There is something so lovely about creating a get together in your own home for your closest friends and family. I love having people over, and whilst it is a lot more effort than just going out for a meal I get a lot more satisfaction out of it.
However, being a good host or hostess takes experience and practice and it is something that I hope I will keep developing as I get older.
I am lucky to know a number of people who are excellent hosts, who manage to find the perfect balance between looking after their guests and supplying them with the means to look after themselves. I mean, there is nothing that makes you feel really welcome in someone’s home than if they treat you like you belong there! I have watched how they do it and in doing so created a formula for the perfect lunch or dinner party.
My tips for creating a perfect lunch party
In the summer I prefer a lunch party to maximise the sunny days and it allows you to have more time with friends, avoiding the early hours of the morning creeping up on you (like what sometimes happens at dinner parties)! However, of course these tips will work for any type of gathering at your home!
Greet your guests with drinks and appetisers
I always make sure that I have nibbles and drinks ready and waiting for when guests arrive for a lunch or dinner party. Not only does it create a great first impression by showing your guests how prepared you are, but it also buys you a little time to finish the meal preparations. Also I know I always turn up hungry for a dinner party and can’t wait to start eating!
Create a menu that requires as little last-minute attention as possible
Nigella is the queen of creating dishes for dinner parties that can prepared in advance and have the finishing touches added last minute. In the summer this means large salads and cheese boards for me, and additional dishes that can be made either the day before or the morning before guests arrive. That means you can spend time with your guests enjoying yourself and not slaving over a hot stove. For this spread I only had to spend about half an hour in advance prepping the food and as little as five minutes when guests had arrived to get everything ready. Less time prepping = more time having fun!
Serve dishes that people can help themselves to
I love serving a number of big bowls that people can help themselves to, or a build your own bar (read my build your own burger bar here). It allows everyone to tailor their meal to best suit them and has a more informal feel to it, helping your guests feel at ease. It also helps guests feel really at home in your home. I love seeing friends and family reach over to grab bowls, passing dishes to each other and hearing ‘mmmm have you tried this yet’! It makes things a bit easier for the host/ess too which is key to guests enjoying themselves too.
Cater equally for people with dietary requirements
If you have someone attending that has a specific dietary requirement make sure you cater as well for them as you do for the others. This means creating something that isn’t a lesser meal minus what they can’t have, or creating something especially for them. Being a vegetarian I know what it is like to look at a menu in a restaurant to find the one vegetarian option at the bottom as an afterthought. Don’t let this happen in your own home!
Serve something new or unusual
People will always remember something new or unusual so it is a great way to give your dinner party an edge. It will also create a talking point at the table and spur interesting conversation. Hopefully it’ll end up with people loving what you have introduced to them! Here I served a chilled home made Gazpacho as it is one of my most favourite lunch choices when I am in a hot country (or hello UK heatwave!) – it went down a treat and sparked a great debate about hot vs cold soup.
A beautiful table setting
Noting creates a sense of occasion as a beautiful table setting. It doesn’t need to be formal, but beautiful crockery such as this really simple but oh-so-gorgeous dinner ware from The White Company, some flowers, a candle or two and some lovely linen napkins will create the perfect setting for a meal. Again it is lovely to have a talking point – picking up pieces from your travels does this beautifully. For example, our place mats were from Bali, our salad servers from Greece and our sugar dish from Morocco!
And of course, good wine!
Need I say it! Any self respecting lunch or dinner party needs some good drinks to go along with it. Always have a selection of drinks on hand to cater for guests with different likes and dislikes. That means non alcoholic as well as alcoholic, as well of course beers. For wine, I like to try and offer something new or different. The lovely people from La petit Ballon recently sent me some wine to try and they are perfect accompaniment to a lunch party. It is a brilliant wine club to be part of if you never know what kind of wine to buy – Jean-Michel Deluc, only the former sommelier at The Ritz (!) selects his favourite wine each month and sends them direct to you home! Boom!
I made this salad a few weeks ago for a friend who is getting married soon. I knew she would want something light and healthy, but I still wanted it to be interesting and delicious. I have made it a few more times now and it is fast becoming my go-to summer salad dish. I am excited to share it with you and hope you like it too.
For the salad you’ll need:
Salad leaves – I like a mix of watercress, rocket and baby spinach leaves
Green vegetables – I have used petit pois, green beans and soya beans but asparagus, mange tout and other green veggies will work just as well.
A red pepper
Cherry tomatoes, halved
A good mozzarella, torn into chunks
A large handful of mixed herbs finely chopped – I like parsley, basil and mint
For the dressing:
The juice of half a lemon
Five tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
One tablespoon of tahini
Several glugs of olive oil
Start by slicing the peppers, drizzling in olive oil and roasting until they start to brown. This usually takes about 30-40 minutes. When ready, set aside. Whilst they are roasting, cook the green veg by steaming or boiling just enough to soften them but leave a little bite.
Once they are cooked plunge them in to cold water to stop the cooking process and to cool them down. Chill in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before serving.
To assemble, place your salad leaves in a big bowl and mix in the herbs. Layer on your veggies, tomatoes, peppers and then scatter over the mozzarella.
To make the salad dressing, simple mix all the ingredients together and stir – have a little taste to see if you need to add a little more of any of the ingredients to suit your taste.
Drizzle over your salad, and serve!
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What’s your best dinner party tips?
Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Photography: Marlene Lee