If you love to cook, hosting dinner parties is always a treat. While they’re sometimes more work than a party for the host, the satisfaction of witnessing your close friends and family enjoying themselves together is always worth the effort. You’ll probably want to clean your home, send out invitations, and spend time decorating, but the first place to start is your menu — this is a dinner party, after all!
From the physical menu itself to the curation of dishes that will propel the party, here are some tips for creating a top-notch personalized menu for your next dinner party.
1. Use a Template
Use a professional-looking template to create a quality menu that enhances your dinner party. Using a clean, attractive, restaurant-worthy menu will enhance your party and make your guests feel special. While it will look high-end and fancy, it will actually probably take less effort than handwriting or attempting to create a menu on your own. Win-win!
With a template, you’ll get to customize your menu to be unique to your party. You can use your own title, colors, fonts, photos, and descriptions.
2. Think of a Theme
Now that you’ve got an easy-to-use template consider how you’ll design the menu. It always helps to have a cohesive theme when throwing a dinner party to give the night a special feel and to make the entire thing more memorable. To think of a theme, consider why you’re throwing the party. A birthday or special celebration? A housewarming get-together? Based around a specific ingredient or culture?
Even if the party is just for fun, it helps to consider the ambiance you’d like to create. Fancy and elegant, or laid-back and casual? Consider the season, time of day, and attendees to start designing your menu with the appropriate colors, fonts, and graphics.
3. Consider Your Crowd
Now for the food. Planning a menu takes plenty of thought, but a good place to start after you’ve settled on a theme is the crowd. You’re likely close with most of the people at your party, so that you might know their individual preferences, dietary restrictions, or food allergies.
Aside from preferences and dietary needs, consider how your crowd will dine. Will everyone get individual plates, or will you put shareable platters on the table — or would you prefer to do a buffet style? Does your crowd tend to eat a lot, or are they small-bites kind of people? How refined are their palates? What did you serve at the last party? What’s the time frame for the meal? All of these questions about your guests will help you begin to form a foolproof menu.
4. Choose Complementary Dishes
Creating a cohesive dinner menu isn’t an easy feat! There’s an art to crafting a menu of several courses with dishes that fit together well while standing out on their own. That’s why chefs, culinary artists, and menu curators get paid the big bucks! That said, some basic culinary principles will help any home chef pick and choose a wonderful array of dishes that make an elegant meal.
A typical dinner party menu will have three to five courses, including a round or two of appetizers followed by salad or soup, the entrèe (with side dishes), and dessert. Of course, you can shake this up however you’d like, but these are some basic guidelines to consider while building your menu:
Before anything else, plan out your cooking schedule! Try to choose at least a few dishes that can easily be premade and choose an entrèe that can be feasibly made and served during the duration of the party. Pre-prepare as much of your menu as possible so that you’re not spending the whole party away from your guests.
When drafting your menu, a good place to start is seasonality. This will help you choose quality ingredients to center your menu around, especially for your main dish. Likewise, depending on the weather and season, you can get a good idea of how hearty or light your dishes should be.
We all eat with our eyes first! Choose dishes with bright, vibrant colors, and don’t forget to put some time into plating your dishes nicely; dinner parties are all about aesthetics!
Balance the textures in each dish and throughout the meal. Add crunch to more lush dishes, like a sprinkle of nuts atop purèed potatoes. Use various cooking methods to create a dynamic meal with an assortment of textures, from deep-fried to steamed to grilled, baked, pan-seared, poached, broiled, or blended.
You should try to have one or two bold, stand-out ingredients in the meal, but try to avoid repeating boldly-flavored ingredients. For example, if a fresh-caught crab is your menu highlight, you can serve a crab dip for your appetizer and crab legs as your entrèe, but don’t serve a seafood bisque for soup or crabcakes as a side dish.
You’ll want to balance the weight of your dishes as well, and we don’t mean you should carry one in each hand. Keep it light for appetizers and desserts if you’re serving a rich, hearty entrèe like stew or creamy pasta. Likewise, don’t overdo it on the portions, especially if you’ve got heartier dishes or several courses.
5. Go the Extra Mile
A personalized menu is a wonderful first step towards creating an exclusive, memorable experience for guests, but don’t stop there. Get crafty with your decorations and table settings, and don’t just use your regular old cutlery and glassware. Use a special table cloth, on-theme centerpieces, fancier utensils and plates, candles, and more. You can create individual name cards for guests’ seats, a fun drink menu, or even a separate dessert menu if you’ve got several options for the course.
Do Your Dinner Party Right
While throwing dinner parties is great for showing off a new patio or sharing your love for cooking, they’re ultimately meant to provide guests with a great experience. Curating a custom menu and cooking might be your forte, but don’t skip over the small details like thinking up creative titles for dishes and laying out visually-appealing place settings. Though much work will be put into this party, we’re sure it will all pay off. Take plenty of photos and keep a copy of your menu to preserve these delicious memories!