I don’t know who needs to hear this, but no event is perfect. And perfection is NOT the goal.
When it comes to dinner parties or any at-home event, there are certainly ways to plan for success, and as a good project manager would do, to mitigate risk. Because there’s always something!
You made everything in advance, you gave yourself a buffer of time so you are not down to the wire as the doorbell rings and guests arrive, and still, you will inevitably encounter a surprise.
Guests break things, spill things, catch things on fire, and show up unannounced. It happens. And it helps to get some perspective. The “bad thing” is likely to become the “funny memory” that you’ll hold onto in five years’ time, too. Looking back, we humans like to remember what went wrong.
But how do you handle the stress in the moment? How do you keep that calm, cool, collected look as someone brings an unexpected +1 to the party, or as you realize you over-salted your entrée?
Here’s a dinner-party insurance plan
How to handle the unexpected, like a good project manager, managing risks while keeping calm.
- Buy extras. When I am grocery shopping for a party or dinner, I will almost always buy extra ingredients. I will buy double of some ingredients so that I can avoid the mad-dash to the store when I could otherwise be curling my hair. (Exaggeration, but still.) What do I get exactly? For dishes I have never made before, I will buy extra ingredients. They are the highest risk for flopping. I also typically buy extra fresh herbs and extra ingredients for my desserts, such as extra cream or buttermilk—just in case!
- Have a back-up. It’s helpful to have a baguette on hand—with bread in the house, you can make crostini or bruschetta or turn a soup into a more substantial dish. If your dessert is a risky proposition, have vanilla ice cream in the freezer as a back-up. Serve it with some olive oil or a splash of espresso, and no one will ever know that it was not the plan all along!
- Plan for surprises. In my experience, surprises most often come in two forms: broken things and extra people. For a seated dinner, I set aside an extra place setting, iron an extra napkin, and make extra favors—just in case. I find that people are unaccustomed to sit-down dinners and don’t realize that they need to respond with a headcount when accepting an invitation. It happens often, because we have become so casual about “gatherings,” and so here’s what I do to mitigate that risk. Whether someone tips water over the table or brings an extra guest, if you set out extras in advance, you will not have to scramble at the last minute.
What would you add to my list?