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1. Know your dietary restrictions. Contact your guests a couple of weeks before the party to inquire about any dietary restrictions before picking the menu. Keep your questions strictly to restrictions rather than likes and dislikes—it’s impossible to please everyone, so your best bet is to keep the main dish neutral (poultry and beef are good choices) and serve the sides family-style so your guests can pick their sides according to their tastes.
2. Keep cutlery simple. Nobody wants to sit down to a meal surrounded by an armoury of cutlery. Make your guests feel more comfortable—and avoid any confusion as to which fork is appropriate to use—by paring down the cutlery, recommends César Mésen, General Manager for Far Niente, a fine dining restaurant in Toronto, Ont. “Only put what you need at the moment on the table,” says Mesen.
3. Start with bubbly. Greet your guests with a glass of Champagne or sparkling wine at the door. It kicks off the fun, celebratory tone for the evening and its crisp, sweet taste and bubbly mouth-feel sets your palate for the meal ahead. Be sure to have sparkling water as well to serve to those who aren’t drinking.
4. Mix formal with casual. The difference between a special dinner party and a simple gathering of friends is in the details. Opt for a white tablecloth for a touch of formality, but arrange wildflowers in unconventional vases, such as Mason jars, at the table to keep it from feeling too stuffy. “Fine dining isn’t dead,” Mesen notes. “Just make it fun.” Mesen recommends spinning some oldies on your sound system to give the room a playful vibe and serve as a fun conversation-starter for your guests.
5. Don’t sweat the starter. Cooking for a crowd can be stressful, so go easy on yourself by skipping the fussy appetizers and serving your guests no-cook cheese and charcuterie platters instead. Assemble the platters ahead of time, and then simply pull them out of the fridge a few minutes before guests arrive. Bonus: the platters will serve as a gathering point for guests, encouraging them to strike up conversations with people they don’t already know.
For our five best secrets to hosting the ultimate potluck, click here!