Quick Recipes and Easy

How to Plan a Successful Dinner Party Menu

There is a lot of plotting that goes into a successful dinner party menu. In order to pull it off, you’ll have to question yourself some questions.

WHO? Who are your guests going to be?

Do any of the potential guests have any food allergies or food restrictions?

For example, Maybe someone can’t eat peanuts. Or maybe some one is Vegetarian. It would be a shame to have someone who is allergic to shellfish come to the party only to find that the main course is Maryland Crab Cakes with Chipotle Tartar Sauce. Now, most people with food allergies or food intolerances will remember to question what is being served, but sometimes they don’t do so until the day of the party. A excellent host or hostess will take that fact into consideration when plotting the dinner party menu. Make a list of potential guests and find out if they have any food allergies and/or food restrictions. Something like this might work:


WHEN? When is a excellent time to have the Dinner Party?

What day of the week? Do most of your guests have the same work schedule?
What time of the day? Are there people who can come earlier but not later?
When do the Trash men come? You’ll usually have more trash to take out after a party.

WHERE? Where do you want the guests to be?

Do you have enough space in your home for the invited guests?
Do you have to trim the guest list or find a larger space? What about outdoors?

HOW MANY? How many courses do you want to serve?

Before you get too carried away, question yourself some simple questions..
How excellent a chef are you? Would you rate yourself a gourmet chef or are you just learning how to cook? Can you prepare fancy French recipes or do you need quick and simple recipes?

Hors D’Oeuvre_________________________
Cold Appetizers________________________
Warm Appetizers_______________________
Second Vegetable______________________

WHAT? Would you like to try new recipes?

Are there foods that you want to try out?

Reckon how your home will smell when the first guest arrives. Do you want to make fried fish? Beef Bourguignone? You want to make their mouths water before they even sit down. Will the the ingredients you need be available to you?

Do you have a variety of colors on the plate? Reckon what this plate would look like…..

Turkey Breast, with Cream Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Cauliflower au Gratin

Not very appetizing is it? Everything is white or beige. Now, reckon what this plate would look like…

Turkey Breast with Cranberry Beurre Blanc
Polenta Parmesan Diamonds

Broccoli Rapini with Lemon Zest

Sounds much better doesn’t it? Yet the main dish, Turkey Breast is the same and there is a starch and a vegetable also. But the colors!! White, Red Yellow and Green!!

Try to get a variety of textures on the plate… for example, don’t have everything on the plate mushy or everything fried. Try to incorporate something silky on a generally crispy plate, or something crunchy on a generally soft plate. Reckon about how the food will feel in your mouth. Aim for at least one different texture.

Try to have different shapes on the plate: triangle, square, round. The key here is to NOT have everything the same shape. But not everything has to be different either.

Reckon about the relationship that the foods on the plate have with each other. Are they compatible? Do the major flavors blend? This is a somewhat esoteric question and hard to get without a lot of experience, but reckon about it this way…. Does more than one item contain the same ingredient? Is there garlic in everything? Do two or more things contain vinegar? Does the spiciness of one item overpower the delicate flavor of something else?

Do the foods have a compatible relationship?

Just as a general rule, don’t overpower your guests with too much garlic or onions. These foods are the basis for developing fantastic flavor, but tend to give people terrible breath if eaten in large quantities. Also remember that beans can cause flatulence and may be embarassing at a dinner party.

You’ll also have to check your equipment.

By “equipment”, here, I mean:

How many guests can fit at your table?

How many place settings and what kind of tableware do you have?

Do you have enough table linens? napkins?

What size? What color?
Salt and pepper shakers?

Do you have anything to use as a centerpiece?

For example, a vase? Candles? Be Careful with the flame!!!

If you need extra space, do you have any card tables or craft tables that you can cover with a table cloth to serve as a buffet?

If you don’t have enough of these items, you can rent them from a Party Supply Store, or buy them.

What equipment and cookware do you have in your kitchen?

Remember, you can’t make recipes that need special equipment, if you don’t have the special equipment. For example, Do you have a deep fryer? a crepe pan? a bundt cake pan? etc. What about cutlery and knives?

How many burners on your stove?

You can’t make six things that have to be cooked on the top of the stove and served at the same time if you only have four burners.
How many ovens?

On a tentative menu: How many things need to be Baked? Roasted? Braised?

How many refrigerators do you have?
How much space in them? Can you clean them out to make more space?
How much counter space do you have?
Do you have a dishwasher?
Will it hold all the plates, cups, silverware etc?

Food Preparation Flow:

For each menu item, figure:
What will be the flow of the food?
From storage (where?) Pantry? Fridge?
Freezer? Porch?…….
to Preparation (where?) Countertop? Sink? ……….
to Cooking (where?) Stove Top or Oven?
Grill? Microwave?

Remember that you have to have enough space to prepare everything on your menu.

Timing For each menu item:

Go over the recipe and figure how much time each will take.
Figure it as if each recipe were the ONLY thing you are going to make. How much washing, peeling, cutting, slicing, dicing, sauteing, baking, roasting? Don’t forget cooling time if something needs to cool!

Over estimate on time, because something can always go incorrect, and you want to stress as small as possible.

Then add up the times for all of the recipes and you know how much time you must allow for prep and cooking. Now I know that most of us can do at least two things at once, like mix something, while something else in in the oven, but figure it this way and you have a MAX time.

Also, Is there any place in the recipe that you can break it up? I mean, is there any place where you could start the recipe and end it later? If so, you may be able to prep the day before and just end everything on the day of the party.

If it looks like too much work, start again with another, simpler menu.
Another thought is that if you are stressing about the dinner party, do a dress rehersal. Prep and cook everything a week or two before the party day, just to see how long it really will take, and if there are any glitches that need to be worked out. This is especially helpful if you are trying to prepare an unfamiliar recipe.
Disaster on Party Day isn’t fun.

DON’T OVERDO!! It just Causes stress and the thought of a Dinner Party is FUN!

Chef Spicer is a Professional Private Chef with over 23 years of experience in giving successful dinner parties. You can contact her via her web site at

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