Who has seen Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me? In fact, it would be easier to ask who hasn’t seen it. It’s only a small portion about the food, and the rest is about the mismatched strangers who form a quartet of amateur dinner party-throwers, their respective pretensions, likes and dislikes. Comfort entertainment really; a social echelon higher than The Jeremy Kyle Show.
For readers of this blog, it is not news that I am regular dinner partier – I try hold one formal gathering per year and other low-key events throughout. My upbringing, as well as spending the past three years and more in the catering industry, has taught me certain standards, regulations and etiquette by which to abide when it comes to entertaining and serving dinner. In this issue, I am giving out a set of Ten “Commandments” (excuse the cliché), or at least guidelines that might make some of the stupid mistakes we see on Come Dine With Me more avoidable.
DO issue your guests a preliminary menu a couple of weeks before the event – to find out in time about any allergies or aversions. Also, DO plan an alternative to each dish in case there are certain things your guests cannot/will not eat.
DO NOT presume that your guests will bring wine, have some aside just in case. A dinner party with no alcohol at all can be quite a dull affair.
DO exercise proper etiquette – place the cutlery, crockery and glassware in the correct positions on the table (as pictured). Guests use the cutlery from the outside inwards, so cutlery for the starters must be placed furthest from the plate – forks on the left, knives and/or soup spoons on the right – with the main course cutlery (usually bigger than that for the starters) closest to the plate. Dessert cutlery is placed above the plate, with the fork facing away from the others (i.e. the prongs pointing eastwards) and the spoon above it facing the opposite direction. Glassware is placed to the right-hand corner of each plate (i.e. north-eastwards), and side plates (if necessary) placed to the left-hand corner.
DO NOT serve appetisers (like those pictured) or nibbles before the meal. Unless you’re having a couple of cocktail hours prior to dinner, don’t fill your guests up on starchy canapés – they’ll only feel bad about not being able to finish their dinner.
DO make dishes in advance – cook whatever you can before your guests arrive so that you aren’t spending all evening in the kitchen – you deserve to socialise as well!
DO NOT try to be too clever – only make dishes that you are well practised in and/or feel comfortable making (for instance – soufflés (see pictured below) should be left to the very-well-versed professionals – and judging by the image, even they can’t always be trusted). The food and therefore the evening is more likely to be a success if you know what mistakes to avoid making.
DO provide some sort of entertainment for after the meal – no one is asking for hired performers or fire-eaters, even if you stick SingStar on after dinner, it’s something to keep the evening going after the food is done.
DO vary your menu – unless you’ve themed your evening and/or have based the food around a particular cuisine, e.g. Italian, French, etc., try to involve as many different flavours, colours and aromas across three courses as possible.
DO NOT mismatch your guests. It’s best for the atmosphere and overall running of the party if all your guests know each other, unless you’re having a lot of people for dinner.