Getting friends together to share a meal is one of life's greatest pleasures. But the formality, expectations and stress of planning and executing the perfect dinner party can quickly sap all the joy out of an otherwise amazing evening. Thus, we suggest the anti-dinner party—a relaxed way of enjoying food and friends without all the fuss and muss. Here's everything you need to know to entertain at home with style (and more importantly) ease.
Set the Mood
Fire-up your music before the first guests arrive and make sure you overpopulate your playlist. You want a good variety of songs and you want more than you think you'll need. There's no need to repeat songs (or let your friend who thinks he's a DJ get into the sound system controls). Finish off the ambiance with a bunch of small candles tucked into various corners of your place (and don't forget the bathroom).
Within 30 seconds of your guests being welcomed at the door, offer up a round of drinks. Create a small bar area with a few staple bottles of wine and spirits, and encourage people to help themselves. Make sure to include a few alcohol-free options, like San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water. And have plenty of ice and some sliced citrus on hand. Consider mixing up a pitcher of punch (equal parts gin, Campari, St. Germain, grapefruit juice and some orange slices) to make it even easier on everyone.
Keep the Snacks Simple
You don't even need to make them. Go Mediterranean and lay out a platter of store-bought items that can stay out all evening—a variety of olives, smoked almonds, quality cured meats and some cheese (one hard and sharp, one soft and mild).
When cooking for guests, you want to be comfortable with what you're cooking—this is not the time to experiment with something you haven't prepared before. As for what to cook, go with a slow-roasted main course like braised short ribs. It's impressive sounding, hard to mess up and the heavy lifting is done before your guests arrive. Since everyone tends to gather in the kitchen, get them involved with the rest of the meal. Assign a task to each person, from chopping vegetables and mixing up a simple vinaigrette for the salad to setting the table. This turns the work of cooking a meal into a social, lighthearted group effort. Remember, if you don't have any fun, your guests probably won't either.
This post is sponsored by San Pellegrino. Practice the Art of Fine Food, every time you can.