The Five Key Ingredients of An Unfussy Dinner Party

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!

flowers

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!

unfussy

Food: S+3P
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.

salad

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.

top-downDrinks: 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.

lola eating

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.

fancy feast

Check out the complete line of Fancy Feast Medleys!

 

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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!

Comments

  1. Nancy says

    Fancy Feast, please take note: cat food marketing doesn’t get any better than this. We love Lola; we love Aunt Peaches, and now we love Fancy Feast for your sponsorship. Please continue this relationship. To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, we’re all mad (about cats) here.

    Aunt Peaches, I followed the link and re-read Lola’s story. It still brings tears to my eyes.

    More Lola on Instagram, please. I can’t get enough.

    Well done, Aunt Peaches, as always.

    • Nancy says

      P.S. Fancy Feast with bokeh ~ that might be a first.

      Go, you.

  2. Jb says

    I loved this post (though it’s not about your art or your decor or…). Cracked me up with your twist at the end but still loved it. And a great reminder that bringing people into our homes enriches al of us. I want to do a once a month soup & salad invite everyone … but haven’t pulled the trigger. I think I will soon. My cats love nutro but maybe, just maybe, I should give fancy feast a whirl.

  3. Jen says

    What’s this about not using good china? I see Lola eats on fancy china but I can’t?

  4. Alice Schmid says

    I have always been a dog person, until I got Louis to scare the mice in my drafty old country house away. Louis moved with me and Gussie, my giant. American Bulldog, to Boston. After falling ever more deeply in love, Louis, an indoor outdoor cat, was killed by a car.

    I am getting a new cat in September, a sibling of Louis’. And will buy Fancy Feasts. Because you don’t get to keep your furry babies forever: i’ll spoil, spoil spoil from now on. Oh, and Louis’ crack cocaine? Those Temptations cat treats! Let Lola try em!

  5. says

    When I was in college, I drove to Connecticut with my best friend to visit her aunt, who by my estimation at the time, was very wealthy and sophisticated. One night we were making dinner and she poured us all glasses of chardonnay in wine glasses that she told us cost $50 a piece. I had a few glasses… For dinner we made burgers and corn on the cob. We sat down and I was trying to stab the end of my corn with the little corn shaped stabby thing. Meanwhile, the aunt starts telling us how this tablecloth just got in as it was on special order and ‘isn’t it beautiful?’ The stabby thing doesn’t go in the end of the corn, and instead shoots the corn off my plate, knocking into the $50 wine glass, breaking off the globe, spilling on to the new special order table cloth, and shooting half my burger on to the floor where the blind diabetic dog started eating it. I instantly burst into tears. Yeah. I’m all for dinner parties being casual and fun! I have experience on the other side.

    • Laurie says

      OMG- poor thing! I would have cried, too! No matter how wealthy or ‘sophisticated’ someone is, it’s completely tacky to tell guests the price tag of their best wine glasses, that the tablecloth is brand-new, special order, etc. Really, she was saying, “this sh**’s expensive, don’t you dare f*** it up!” If that’s how she felt about it, she should NEVER have put it out in the first place. I’m sure everyone was treating her things with respect, but accidents happen, especially when you are so self-conscious using the stuff you feel you’re walking on egg shells. Definitely a lesson in “people are more important than things”.

  6. says

    I cannot think of a better guest than Queen Lola! That Fancy Feast looks amazing – tell them to get their butts in gear and start selling it here in England as I have a feeling my fussy Hobbes and Miss Dixie would be all over this!

    Love the tips for dinner parties as well. I’ve never had one and maybe when I’m a proper grown up I will but know from friends that one of their biggest gripes is an absent host!

  7. Eva says

    One of my favorite books growing up was Daisy fay and The Miracle Man. For some reason, at the end of your fantastic post, when the fancy feast talk came out… You reminded me of the main character of that book. Anyhoo if ya haven’t read it I say do it!!!

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