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Cooking For A Crowd The Dos And Donts Of Entertaining At Home  


Have you ever experienced a party blackout? Not the kind induced by too much wine but rather the blackout induced by working so hard on preparing and serving food that your party memories consist of the pre-dinner prep, greeting guests, and end with loading the dish washer. What happened? The following do's and don'ts offer some helpful advice to help you plan and prepare so you can party at your own party.

Do choose your menu wisely. This is the most important aspect of a successful event. Consider what type of gathering you're hosting, buffet, barbecue or intimate dinner party and choose a menu that fits the event and your abilities.

For instance, if you like to serve dinner in courses, stick to the following time guideline when deciding what to serve.

· 5 minutes to plate and serve the first course. 

· 8 to 10 minutes to clear finish and serve the main course, and dessert is served at your leisure. If the recipe doesn't fit the parameters, it doesn't make it onto the menu. 

· 5 minutes to plate and serve dessert.

holiday entertainingFollowing this guideline means preparing things ahead, adjusting or deleting recipes that don't fit the criteria, however; it will allow you to lounge with your guests knowing the next course will be ready when you choose. You control dinner; dinner does not control you. 

Don't use the opportunity to try a menu from 4-star chef cookbook unless you really know what you are doing. These menus and recipes often feature multiple components using restaurant techniques, equipment or products can leave you exhausted and frustrated, not the qualities of a good host. Save these exercises for days when you have time to enjoy the learning process or your group wants to cook and learn together.

Do make a preparation schedule and use it as a guideline. It should contain a time-line of what needs to happen to individual menu items at what time. Keep a list of your menu so you won't forget the bread, herb butter, garnishes, etc This will save you last minute hassles in the kitchen that leaves your guests sitting alone at the dinner table.

Don't attempt a marathon before you've jogged around the block. If you are just starting to entertain in your home, start with a few dinner parties with just 4 to 6 people. After you feel comfortable with this number, you can try a larger group.

Do know when to get help. If you are serving more than 8 people at a sit-down dinner or more than 15 at any other event consider switching to a buffet style meal and/or hiring a server. Hiring a professional help can be a godsend. They will help serve cocktails, plate and serve courses, manage the buffet, and start cleanup while you are still partying with your guests. Servers usually cost around $18.00 to $20.00 per hour with a four-hour minimum. Depending upon the occasion, it's well worth the expense.

Do prep like you're the host of a cooking show. You don't see Emeril standing in front of a sink stacked with dishes and dirty equipment. He has all of his ingredients measured and chopped sitting in little containers ready to go. Prep all of the ingredients for your dishes so that when you cook you are just putting things together. This includes blanching vegetables, making the sauces, etc.. Start the evening with a clean organized kitchen and at the end you'll have a few pots to wash, not every pan and gadget in your kitchen.

Don't think dinner doesn't count unless you make every part. Great meals can be created by combing homemade items with purchased items and adding fresh garnishes. You don't need to be a gourmet chef to serve fabulous food. Be clever!

Do consider your own weaknesses. If you are terrible at desserts, buy a fabulous pastry and focus on the main course. If appetizers make you nuts, spring for an antipasti platter or cheese and fruit tray at the deli. Put your energy where it counts.

Don't overload your guests with too many appetizers. Wolfgang Puck once said, "All you need is one appetizer. Don't overwhelm you guests with too many flavors before your meal."

Do wait to start clean up until after your guests leave. Beginning clean up is a sure way to make your guests feel like they should leave. Unless this is you intention, leave the mess for later. Big open kitchens can make this difficult especially if you can see the mess. Try seating yourself with your back to the kitchen so you won't be tempted to start cleaning.

Do relax and have a fun. Remember your guests are coming to visit you not your seared foi gras!

Are you a good guest? Read a little further and find out?

The Do's and don'ts of being a good guest!

If attending a potluck supper or group dinner.

Do stick to the item you were assigned. If you were assigned an appetizer don't show up with brownies or a meatloaf. If you must change stick to the category you were assigned, appetizer, salad, munchies, etc

Don't bring a dish in a partially prepared form. Ingredients that need to be washed, prepped, assembled and cooked, may cause hassles for your host. Unless you've planned to make something together, bring a completed dish. If you don't have time to make your contribution, buy something that is already prepared. (Stick to the category!) Call your host and let them know your plans or ask for another suggestion.

Do bring a small token to your host if appropriate.


1. Wine (something for dinner or for their enjoyment later, let them decide)

2. Special gourmet food items such as Aged balsamic vinegar or specialty oil like truffle oil.

3. Flowers. If you choose to bring flowers, consider a small bouquet already in a vase or flowers than can be dropped into a vase without much fuss. Cut flowers are beautiful but require your host to find a vase, clean, cut, and arrange flowers when they are greeting guests.

Don't call your host an hour before the party to see if they need anything. We know this is done out of consideration but at that point, what they need is more time which is something you are wasting by keeping them on the phone. One phone call is not a big deal but imagine what it's like if there are six people coming to dinner and all make the "do you need anything call". (This excludes calling to inform someone of an emergency or tardiness of more than 15 minutes)

Do be on time. Don't keep your host waiting for more than 15 minutes unless there was an emergency and you have notified them of your tardiness.

Do send a thank you note if the evening was particularly spectacular or the occasion was more than an informal gathering.

ChefTalk.com › Articles › Cooking For A Crowd The Dos And Donts Of Entertaining At Home