Sample the “New” Dinner Party

I recently helped my college-age daughter host her first dinner party for her friends. (She said they were just “hanging out,” but it was, in fact, a dinner party.)

Dinner parties aren’t what they used to be and, personally, I am all for it. I don’t have time for what used to be known as entertaining. I’m not putting on a show, nor am I running a restaurant. I’m over the ideas of formal invites, copious advanced planning and multi-course menus. Considering all the socializing we missed last year, who needs any more barriers to getting together?

Over many years, I’ve written about hosting at home, and I’ve always tried to maintain a fairly casual perspective. For example, I’ve encouraged hosts to focus their cleaning energy on the only two areas anyone ever notices—the entryway and the bathroom. I’ve probably held on a little too long to some fading notions about what it means to entertain guests, like setting the table ahead of time or arranging flowers.

Nonetheless, I was able to offer my budding hostess some invariable advice. “Offer everyone a beverage shortly after they arrive, and make sure they know where they can refill it, themselves,” I said. “And don’t be afraid to ask your friends to help as they arrive. Put someone on the grill. Let someone else toss the salad. Nothing makes a guest feel more at home than being given a job to do.” I offered a final piece of only-a-mother-could-offer, although pertinent, advice, “Remember to point out the bathroom.”

When my husband and I returned several hours later to survey the scene, the food was gone and loud laughter could be heard wafting in through the kitchen windows from the backyard deck—signs of a most successful first dinner party indeed.

Rachael Perron is the culinary and brand director for Kowalski’s Markets, where she specializes in product development and selection, culinary education and communications.