic effect! This will obviously be a necessity when load shedding spikes but it helps in other ways too. The subtle glow from the candles creates a feeling of warmth in the room. Similar to having the lights dimmed, but it also adds an extra elegance with the dancing of the flame. It creates an inviting atmosphere. Also, the heat given off from those candles is guaranteed to warm up your table. Just be sure to blow out or snuff all the candles when the guests go home and don’t leave candles near open windows with curtains.
Getting a “decorator look” at home is quite simple using pillar candles. You can use inexpensive items to make a visually appealing group of pillar candles.
Begin by selecting 3 pillar candles that are not identical in height, but they shouldn’t vary too much in size. It is nice to keep them the same color, but mixing the colors can create breathtaking and dramatic decorative accents. Different wax textures in the same color also looks great. When grouping them together think in terms of layering. You can bring one forward and tuck one a bit behind the other so that they seem to overlap each other. Remember to leave a space between each candle to avoid burning into each other’s sides.
Another great tip is to wrap your candles with decorative ribbon or raffia. You can tie a ribbon around one candle or a group of 3 candles.
A decorative ceramic dish, platter, bowl, or mirrored base makes a stunning arrangement with a large candle such as a 3-wick candle or a clump of three candles. Fill the base with decorative stones, potpourri, sand, glass beads, silk flowers, seashells, or faux pearl necklaces and push the pillars down. Just remember to always be sure to burn candles on heat-resistant, inflammable surfaces and with surrounding decorative pieces that are not flammable. Some people choose not to burn candles when they have these stunning arrangements. Just keep in mind that safety always comes first.
Remember to decide on your focal point for candle placement. In which area of the table do you wish your guest’s eyes to automatically go? You can find unusual spaces or corners in the room to transform with your beautiful candle arrangement.
A great focal point is to cluster your candles in front of a wall mirror or use a small mirror as the candle tray. The mirrors or glassware throw off more light when burning the candles. Another great idea is to group candles inside an unused fireplace, especially during the summer.
Try any of these ideas and you will see how you can easily add a warm inviting glow to your dinner party. Place several arrangements around your home and hear the wonderful comments from family members and friends.
Winter can be such a dreary time of the year. Use this opportunity to liven up the mood with some colour therapy!
Deep reds, dark browns, charcoal greys, warm oranges… and 2015’s colour of the year and our theme colour: marsala, is perfect for cosy ambiance this winter, but you don’t have to just stick to the stereotypes. The best way to make a room more comfortable is by matching colours correctly. Monotone is fine for a specific theme, like Christmas, but warmth doesn’t get expressed in the second dimension… go deeper. Depth will give you that warm fluffy feeling.
Think of wood, red wine, heavy blankets, fluffy faux rugs and fire. Gold, iron and copper, if used correctly, can add the perfect touch to round it off, especially when the metal colour has an aged look to it.
Plants are a great way of incorporating nature, as well as some colour to your space. Choose a beautiful vase or vessel, pick up a bunch of flowers – et voila. Mother Nature can’t be rivalled for her artistic merits!
It is better to speak colour with colour. Basically all you need is some inspiration. Click on the picture below for some more unusual winter colour palettes…
3.) AROMATHERAPY FOR A WINTER MOOD:
Oh with the food you can already get quite far on this one… especially when your dining area is close to the kitchen… but spices are not the only warm aromas we can play with. Citrus is perfect too, even though ‘citrusy fresh lemon’ might remind you of summer, if orange is combined with wintery spices like ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, it becomes the base of many winter elixirs.
Think of gluhwein and Scott’s emulsion. Blood orange is of course not only warm with a wintery aroma, but has visual appeal as well. Red wine just does it for me, even though I am not an avid wine drinker. The look, scent and taste of it is wintery and cosy, so a bottle of red wine breathing in the background secures any atmosphere. Chocolate and vanilla are winter winners. A cup of hot chocolate or a malted drink like Horlicks will seal any wintery deal for sure.
Why not a chocolate, fruit and nut themed dinner set-up? This “sweet” table is sure to dazzle your guests. The deep colour of the
brown is an unusually enchanting colour for a winter dinner. Moreover, your silverware will have an exceptional sparkle against the brown setting and some acorn-designed centrepieces will match the tone of the table perfectly.
Scented candles are a must. Nothing whispers winter like the smell of vanilla beads, wood, cinnamon, pine cones, cocoa, cherries or winter orange. The scent must not be overwhelming as that can change the way the guests experience the food.
If you have a fireplace or a hearth you can scent the room around it by placing a drop or two of essential oil on to each log that you add to the fire. Try cedarwood, juniper, pine or cinnamon essential oils. Otherwise just bring in that trusty old diffuser.
Everyone loves to entertain but during the winter months that seems to be the last idea of a good night out. It’s cold, dark and no fun not being able to enjoy the outdoors like we were meant to. Winter is however still a time for friends and family.
The actual temperature in the room can very easily make or break the evening. We have to remember… warm and cosy, snug and safe. Not boiling molten lava with red tones bouncing off the walls! You also don’t want your guests catching a cold on the way home.
Nobody feels comfortable with a glowing hot room that screams ‘hell ain’t freezing over this winter’. Unless your main aim is for your guests to wear as little as possible, this will not be comfortable. The temperature should still make them want to sit a bit closer… that’s all. The rest is up to your swagger, not the temperature.
Moderation is key. They should not be frightened to take off jackets, scarves and gloves, but the heat should be just enough to make your muscles relax.
It may be obvious but if you have a fireplace – light it! If not ensure that there are adjustable heaters in place to keep your guests warm. Remember that a lot of bodies in a room also create body heat, so be careful that it does not become too unpleasantly warm for them after an hour or two.
Something we don’t always consider, is that your dining room chairs or your patio furniture, which is usually in wood or wrought iron for resilience, needs to have removable cushions that are comfy, cosy and made from or temporarily covered with warmer materials, such as wool, fleece and velvet.
A really cool touch is to place knee blankets over each chair so that your guests feel at home should their ankles or legs get cold. It really adds to the comfort and homely feel.
Winter nights are longer and therefore daylight is short in supply, so try starting your dinner parties a little earlier than usual, or turn your activity into a late lunch. This will allow guests to enjoy themselves without the worry of having to cut the evening short and leaving early due to the cold.
To keep your food warm for longer, there are ways to heat your plates up and it really does help keep the food warm. Just stick them in the oven if it’s on for other things, or put a damp paper towel on each, stack them up and put them in the microwave for two minutes just before serving. Just make sure there are no reflecting metals decorating your plate if you put it in the microwave.
5.) LINES, MATERIALS, TEXTURES AND BALANCE:
In summer we want clear-cut lines and outdoor sunny brightness with fine and more defined textures… such as unicorns and rainbows… a sense of lightness. In winter we take it into the darkness where we can control the lighting and blend the colours to create a richer feeling of warmth, weight and thickness such as a craving for a heavy, thick blanket and Horlicks. Darker, heavier metals like cast iron work well in the decoration.
Experiment with design. Study each object and look for similarities and differences in lines, forms, and ideas between various objects. Try placing two or more items together and look at the spaces created between the objects. Observe how parts of a design balance one another or create a flowing feeling of rhythm. Study colours and textures. Mix antique and modern glass to study the effects. Place all smooth textures together or try combining coarse textures with smooth ones. Combine like colours together and then accent them with a contrasting colour.
The colour of metals gives the table setting different looks. Precious metals, from the greyish-white hue of sterling silver, to the whitish-grey tone of silver plate, to the yellowish shade of vermeil and gold electroplate, impart a formal luxuriant look to the table setting. Alloyed metals like stainless steel and pewter are a deeper shade of grey and imbue the table setting with an informal ambience.
Colour is always present to some degree and is probably the most powerful of the design elements. Use colours to:
< dramatize an effect,
< tie a variety of objects together,
< create a subtle understated look or
< create a mood
Don’t be shy when working with colour! A striking value contrast or addition of a contrasting colour may be just the touch to add new life to an arrangement. The design elements are the raw ingredients of design. The principles provide flexible guidelines that relate to the way in which these ingredients are combined in order to achieve a successful design. Things that we have in our homes reflect our interests, our heritage, and our lifestyle. By putting our things on display in accessory arrangements, we aren’t simply making a statement about ourselves. We’re also reminding ourselves that this is the place that we call home, and these are the things that we cherish.
Be selective. Don’t try to use everything at once. Experiment. It takes practice to organise spontaneously, but don’t be discouraged. Try an arrangement one way for a while, and then try the same objects another way. Study the shape, colour and texture relationships. By adding or taking out one colour or shape, you often can tell what needs to be changed or added.
6.) FLOWERS AND CENTREPIECES:
Centerpieces and decorations add interest, character and a finishing touch to a home. Table decorations help to carry out a theme and provide an interesting tablescape. They can add a light hearted touch or give a feeling of elegance for special occasions.
A flower packs a power punch. Keep it real. Rather have bark, twigs, pine cones, pebbles and acorns from the garden than plastic flowers.
Keep centrepieces and table arrangements changing. Our lives change, and our homes should change along with trends, moods, seasons and interests. Many of the items used inarrangements can be used over and over again in various ways. Break up arrangements and mix them together in new ways. Put things away and bring out new things. Have fun with your arrangements. Keep them interesting by creating a new interest point. Update and refresh arrangements by buying or making something just because it’s lovely, unusual or fun…and then be sure to use it, but remember to stick to one design theme.
There is so much to say about this topic, but at the end of the day it is your theme and inspiration that set the limit to what you can do with a centrepiece yourself. Let the creative juices flow!
Put the music on before the guests arrive when you adjust the lighting and light the candles. Music should always be in the background. With the technology nowadays it’s so easy to make your own ‘mix tape’ 😉 make a winter one, and don’t go all Boney M on us! We are in the Southern Hemisphere. Our theme is warmth and consideration. Collect songs like: …
(Click on the note to link to the song)
Dean Martin – Let It Snow
… that suits your own taste but also considers what your guests would enjoy. Please make sure you have enough so your songs don’t repeat every twenty minutes and when one song ends, the guests start humming the start of the next song :-D. Leave the more lively party songs for after the meal.
Saving money doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your sense of style. Throw a dinner party that’s chic and stylish and doesn’t break the bank.
Going over the budget can be quite a deal-breaker which will cause either you or your partner to decide that it’s better to rather not host a dinner again, so discipline is key in this aspect. Make sure you stick to your budget. Estimate what the menu will cost you and then have a long term plan on what extra accessories and decorations you want to acquire at a time. If R200 is within your budget, then stick to that. Choose an amount that will suit your income and the amount of dinners you plan to have per month.
First invest in decorating accessories that can be used in any theme by just being tweaked a bit, like beige candles. The simpler the piece, the easier to mix up with any theme. You will soon realise that the best things in life are free. Take driftwood for instance. You can pick it up on the beach or in a dried up ravine during your next vacation. It is such a simple but very striking and effective tool and can be used with any theme. It also adds structure, height and texture to the table. While you are at it, gather a few pebbles too… mahala!
Tablecloths and runners are also not what they used to be. Gone are the days of pressed table cloths and lace overlays. When you host a dinner at home, unless you are the Queen of England, keep it casual and informal. The best dinners I remember weren’t the most perfect ones, it was the ones where I felt the most welcome and at home. Nowadays, we mostly use tablecloths only when décor require or the table surface clashes with the current theme. What is more beautiful and welcoming than a beautifully distressed wooden dinner table? Rather invest in a few runners or large scarves in basic colours like white, brown and black.
Beverages are very relevant hidden costs that should definitely be taken into account when planning a budget. Next time you go out for dinner, have a look at how much the drinks come to. Unless you are lucky enough to already have a fully stocked bar, ask the guests upon invitation what they drink and add that to the budget. If you would like to save more on the beverages, suggest that you will be making a drink like Gluwein and they are welcome to have, but should they insist on another drink, either add it to your budget or tell them they can also bring other drinks along if they would rather prefer that. This you only do with people you know very well. Don’t invite your boss or acquaintances and tell them you are going dutch… it cheapens the dinner before they even arrived.
Here is an example of some costs that should be taken into consideration when planning a party budget:
Menu (Ingredients per course and extra cooking accessories required, e.g. charcoal, skewers, etc.)
Any extra crockery, cutlery and such needed to set the table for the planned menu, e.g. napkin rings, wine/sherry glasses, ramekins, snail bowls, etc.
Extra money prepared to spend on table decoration and such… and strictly stick to this amount…
Beverages and complimentary coffee/milo/Horlicks/hot chocolate given after the meal.
Guest favours if you choose to spoil your guests with some…
This is where you sometimes realise that it is a lot more cost-effective to invite less guests at a time when you plan on doing it quite often. Less frequently with all the guests at once would still be a wiser option if your budget is a major concern.
9.) SUITABLE FOOD FOR A WINTER DINNER
Winter dishes should always have a rich, piping hot and hearty appeal to it… comfortable and satisfied, but should not at all leave you feeling heavy and craving tracksuit pants and the horizontal position! Then you managed to chase your guests home grunting, groaning and hunched over. Satisfaction does not mean stuffed like a turkey, they should feel comfortable and contented, well pleased and still have energy and at least be able to maintain posture at the end of the meal.
A perfect addition to the food element, as I mentioned before, is red wine. But don’t forget sherry, brandy or port either. Just think of the famous… Coq Au Vin (chicken in red wine), Crepes Suzettes (orange and brandy flambéed pancakes) or Lamb with Rosemary and Port. One of my favourites in winter is leg of bushpig marinated in sherry and winter vegetables for two days. Slow-cooked or slow-roasted is perfect for that welcome hearty winter meal.
Food doesn’t necessarily need alcohol to make it appear warm… no.
You can warm or spice it up in many ways…
- Hot steamy soups and chunky chowders
- Chicken, beef or lamb curries, biryani’s or hearty stews
- Flaky Pie Crusts
- Red meat dishes like beef mince, ostrich steak and lamb chops
- Freshly homemade and baked goods like warm homemade bread and croissants
- Traditional Italian comfort food like spaghetti bolognaise and lasagne
- Steamed Fruit Salad
- Hot puddings
Warm or warming drinks like sherry, gluwein and hot chocolate can be served as a course before or after the meal on its own. The most important thing to consider here is how many courses your dinner will be made up of, but we will discuss this and menu planning in more depth later. We will also offer some example menu options to get you going with menu planning.
The ultimate trick with a good winter menu is to plan a dinner that will look and taste satisfying while it will still keep the carbohydrates and calories in check. Winter is indeed the time when we need our vitamins and minerals the most to keep our immune systems in check.
Food should not only smell and taste like winter, but also add to the decoration and atmosphere of the table setting. A large wreath of toasty freshly baked bread rolls can easily become the perfect centrepiece for your table with the right tweak here and there. Just add a few Cranberries or cherries with some rosemary twigs and you have a centrepiece that doubles as an optional appetizer or side dish. You can do the same with a large bowl of warm vegetable and couscous salad or beatiful chocolate bark chunks and cupcakes that can be enjoyed at the end of the mealwith hot chocolate or as a dessert. The aroma of the chocolate will also compliment the winter setting well.
Food is a tool that you have to invest in anyway because they are invited to eat, so use the food to add to their overall winter evening experience. It is probably, and rightfully so should be, what they remember the most. With a magnificent menu you cannot go wrong!
Decide whether you or a co-host are going to oversee the drink pouring or set up a self-serve bar area. Pre-make your signature cocktail or one which suits your theme. No… not egg nog 😀 Then have some ice, polished glasses which you estimate will be used, stirring sticks coasters, etc. readily available already. Usually you will either already know or ask your guests in advance what they drink. It is far better than having to guess what might be needed and overspend on the beverage budget.
Beverages can very easily be worked into a course as well if you plan on having different courses. Gluwein, Port and Sherry make for perfect arrival drinks while hot chocolate, Horlicks or a special coffee is the perfect send-off into the cold.
Rather than discussing it to death, have a look at a few examples of hot beverages that can be considered with a winter menu:
- Masala or Chai Tea (Indian curries or biryani; can also double as an artificially sweetened dessert)
- Warm Mulled Cider (simmer apple cider with mulling spices, orange zest, ginger – smells good too. Can also top it with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel)
- Spiced Cacao (mix cinnamon and chili flakes into hot chocolate for a spicy difference to a Mexican Fiesta)
- Gluwein (Jazz it up with fresh cranberries and juice)
- Horlicks (Be different and toast the marshmallows first before topping it for that extra special something)
Minty Cacao dessert (add a scoop of mint ice cream to your hot chocolate for a dessert)
- Hot Toddy (add Frangelico to boiling water and top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnut)
- Magic Chocolate (add chocolate chips to boiling milk and use a candy cane as a swizzle stick)
- White Spiced Coffee (blend cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and honey in coffee-steeped milk and add a splash of dark rum, if desired.
- S’mores Hot Chocolate (toasted marshmallows and a graham cracker rim with hot chocolate)
- Cinnamon Cappuccino (with whipped cream or froth that is sprinkled with fresh nutmeg)
- Bourbon Citrus Sipper (brew apple, cinnamon, cloves and citrus with hot water and bourbon in your slow-cooker from early. House will smell good too)
- Hot Coconut Milk (with a dash of coconut rum, white chocolate melted in and topped with whipped cream/coconut cream and shavings of milk chocolate)
- Citrus Cranberry Sipper (citrus-teabags, Cranberry juice, orange juice, vodka, boiling water and cinnamon sticks to swizzle)
- Hot Russian (piping hot milk with Vodka and coffee liquer)
- Irish Coffee (Black coffee with heated whiskey and a dollop of fresh cream)
- Hot Cranberry Punch (half cranberry juice, half boiling water infused with sage leaves and peppercorns)
- Bran’s Dram (hot berry herbal tea with a shot of white rum)
- Milk and cookies (an original departure snack, especially if the milk is ‘doctored’ with Amarula or coffee liquer)
Always remember three things when it comes to beverage planning: the wine, budget and calorie counter. Pair your wine with your main course. You can easily break the bank if you do not carefully plan and budget your beverage situation. Also remember that many of these recipes mentioned above must be calculated into your overall calorie consumption. Rather replace full cream with low fat (fat free might alter the taste but low fat still retains the original palette) and sugar with artificial sweetener (only Aspartame is unhealthy and cancer-risky, rather go with healthier sweeteners like Xylitol, Stevia, Sucralose or Saccharine) Keep an eye on the calories in alcohol too. Be savvy on where you can slice on the calories without compromising the taste.
11.) THE ROLE OF THE HOST/HOSTESS
For being a relaxed hostess, preparation is key. The more arrangements made and tasks performed before the arrival of the guests, the less to stress about or scramble around for. Then she can focus on the unforeseen mishaps without neglecting another aspect of the dinner. This will also make her guests at ease when she is relaxed and make them feel welcome.
Before the guests arrive, look whether the home is neat and presentable. I always walk from where the cars park and see what catches my eye, stray leaves or litter gets picked up or swept away. Always check that the toilets and basins are clean and neat and dirty washing and wet towels are not strewn across the bathrooms or rooms. Also ensure that there is extra toilet paper available so that the guests don’t have to humbly ask for some when the need arises. Make sure the candles are lit, lights are on, music is playing in the background and the house smells nice and inviting.
Not everybody agrees with this, but it is more considerate towards new guests to have cats and dogs only introduced after the meal or occupied elsewhere for the duration of the dinner. I love my animals but they are not allowed around the dinner table when guests are dining. It can soon be overwhelming for a guest if a dog and five cats glare at their food, beg, or pounce onto the table. If it is family or fellow animal lovers you have over often, they can be allowed but still disciplined, but with new guests, someone will end up uncomfortable at the end of the meal.
Upon arrival the hosts should always greet the guests with a smile, welcome them to their home and introduce guests who have not met each other yet. Upon introduction it is a good idea to pay the introduced guests some compliment, if this doesn’t come naturally, consider it beforehand. For example, “Joe, I would like you to meet Pete, he is a keen runner like yourself.” or “Samantha, this is Michelle, she is one of the top teachers at the school just down the road. Do not ever ridicule (or exaggerate compliments to) people upon introduction. First impressions last and it is in very poor taste to introduce each other with lame jokes about their character, whether they are true or not.
Take the guests’ dietary requirements into consideration, not only during meal planning and cooking but also at the table. Make extra sure each dish has its own spoon and it stays like that throughout the meal. If someone switched a spoon of beef gravy and there are Hindus or vegetarian at the table, supply a clean one immediately. Make sure there are enough options for the restricted diets and don’t go overboard about the diets during the course of the meal.
Beverages should be offered upon arrival, before sitting down for dinner and after dinner. Anything else is up to the host’s own discretion. Unfortunately some guests can ‘knock them away’, but refilling an empty glass is nothing to do with etiquette if none is coming from the guest’s side, if you offer three to four times that is sufficient. If it is a very long meal or stay, obviously the host can offer more. Be careful when mixing too many different alcoholic beverages. Certain guests would also prefer just sticking to one specific drink, but it is fine to still offer them what is on the menu.
It is an unspoken rule in any culture around the world for the host to initiate all actions at the dinner table, for instance to tell the guests to please start dishing or bringing/ordering the next course, proposing a toast before everyone drinks, etc. A host should also monitor the dinner conversation throughout the meal. It is important to know something about each of the guests to help springboard conversations. Don’t apologise for the food. No one has ever left a dinner party thinking, “I wish he’d said he was sorry for the asparagus being over-sauced.” If anyone has, find out who and don’t invite him or her back.
If someone offers help preparing and you need it, accept it. It can actually be a bonding experience while the food is prepared, but don’t allow them to do dishes unless they are related. Don’t rely too heavily on your guests. Sure, they asked if they could bring something, but people have been known to forget things at home or be late. If it’s an essential item, like ice for the cocktails, you don’t want to be left in the lurch. In such cases it is better to provide as much as possible yourself, as we said in the beginning, don’t invite people for the first time and expect anything from them.
Be present in the conversation as much as the hosting allows and keep an eye out for empty dishes that can be cleared out. No matter how stunning the décor is, a cluttered table will soon have guests uncomfortable. Don’t pry. If someone says “no thanks” to something you are offering, don’t offer reassurance that it’s not too caloric or boozy and insist that the person have some. You don’t want to force your guests into revealing that they’re dieting/pregnant/newly sober.
Don’t attempt new recipes on guests. There is nothing sadder than a flop where, if you did it the second time, you would have known to marinate it longer, have it rest longer before carving, have the butterflying done by the butcher, etc.
For interest sake and while we are on the subject… certain duties or responsibilities are also expected of the guests, such as…
- Be on time, if you are running late due to some unforeseen circumstance, call or text to let the hostess know.
- If you know you must leave early or at a certain time for whatever reason, inform the host upon arrival.
- As discussed above, wait for the host to initiate all actions at the dinner table.
- Don’t get too comfortable, e.g. loosening buttons or taking shoes or bras off. This is self-explanatory why not…
- Offer to help and offer to bring something upon invitation. If it is the first time, take the hostess a gift.
- Say thank you the following day. Always best with a phonecall.
12.) DIFFERENT MEAL COURSES:
The Amuse Bouche
At certain restaurants, before the meal begins, diners are presented with a complimentary hors d’oeuvre called an “amuse,” which is typically very flavorful and intended to “amuse” or stimulate the palate. These are usually offered as a gift from the chef and are intended to get the diner excited about the meal by offering a bit of insight as to what the chef is capable of.
Appetizers, also called starters, are the first course of a meal and are served in small portions because more courses usually follow. Because they are smaller in size, appetizers are usually heightened in flavor and, like the amuse, are intended to get your palate and internal organs stimulated in preparation for the remainder of the meal.
The Salad Course
The salad course is sometimes served in addition to an appetizer–sometimes it is the appetizer and sometimes it is served at the end of the meal following the entree, before the dessert. Salads are light enough to satisfy, but not fill up a diner before they get to the rest of their meal. When served at the end of a meal, a salad aids in digestion and cleanses the palate before dessert is served. It is traditional in many European cultures to eat the salad following, rather than preceding, the entree.
The Soup Course
The soup course, much like the salad course, is served either in addition to the appetizer or as the appetizer itself. A soup can be anything from a light, clear broth to a hearty puree and the type of soup being offered is often determined by what is to follow in the meal.
The Pasta Course – Traditional Italian Menu
In Italian dining the pasta course is a traditional part of the meal and is served following the appetizer, prior to the entree. The Italian pasta course is much smaller than a typical American sized portion.
The Main Course
The main course, often referred to as the entree, is the savory culmination of the meal that all of the other courses have built up to. The main course usually consists of the largest portion of the meal and in many cases features some type of protein. Sometimes a meal is divided into multiple entrees, such as a fish and a meat course, but generally there is only one main course.
If a cheese course is being served, it is usually done after the entree and before, or in lieu of, dessert. The cheese course can be as simple as one piece of cheese on its own or as elaborate as a sampling of numerous cheeses and various accompaniments such as bread, fruit, and nuts.
The Dessert Course
Dessert is the final course and often the one people most look forward to. The dessert course always features something sweet and is designed to round out a meal and satisfy the craving for sweetness that many people have after eating savory foods.
Mignardises are tiny, bite sized desserts like cookies, candies, or tarts that are sometimes presented at the end of a meal as a final small treat.
1 course meal: Main course
2 course meal: Main course; Dessert
3 course meal: Appetizer (soup) / Entrée / Salad; Main course; Dessert / Pudding
4 course meal: Soup / Raw fish; Main course; Crisp salad with acidic dressing; Sweet dessert
5 course meal: Appetizer (soup); Entrée / Salad; Main course; Dessert/Pudding; Assorted Cheeses (usually cheddar)
7 course meal: Hors d’ Oeuv
re; Soup; Fish / Shellfish; Sorbet as a palate cleanser; Main Course; Salad / Fine vegetable; Dessert
8 course meal: (Also known as service a la russe or European Full Course Meal) Hors d’oeuvres; Salad (not green); Soup; Fish; Sorbet as a palate cleanser; Light green salad; Main course with one or more side dishes; Selection of desserts with hot tea or coffee
9 course meal: Hors d’ Oeuvre; Soup; Salad; Fish; Chicken; Beef / Lamb / Duck / Game; Wine and cheese or fruit as palate cleanser; Salad; Dessert
10 course meal: Hors d’ Oeuvre; Soup; Fish; Chicken Entrée; Red meat / Duck / Game main course; Punch; Warm vegetable; Light salad with acidic dressing; Pate with Crackers or raw vegetable such as Celery; Dessert
12 course meal: Pasta; Salad; Poultry; Soup; Lamb; Shellfish; Beef; Fish; Pork; Sorbet; Cheese; Dessert
16 course meal: Cocktails; Hors d’ Oeuvres; Bread, condiments and a beverage; Amuse Bouche; Pasta; Salad; Poultry; Soup; Lamb; Shellfish; Beef; Fish; Pork; Sorbet; Cheese; Dessert
21 course meal: Cocktails; Amuse bouche; Caviar; Cold appetizer; Thick soup; Thin soup or Consommé; Shellfish; Antipasto; Pasta; Sorbet; Game; Warm vegetables; Red Meat; Green salad; Savoury filled pastry; Cheese; Pudding; Ice cream; Nuts; Petit four; Coffee / Liquor
13.) PREPARING IN ADVANCE
The most important aspect of a good restaurant, function or dinner party is how well the prep-work is done before-hand. The chef counts on all the washed, diced, minced, crushed, sliced ingredients to be ready and waiting when the first order is placed. Make sure that you made the meal at least once before so that you are sure you have what is needed and you know exactly what has to be done. Reading an hour before the guests arrived that something had to soak, chill or marinate overnight is a deal-breaker… especially on a weeknight!
To achieve the ideal dinner party scenario, you simply need some advance preparation. Armed with a few tips, you can stay organized and plan a stress-free party—and a happy host means happy guests. Here’s what to get out of the way before guests arrive:
- Rehearse both the menu and the drinks at least a week in advance. Don’t be shy to make notes.
- Make sure all the other preparations are done at least a day ahead, like washing dusty dishes, polishing glasses, sweeping, dusting and mopping the entertainment area, shopping, etc. This includes flower arrangements and place cards, candles and table décor. Everything can be ready for the table to be set early. Certain settings can even be placed a day in advance. Crockery and cutlery is better to be placed only hours before the guests arrive.
- Factor in getting ready: whether your hair must be done, what clothes to put on, etc. This all takes a lot of time. If the doorbell rings and you are still dripping in a towel and wondering what wine to chill … epic fail!
- Plan your strategy and jot it down. Make notes on your recipes, like what time the oven must be switched on, or which ingredients can be combined in advance, etc.
- Plan for the unexpected, like key ingredients that might not be available. Is there a suitable substitute and where will that be available?
- If it can’t be mostly made ahead, don’t make it. All last minute ingredients must also already be washed, diced, minced, crushed, sliced and combined for quick and convenient cooking. If anything needs to be fried in oil, make sure it is ready and the oil is hot. Fried foods should not be cooked in advance. If you are making fritters for instance, mix the batter, but leave out the egg whites. When the oil is hot, whip up the egg whites, fold in and fry just before serving. If you attempt this, make sure all your other courses are already prepared. At least this proves you did do actual cooking!
- Make sure all dishes are washed and packed away. You will soon need room for dirty dishes. During the evening you can stack them neatly in one place to worry about them later. I have to say my mother was the most organised dish-stacker I’ve ever seen. It makes a big difference to the overall neatness of the kitchen throughout the evening.
14.) WINE PAIRING:
Wine tasting is only partly science, the rest is art and an active imagination. I am going to try to keep it as basic and simple as possible so I can also understand and learn something… where wine tasting is concerned: look, swirl, sniff and sip. For a more detailed look at the different wine varieties grown in South Africa according to South African Wines, click here.
The most important thing to know for the layman, who just needs to host a successful dinner party, is which beverage compliments which dish. The following is just a guide on pairing…
Cabernet Sauvignon: Juicy red meat like lamb chops or beef fillet
Champagne: Salty Foods like hors d’ oeuvres and fish dishes
Gruner Veltliner: Fresh herbs
Merlot: Barbeques and red meat dishes
Muscats: Sweet fruity desserts and puddings
Pinot Grigio: Light, dry fish
Pinot Noir: Great pairing with venison and earthy flavours like truffles, mushroom lasagne, artichokes on pizza or barbequed ribs
Red Burgandy: perfect for game birds like quail, pigeon, duck and grouse
Riesling Off-Dry: Sweet and spicy dishes, also perfect with rice-filled sushi dishes like fashion sandwiches.
Rose Dry: Rich Cheesy Baked Dishes or cold smoked Salmon in sushi
Sauvignon Blanc: Salads with acidic dressings and dishes with goat’s cheese. Also overall a good match with vegetarian dishes
Shiraz: Bold and spicy flavours like sweet and spicy barbeque chicken wings and pork dishes
Syrah: Very Spicy Dishes or strongly flavoured barbeque meats like brisket
Zinfandel: Terrines, mousses and pates and rich, juicy red meat dishes
15.) SETTING THE TABLE
We like people to know we have made an effort to create a special atmosphere for a special occasion, and have taken a little time and trouble to dress the table beautifully… this makes the guest feel special and welcome. Just rushing through getting the necessary utensils and crockery on the table while the guests already arrived, leaves a feeling that the guest was not anticipated in the least, so once again: prepare and plan to make your guest feel special. This is one of those ‘moments’ where you can earn some respect.
A table centrepiece is an essential for any table. It helps to give an attractive focal point to your room or table. Your table centrepiece can be as simple or as fancy as you like – depending on your tastes and your occasion. Your centrepiece should still leave you room to serve or eat food comfortably at your table, not knock elbows with neighbouring guests… And if you want to encourage dinner guests to chat to each other across the table, you should ensure that your centrepiece is no higher than seated eye-level! Any tall pieces towering above eye-level are better placed aside in the room or as a centrepiece at a wedding party. Get creative and use fresh flowers. There are plenty of modern ideas to think about and adapt for your own table centrepiece needs.
You can only finalise your place settings once you are sure how formal your meal will be and how many courses you will have, seeing that there must be utensils available for each course throughout the dinner, always arranged from the outside in, according to the order that the courses will be served. If a surgeon does an operation, the preparing nurse must place the instruments in such a way that it will be organised, easily understood and for no-one to break focus during the operation to debate which instrument is next… the same goes for a successful dinner! Keep it simple. The guest must be comfortable to know what is next.
Just like with wine pairing, it is as technical as you want to make it. If a doctor operates on a patient and it is not organised in the theatre, he will get frustrated and it will be an unpleasant experience. So for everybody around him. Same with most things in life. At the dinner table it is not as serious, but it really is just what you make it. Good food, warm atmosphere and happy people… who is going to mind the odd elbow on the table or a knife that is placed the wrong way?
It seems we are constantly getting back to the same slogan in this article:
‘If you are comfortable, your guests will be comfortable’
Weeknight dinner setting: The fork sits to the left of the plate, and knives to the right (blades facing in, toward the plate). Spoons always go to the right of knives. It is the basic everyday setting and leaves you a lot of room for imaginitive brainwaves to experiment on the household or immediate family. It is good to practice certain setting techniques without the stress of a large formal dinner on your shoulders. I feel in this way I am most creative when I am unburdened and free to create.
Informal dinner: An informal place setting includes a salad fork, a soup spoon (if you’re serving soup), a dessert spoon (or fork), and a dinner plate. The salad plate sits to the left of the forks. A bread plate and knife is placed above the forks. And above the knife and spoons, a water glass, a wine glass, and a tea or coffee cup. Water glasses go directly above your dinner knife. If you’re serving an additional beverage like wine, it goes to the right of the water glass. Napkins can be placed to the left of the plate or on the plate itself.
Formal dinner: The formal place setting builds on the basic informal setting to accommodate additional courses. Bread plates go above your fork, with the bread knife placed diagonally across the edge. Dessert spoons and forks go above the dinner plate, one above the other, with the fork closest to the plate, tines pointing to the right, and the spoon directly above, with the bowl pointing left. Wine glasses are placed to the right of the water glass in the order they will be served: If you’re serving a red and white, the red wine glass will be to the right of the water glass, and the white wine glass will be to the right of the red wine. Each glass is removed along with the course it accompanies.
Worried about taking your neighbour’s water glass or roll by mistake? Just remember “BMW” (like the car) for bread, meal, water — the order from left to right that these are placed on the table. Or, make the OK sign with your right and left hands: Your left hand makes a “b” for bread and your right hand makes a “d” for drinks.
If soup is the first course, add a soup spoon to the left of the dinner knife. The soup bowl is placed on top of the dinner plate and removed along with the spoon once the course is complete. If salad is the second course, be sure to include a salad fork (placed to the right of the dinner fork), and place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate. Remove it along with the salad fork when the course is complete, along with any wine that accompanied the course.
Let’s say you’re serving oysters, soup, a salad, a fish course, and an entree. You need a charger, also called a service plate (the plate underneath that the courses get placed on), plus a dinner plate. To the left of the plate, you’ll need a salad fork, a fish fork, and a dinner fork. To the right of the plate, you’ll need an oyster fork (it’s the only fork that sits on the right of the plate), a soup spoon, a fish knife, and a dinner knife.
Once the main course is complete, clear the dinner plate, fork, knife, butter plate and knife, and wine glass. When dessert is served, pull the dessert spoon down to the right and the dessert fork down to the left. You can use one or both. (And in case you’re wondering why you might need two dessert utensils, the fork can be used tines-down as an anchor for more unwieldy desserts with the spoon to break and scoop. The fork can also be used to “push” food onto the spoon.) Cup and saucer for tea or coffee can be placed to the right of the dessert spoon.
Group gatherings (buffet): For big group gatherings, no need to set the table at all. Stacks of plates, bunches of silverware, piles of napkins; let your guests help themselves.
Make fancy folded napkins an essential part of your table decorating ideas. Always colour co-ordinate your napkins carefully – it is an ideal opportunity to add a splash of colour to your table settings. Try your hand at some neat and exciting napkin folding ideas and go through the trouble of putting a cute and effective favour on the plate too. It makes the guest feel extra special.
Consider adding extra interest to your table decorating ideas with some super sprinkles on the table. This works really well for very special occasions like anniversaries and always adds to the theme. Get creative when you think about what you might sprinkle on your table – petals, glitter, confetti, leaves, beads, shells, feathers… your only limit is your imagination.
Can you incorporate place cards into your table decorating ideas and designs somewhere? Perhaps attached to a small votive candle, or as the napkin ring? Use your imagination to come up with a really great design idea.
Luckily nowadays we are encouraged to go rogue! Mismatched chairs, cutlery, glassware and crockery is a very modern concept, so be creative and write your own rules.
Lastly, have confidence in what you know (what your momma gave you) and what you think is right. The rest does really not matter as long as you don’t deliberately offend anyone or any culture at the dinner table. Table manners are different in every religion and culture anyway. Anyone who still judges today will just not be invited again… simple! Now it is too expensive to entertain unwanted guests. The main idea is that you are comfortable and you keep your guests happy, warm and welcome.
16,) MENU PLANNING:
Click on the picture below for some awesome dinner party menus on our website.
I will try to keep this section as to the point as possible. The organisation might seem like a huge deal in the beginning, but eventually it is not necessary to make all these lists and budgets. The more you entertain, the more it will become second nature to you and the more you will be at ease, and so will your guests be…
You can only plan a menu once you established, and made a list of, the following:
- Season, time and expected weather.
- Number and type of guests invited.
- Religious and cultural food preferences or diets.
- Will there be a theme?
- Number of courses and menu type.
Once this list is made you should have a pretty good idea of what you have to do. Now you can focus on the following:
- The overall flavour of the different courses and the beverages you serve should not clash with each other.
- When considering a theme, you should then revisit how many courses and what each course should entail, for example, if your theme is ‘Titanic’ it will probably be a ten course meal similar to the one served on the ill-fated ship.
- Which colours and textures would complement the season, your theme (if any) or the overall menu? Knowing the venue already makes it a lot easier for you here. Also already take into account the glassware, crockery and cutlery available to use because having to purchase that can turn into quite an expensive event. These are all important factors when planning the preparation and presentation of your menu.
- Work out what space and equipment you have available at your chosen venue for what is planned on your menu and make sure you have enough fridge space, hobs, oven shelves, seating and surfaces when you need them.
- Start planning now already what on the menu can be made ahead of time to lighten the workload and stress levels.
- Be realistic, stingy and clever with your budget – it can be expensive catering for large numbers so pick ingredients very wisely and be inventive with them. Use cheaper cuts of meat in slow-cook one-pots to great effect. Be aware where you can cut the cost and where you simply cannot.
- Make a note of any people, be it staff or friends, helping you and which tasks can be delegated to them. If helping hands are not an option, focus on a menu that is mainly prepared well in advance.
- Write a time plan. Write a list of everything that must be done, ordered, arranged, bought or made and when they must be done by so you are sure you don’t miss any important elements of your menu.
- Work out quantities. Psychologically, the more people there are, the less people eat, so bear that in mind. Leftovers can end up a huge loss if you don’t have the correct storage available for them. If this happens, donate immediately while people can still safely consume the food.
Don’t forget about attention to detail… those little extras make a big difference:
- Make sure you incorporate your menu presentation at varying heights as you do with the décor. This sounds trivial but it helps a lot to plan along the lines of ‘varying heights’ from the beginning, This will save you money, time and give a better presented table and an overall flow of
- Use food as a centrepiece, not only will those static little canapés keep your guests happy from when they are seated, they can also be aesthetically pleasing and add to the welcoming atmosphere you are aiming for. A guest has to feel special if they are served from the moment they arrive. Another great centrepiece is a beautiful salad or a well presented main course like salmon, baby gems and roast potatoes.