Last night we hosted my husband's uncle for cocktails and dinner at our house. While it would have been easier to simply go out to dinner, I wanted to host him at our house because: a) he had yet to see our new home, b) he and his wife have hosted us numerous times, so naturally I have looking for an opportunity to reciprocate, and c) the Pope is in town, so traffic throughout DC is a nightmare.
Hosting a cocktail and dinner party on a Tuesday did get me thinking about how I go about preparing for weeknight entertaining. Weeknights are typically viewed as more difficult nights for hosting because you are at work all day with a very limited amount of party prep time and often a feeling of fatigue from spending the day using your brain at the office. On weeknights, relaxing on the couch with dinner and a favorite TV show couldn't be a more perfect way to spend my evening. As wonderful as it may be to relax at home after work, there are occasions where hosting on a weeknight is necessary. So today I wanted to show you that despite being at work all day, coming home to host a weeknight dinner party is not as hard/impossible as you might think. Here is a breakdown of my process for successfully hosting a weeknight gathering.
Create a To-Do Timeline
The key to successfully executing a weeknight party is organization - lists and timelines! The more that you can prepare in advance of the party, the easier it will be.
- Week Before-Decide on a Menu. Regardless of whether you are hosting a cocktail or dinner party, make a list of what you plan to serve that evening. Detail out every ingredient that will be used to create your spread (even if a recipe calls for olive oil to grease a pan, include it in the list!). Then take your complete list and cross reference it with what you already have in your pantry. That way you can come up with a fine tuned list to take to the grocery store.
- Weekend Before- your golden opportunity to get the bulk of the grunt work prep done. Here are the major areas to focus on:
- Cleaning - The deep clean of your home should occur the weekend before when you have the most time. Cleaning the floors, deep cleaning the guest bathroom/powder room, dusting and polishing should all take place over the weekend.
- Grocery Shopping- Purchase your entire grocery list for the party over the weekend. That way if one store doesn't have a particular ingredient you may need you have time to look for that item at another grocery store. The only item I would really advise against purchasing until the day of is fresh bread from a bakery. If you are planning to serve a sliced baguette or dinner rolls, purchase those the day of during your lunch break or right after work.
- Applicable Food Prep- If you are serving cookies for dessert or a homemade dip during cocktail hour, this is the perfect opportunity to get these items made and off of your to-do list.
- Night Before- this is probably where the heaviest lift in terms of party prep occurs. You need to make sure that the majority of all work is completed by this point in time, because the night of the party you are going to need to be with your guests and won't have very much time to take care of any prep work aside from setting out
- Prep all food - any and all food prep should be taken care of the night before. Your dessert should be ready to go, all veggies should be chopped and all work for your main course should be complete minus actually cooking it.
- Set Out Serving Pieces- by setting out all of your serving pieces the night before you can eliminate the last minute scramble to figure out which food with go in which dish. Once I decide on which food to serve in which dish, I label the dish with a sticky note that details the food assignment.
- Set the table- Whether you are setting up a cocktail or dinner table, have everything assembled and laid out the night before. You don't want to find out moments before your party is set to start that a glass needs to be washed or your linens are wrinkled and in need of ironing. Give yourself piece of mind and additional time to focus on food and your guests by taking care of the table setting the night before (or earlier if possible).
- Morning Of- this is the time when you want to take care of the last minute details aside from food prep and plating.
- Give the bathroom one last clean up
- Make sure all food is defrosted and ready to go
- See my post on 5 Ways to Prep Your House for Entertaining
Fresh flowers are an entertaining must in my opinion and the timeline for prepping the arrangement(s) is circumstantial.
- If you are opting to use a more low maintenance flower like hydrangeas, carnations or stock greenery, you can prep your flowers more than a week in advance of the party (just make sure to keep the water looking fresh by changing it every 2 days).
- If you are planning on using lilies or roses, you will need to buy and arrange them at least 3 days prior to your party in order to give them ample time to open their blooms.
- If you are looking for great last minute flowers that are ready to go, but need to be purchased within a day of your party, I would recommend either calla lilies or zinnias. Both are sold in bloom and easy to arrange last minute.
- Dinner Party- my mantra for a dinner party menu is simple…"Heat and Serve." For last nights dinner I served the following menu:
- Homemade Lasagna- this is a great entree that can be made ahead of time and quickly popped into the oven when you get home from work the day of the party. Here is a link to my all time favorite lasagna recipe.
- Simple Side Salad- Make the dressing the day before and have all the veggies chopped and ready to go. This way, the only thing you have to do when you get home from work the night of the party is throw everything in a bowl, toss it all up and serve.
- Warm Homemade Apple Pie Ala Mode- I made my favorite apple pie recipe over the weekend, lightly covered it with foil and placed it in the refrigerator. Before we sat down to eat dinner, I heated the oven to 250 degrees fahrenheit and placed the pie (still lightly covered in aluminum foil) in the oven to warm up while we dined on our main course. When it was time for dessert, I simply removed the pie from the oven and served it up with a scoop of ice-cream.
- Cocktail Party- I am a huge fan of Ina Garten's philosophy on cocktail party food featured in this House Beautiful Article. In sum, she state the following:
Regardless of weeknight or weekend, party prep at its core is all about organization and planning ahead. In the end, the goal is to create an evening that is enjoyable for both you and your guests. When you take the time to put the necessary pieces in place in advance of the event, you can rest assured that your party will most likely run smoothly. Take time to think through the logistics and you will easily be able to host a dinner or cocktail party any night of the week.