How to Host a Perfect Dinner Party

25 Feb

Cherished readers, I know that having people over for dinner stresses you out. I know that you worry about what to serve and whether it will turn out okay and be ready on time and be bountiful enough to sate everybody. I know that you cringe at the thought of your guests eating off plain (and maybe even – gasp! – mismatched) dishes. I know that you obsess about cleaning everything from the oven to the floor under the couches, from the bathtub to the fridge, from the kids’ rooms to the back porch. I know that not having dripless candles or linen napkins or a glamorous decanter will stress you out of your ever-loving mind.

Why? Because you’re a real person and I’m a real person and I get it. It takes so much time and planning and preparation and organization that you rarely bother. So even though you keep telling yourself you’d like to have people over, and you even keep telling your friends, “Hey, let’s have dinner sometime”…it never happens.

I am about to teach you a very simple dinner-party trick that I learned while living abroad. It may sound tricky and overwhelming at first, but I promise if you try it once, you will discover that I speak truth.

Are you ready? My advice can be summed up in just two words: stop caring.

Yes, friends, that is it! Stop caring so much about whether or not everything will be perfect enough or pretty enough or delicious enough or ample enough and instead, switch your focus to caring about your guests.

Your guests are, in fact, the main point of the party. Not the perfect wine pairing, not the polished silver, not the background music, not the bathroom potpourri. Your guests.

When we lived in Ethiopia, everything was delightfully casual. Even fancy things, by necessity, had an air of flexibility about them. You never knew if you would have electricity or water on any given day. It was a normal occurrence to go to the grocery store for a couple of last-minute ingredients only to find that they didn’t have any of the things you needed. And in the missionary culture of sharing and blessing each other, there was nothing awkward about asking for, offering, or accepting offers of contributions to the meal. People would show up with a nice loaf of bread or a salad or a dessert and it didn’t have to be all strategically planned out ahead of time.

We simply focused on enjoying each other’s company, and it happened to involve sharing a meal together.

That’s still how we do dinner parties now that we’re back in Canada.

I will share with you an example from this past weekend. My husband was eager to smoke one of the turkeys in our freezer. Being as the bird was an astounding 27 pounds, we figured we should share it. So we invited a few families over. Two of the families are good friends of ours, but they had never met each other. And the third family had never been to our house before. (Does that scenario make your blood pressure jittery? Stop caring!) Two of our kids had overnight plans on Friday and I knew they wouldn’t be at their cherubic best for helping to get things ready on Saturday. (Would that turn you into a shrieking lunatic? Stop caring!) I myself had agreed to attend a birthday party with our youngest son all afternoon, so I wouldn’t be home methodically checking things off my to-do list. (Would that make you cancel your party altogether? Stop caring!)

As it turned out, I was home for less than an hour before our first guests arrived and I managed to throw together a big pan of stuffing, a pot of mashed potatoes, some delicious squash (which, admittedly, I had roasted and thrown in the crock pot earlier in the day), gravy and drinks. My husband looked after the turkey. Our guests brought veggie dishes and desserts.

I did not do any special cleaning (although we did pick up random clutter so there would be room to spread out all the food on the counters). We do not have enough matching dishes for 15 people. Nor enough matching chairs, for that matter. We used paper napkins and folding tables. We ate buffet-style. And we had so much fun.

My gravy didn’t look like it was going to turn out, so I mixed up a pot of packaged gravy – and then the first gravy magically thickened, so I just served them both. Weird, but whatever! The two husbands of the families that didn’t know each other actually grew up in the same small town a couple hours away and knew a bunch of the same people. Who knew? One of the table legs collapsed before dessert, but nothing broke or spilled and we fixed it and carried on. The children clustered around ipods and tablets after supper and entertained themselves while the adults talked and laughed.

None of it was stressful. All of it was fun. Why? Because I cared more about my friends than my perfection. And I trusted that their priorities were exactly the same: they came to be with us, not our flatware or our canapés. They had fun because they were welcome here in the midst of real life. We all felt free to snort-laugh because we weren’t hiding behind a façade of prim and proper.

Now it’s your turn. Maybe a turkey dinner for 15 is too much to start with. But perhaps you could do pasta for 8. Or burgers for 10. Don’t plan three months ahead of time. Don’t scrub the floor. Don’t rent a chocolate fountain. Don’t hire a barista. Stop caring! And I am absolutely sure that your dinner party will be completely fantastic.


Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Uncategorized


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7 responses to “How to Host a Perfect Dinner Party

  1. Pauline B

    February 25, 2014 at 8:44 PM

    You had me until you said don’t rent a chocolate fountain! You can if you want though,, right?

    • Anita Neuman

      February 25, 2014 at 9:06 PM

      You, my friend, should just go ahead and buy one!

  2. Tammy Bull

    February 25, 2014 at 11:48 PM

    Gotta say, as one of the honored guests, it was one of the best dinners I have been to! So much laughter and ease! (and don’t think I didn’t notice the snort-laugh comment!)
    Now you know why I say to let Pat invite Regan… cause the answer is always YES! I love being with them.
    One more thing~ you are actually the best hostess because you care about hospitality first and foremost. I have so much to learn from you, my young friend! You really do look great for 40.

    • Anita Neuman

      February 26, 2014 at 7:32 AM

      See, with all those compliments, it kind of sounds like you want to come back…and then you end with that 40 comment and shoot yourself in the foot!

  3. Barb Vlasov

    February 26, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    My missionary cousin wisely observed that in North America we have lost the gift of hospitality to entertaining. To be hospitable you honour your guests presence, and enjoy them. To entertain means we need to show off our best. Thanks for posting, clever lady!

    • Anita Neuman

      February 26, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      Oh, I love that distinction! Thanks, Barb!

  4. Kathleen Wells

    March 1, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    Thank you for the “reminder”, Anita!! I remember one time years ago when we had LOTS of leftover food from an ISCF Area “Harvest Supper”, & had your family of 6 over after Church because we thought maybe 6 people didn’t get asked out as often. We have enjoyed your parents hospitality more than once! I have been kind of “Chicken” as a Pastor’s wife now, to do so…although we do “Host” dinners at the Church sometimes! You are RIGHT, it is the getting together that is important, & not what is served!! (I do hope we NEVER have a repeat of the “Fiasco” of having people over one Sunday after Church (with most of the guests there before me because I help “count”!!) with a stray dog in the house that turned out not to be housebroken….& picked a fight with one of our dogs, to the HORROR of a couple of our No Dog “Gentille” Ladies!!! We still wonder how they got to the other side of the table so fast!!) Live & Learn….& don’t give up!!!! God Bless you, Anita!!


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