Beat the January Blues… A Good Excuse for a Dinner Party!'s featured image

Winter is the perfect season for hosting a dinner party. A hearty meal helps chase away the cold weather blues and brightens up the dark nights. Make your guests feel special with their own place setting and let the laughter lighten a dreary evening. With just a little forward planning and forethought, MOLLY MAID, the residential cleaning professionals say you can create the perfect informal, hassle-free yet organized dinner party – Have fun!

Let the Bar Beckon

For immediate distraction, tempt arriving guests with a bar. A cart or a small table displaying the bar essentials (plus flowers and a perhaps a quirky conversation piece) is a friendly oasis, and it frees you up to scurry back to the kitchen if needed. Try to offer bar access from more than one side, to prevent build-up. Stock generously (chill white wine two hours in advance) so guests won't need to come looking for anything-ice, glassware, bottle opener, garnishes, but reserve some surface area for mixing drinks.

Wander Into the Kitchen

Be prepared for visitors. MOLLY MAID knows all too well that guests go where the action is – as they want to spend time with the host. Be ready with a hospitable setup ensuring that most dinner prep work is done in advance and that you have as clear a work surface as you can.

Prep for socializing. Dedicate an area of your kitchen counter to appetizers, so people know exactly where they can linger without being under your feet.

Welcome help. Reserve certain small jobs for early birds and those who shy away from small talk. Offer the sorts of tasks you could give to an older child perhaps: filling the water pitcher, putting buns in a basket, and taking dishes to the table.

Hide signs of stress. If anything makes a guest feel guiltier than watching the host do the washing up after the meal, it's watching her do them before the meal. If you're in a big rush, use the dishwasher as a hiding spot for dirty pots, even those you'll ultimately wash by hand!

Distribute the nibbles. Send the more elaborate appetizers that take up a lot of space out to the living room with a gregarious guest. Keep kitchen snacks compact so as not to crowd your busy surface. Go with the sort of low-key nibbles you would find in a classic bar: small bowls of nuts, chips and a dish of olives.

Move to the Dinner Table

Spirited conversation is a dinner party's bread and butter, but sometimes it needs a nudge without touching on any issues that are too contentious.

Make a scene. For easy 'wow' factor, use a white tablecloth, white dishes, and just one or two rich accent colours (reds, purples and greens work well as contrasting colours). Flowers and centrepieces should be tall enough to talk under or short enough to talk over.

A place (card) for everyone. Seating plans may seem formal, but they actually make guests more comfortable. Think about who would benefit from particular placement: small children (seat near a parent), couples (split them up to encourage mixing), and then fill in the blanks.

Set the sideboard. Turn a side table into a convenient, arm's reach refilling station. Load it with wine, a pitcher of water, spare napkins and spare utensils to save you leaving the table.

Prepare the main event in advance. Avoid a last minute panic by cooking at least one course, from start to finish, at leisure and ahead of time. If you want to do something complicated, that's definitely the one to choose, but make sure that you have practised before. Why not try some dishes that taste better if left for a day such as stews or casseroles. Consider each course and think about which bits you can do beforehand. If the answer's nothing, you might want to choose something else.

Make minis. Fend off “just a sliver” requests with smallish desserts to finish with such as mini cupcakes, brownies, or panna cotta for example.  Serve them on an attractive platter then guests can serve themselves, without comment or coaxing!

Be present. Each time you get up to fetch something, you essentially abandon your guests. A host's primary duty is not to feed people, but to spend time with them. Serve family-style, and never start cleaning up in the middle of the dinner party. Carrying plates to the kitchen is one thing; but once you turn on a tap, you've doused the festivity!

Coffee in the Living Room

Relocating for coffee lets guests stretch their legs and switch conversation partners.

Abandon the mess. Although there is a temptation to clear up, MOLLY MAID, the professional housecleaning experts, suggest that you walk away from the dinner detritus with everyone else. It makes guests feel relaxed and gives you some time to enjoy your guests after the meal.

Build a framework. Set up your dishes needed for coffee on a side table before the party. In the kitchen, fill a cream jug in the fridge and have the coffee machine ready for action. Be prepared for tea requests. To really spoil guests, serve fancy chocolates or salted caramels with teas and coffees.

Cheer at the finish line. If you're looking for that 'surprise element' serving Champagne after the meal can be a lovely gesture. It's one of those delightful little touches that people remember.

Most importantly, have fun!