The Perfect Menu

The RSVPs are coming back in, the days are counting down, and your friends are excited about coming over for the dinner party you enthusiastically invited them to. The only trouble is you have no idea what you’re going to serve them or how to plan a multi-course dinner that won’t end in disaster. Luckily, a three-course (or more) event is manageable as long as you plan in advance.

Before you begin planning, you need to nail down four key details:

1. What’s the occasion? 

Is your dinner party to celebrate an event or is it a weekly dinner to catch up with a few friends? Is it formal or casual? These factors will guide the meals you choose.

2. What’s your budget and how many people are attending?

This is important to consider from the beginning because it will affect the recipes you use and the quantity of ingredients you need to purchase. Always prepare to have extras for hungry guests – there’s nothing worse than running out of food.

3. When is it?

Are you holding it on a weeknight after work? On the weekend? Is it lunch or dinner? These factors change your available preparation time. Shorter prep times mean your menu needs to be simpler or prepared in advance while a long lead time means you can spend hours before your guests arrive preparing everything fresh.

4. Do your guests have food requirements?

It’s very common now for people to be vegetarian or vegan, have intolerances or allergies. You can either plan your menu as you like and then figure out replacement options – of which there are happily now many available – or base your menu around their requirements. Either choice will work, you just need to figure out which you prefer. 

Once you have answers to the above you can begin planning your menu:

1. How many courses?

You’ll probably want to serve at least a starter, main, and dessert. There’s also the option of appetisers or snacks, a cheese course, and more. Just remember that the more courses you plan, the more time you’ll spend in the kitchen rather than with your guests.

2. Balance your courses

Now it’s time to think both about what’s seasonal and how you would like to balance your meals between rich and light. If you aren’t staying within a single regional cuisine, choose complementary flavours. You can indulge your imagination by a flavour matching website like Food Pairing. Choose an ingredient and find creative matches to impress your friends.

3. Simplicity v intricacy

Much like the number of courses, the more complicated your recipes are, the more time you’ll spend away from your guests. If you want to serve something intricate, choose one complicated dish and keep the rest simple. It’ll highlight your skill without overwhelming you and seem like you’re showboating.

4. Shop local

Source local ingredients so you don’t have to make everything from scratch. This can also ease your workload – anything from freshly baked bread, and locally sourced yoghurt and cheese, to farmer’s market produce, can increase both the flavour profile and environmental credentials of your dinner party.

The most important thing to remember is that the perfect dinner party is one you spend with your friends – the food can burn, the drinks spill, and the table settings mismatch as long you savour the time you have with your loved ones.

Find recommendations on more delicious recipes, and advice on the best summer cocktails in Issue 9 – A New Leaf, on sale now.