With barbecue season on its way out the door, it’s time to bring entertaining indoors. Welcome your friends. Treat your family. Invite your neighbors. Celebrate the everyday!
Today’s post is brought to you by the folks at Fancy Feast, because if there is one thing you can count on, it’s that cat people love to party.
And by party I mean eat a cozy meal with a small group of friends and be home by 11pm, aka: a dinner party.
Party on cat people!
Here is the thing about dinner parties: As a kid, I had the impression dinner parties were something adults hosted or attend every other day. As an adult, not so much. Dinner parties are less frequent and way more effort than you might think, but, that’s mostly because we put pressure on ourselves to be overly formal.
“That dinner party was nice but they should have tried to impress us more.” -SAID NOBODY EVER
So. Let’s take the sting out. Let’s break down the five keys to a good, festive, low-stress, fabulously unfussy dinner party!
Ever been to someone’s house for dinner and the host spends the whole time in the kitchen preparing an overly complicated recipe they saw in a magazine? And then they get frustrated and overwhelmed and you want to tell them IT’S OKAY PAL, LET’S JUST CALL OUT FOR PIZZA AND BEER but the struggle in the kitchen continues for hours, and then the food comes out and you have to pretend you appreciate their grand effort but really you would have preferred pizza and beer? Yeah. That’s not fun. That’s why all dinner party food falls under what is called The S and Three P’s. I’m not sure who made up this rule, but it’s a good one. S is for salad and the three P’s are pizza, pasta, pot roast. Mind you, those are umbrella food groups not literal suggestions. I’m not saying it has to be pasta – you can serve lasagna, or a pork roast, or whatever, but, the point remains, these are foods that can be 90% prepped before the guests get there and everybody likes them and everyone knows how to make one good version of either pizza, pasta, or pot roast. And salad is easy. And if you don’t know how to make salad, buy a couple from take-out and put it in a big bowl before guests arrive and nobody will know you didn’t make it. And you can serve salad at the end of the meal and everyone will think you are French and fancy pants. (Getouttahere!) All of this means the host (YOU) won’t be stressed and the guests will be happy. And if all else fails, get a really good frozen pizza and drizzle it with exotic pickings like truffle oil, or fresh basil, or arugula, or some foofy pink Himalayan sea salt. Unless you are professional chef, people are coming to see you – not your food. So keep it basic. Save the fancy experimental stuff for nights with just you and the cats. Cats love fancy experimental food.
Music: Low Key
Picking the music for a dinner party is a thankless task because if you do it right, nobody will notice it. Ever. Music is the foundation garment of the evening providing a layer of support – nobody needs to notice it. Let it set a baseline atmosphere but never steal the show. So, while it is the thoughtful details that make guests feel appreciated – music isn’t the place to showcase. Don’t worry, and don’t spend too much time on it – hook up a music app and choose something without too many words. Suggestion: search Spotify or Google Music for “dinner party” and you will find plenty to choose from. Plenty.
Place Settings: Paper Napkins are Your Friends
True story: One time, many years ago, I was enjoying Thanksgiving Dinner at a friend’s family home when someone accidently dropped cranberry sauce on the Great Grandma’s lace tablecloth. The guest felt awful and apologized profusely, but not before the hostess made everyone remove their half-eaten plates and put the food in the kitchen so she could strip the tablecloth and set it to soak before the stain set in. And while I can’t blame the hostess for taking care of a family heirloom, it cast a shadow on the rest of the evening and mortified her guest. Had she just kept the lace tablecloth out of the equation, none of this would have happened. I have seen this same scenario with inherited/wedding china more times than I care to admit. This is a personal choice, but, I would never bring out the fancy stuff for a dinner party. Why? Because I want my guests to be comfortable my home, and the surest way to make people uncomfortable is to make them tense about scraping a plate or dropping a glass. It is more important to me that people feel relaxed than impressed by some old china, or flatware, or crystal stemware. Chances are, if you only bring “the good china” out for company, you are nervous about people using it, and that vibe carries over to your guests whether you intend it or not. That’s a sure-fire way to make the evening dull and unnecessarily-formal. So how about this; just serve company on everyday dishes! Make it special and festive by adding flowers or napkins. Paper napkins in unusual colors or prints make everything seem festive. Or better yet, start using the good china everyday! Or accept that some fancy things can be showpieces that live in a glass case or hang on a wall. There is no shame in treating things nicely, just not to the detriment of your guests. People matter more than o.
Treat company like family and treat family like company.
Drinks: The Forgotten Art
Everyone needs a signature cocktail. Cocktail carts have home back into vogue in recent years, which is wonderfully charming but also baffling because hardly anyone (who isn’t a bartender) knows how to mix drinks. What is this about? So, want to impress company? Learn how to mix one really good cocktail. Make it your signature. Make it so good that people invite you to their house and insist you make the martini/sidecar/pinacolada/gimlet because you are so good at it. Get the proportions and the ingredients down so you could make it in your sleep. Be picky about ingredients. Buy one of those jumbo ice cube things. Have a story about where you learned to make this wonderful concoction. Doesn’t matter! People will appreciate your dedication to the art and that will make it taste better, if not The Best.
Company: Always Have Someone (or Something) to Celebrate
Want to make someone feel special in your home? Make them the guest of honor. Find a guest who has a recent occasion worth celebrating. Is it close to their birthday? Is somebody get promoted at work? Did they just complete a race? A personal goal? Come back from a big trip? Going back to school? …You get the idea. There is always something SOMEBODY in the room is doing that is notable, so raise a toast to them! Put some candles on a cake. Or make their favorite food. Not a big whoop – just enough to give them some recognition and the occasion a sense of festiveness. Celebrations mark the passage of time and give people a reason to enjoy themselves and congratulate each other. So enjoy!
And who was the guest of honor at this particular meal? None other than my cat Lolabelle. She is celebrating eight years since she came home from the shelter (and counting!). How does one celebrate feline nobility in a worthy-yet-non-obtrusive fashion? She gets her favorite food: Fancy Feast Medleys.
To be honest, Lola is a less than ideal dinner party guest because she is a first rate picky eater. But she is nuts about this line from Fancy Feast – not just quality meat but real vegetables and cheese. There are four pate varieties to choose from, her favorite being White Meat Chicken Florentine Pate with Cheese & Garden Greens. Even the name sounds elegant enough to be served at the table. I love it because, like a good dinner party, it is fancy, but it also comes in a can.
Elegant + Unfussy = Favorite.
Check out the complete line of Fancy Feast Medleys!
Thank you for supporting the brands that make this site possible. Thank you to Fancy Feast for sponsoring this post.
Thank you to Lola for allowing me to adopt her and giving me a reason to celebrate everyday!