What if I told you that the relaxed, calm, and satisfied feeling you have at the end of hosting dinner could be the same feelings you have before they arrive?
First, let me describe an ideal ending to a good meal with family and friends and a typical mood before they arrive. You know, when most hosts are already frazzled. I believe that both before and after can be happy and relaxed. Today, I will share the secret.
An ideal ending to a good meal.
- Lights are dim as a candle or two gives off a flickering glow
- Music is forgotten in the background yet still adds to the ambiance
- Water glasses have less important as guests sip on after-dinner drinks
- The conversation feels as though it is just taking off while slowing down
- Dinner dishes are cleared
- Guests still have access to water and little nibbles to reach for mindlessly
- Some may pair up and cozy up in the living room, leaning in for more connections
A typical mood before the guest arrives.
- Prep dishes in the sink are piling up
- Panic sets in after a glance at the clock
- The dining table still needs to be set
- Appetizers? What appetizers?
- Forget taking a shower at this point – time for the dry shampoo.
- Ding Dong! Awk! Why are they here early?
Everyone loves the first scenario where the guest is happy and satiated. However, I believe it IS possible to think through a few “end game strategies” so that your dinner begins as lovely as it ends.
Yes, it is possible!
We can do this!
Ready for it?
The secret to being relaxed before the guests arrive is to have everything ready an hour early.
Ready an hour early means:
- Appetizers and nibble plates are ready and waiting
- The table is set as a silent welcome
- Food is pre-made and waiting in warmers (oven, toaster oven, crock pots)
- Mood music is already setting the mood
- Candles are ready to be lit (come on, go ahead and burn them and enjoy)
- Prep dishes are cleaned and put away
Possible barriers and fixes.
Okay, okay, okay. I get it! It’s hard enough having people over, cooking, prepping, etc., and now I’m telling you to do this all ahead of time. What am I? Martha Stewart with a team of assistants?
I’m just saying that it’s possible.
What makes this seem impossible are challenging dishes, tricky techniques, and, yes, an overwhelming lack of time. You may be saying, “Don’t I get credit for having people over?” Absolutely!
Here are some possible barriers and fixes to achieving this relaxed, happy state:
- “There’s no way I can pre-cook everything.” > Plan a more straightforward meal where the main dishes and side dishes can easily be reheated.
- “I get home too late.” > Okay, you’ll need to have everything ready the day before. This means a table set, food ready to be heated, and dishes and trays ready.
- “I’m overwhelmed by cooking, prepping, AND making dessert.” > Dessert can ALWAYS be purchased. Please pick up a cake and put it in a pretty bowl; add ice cream and berries.
- “The house is a mess. The dishes are a mess. I’m a mess.” > You’re not a mess. Besides, if you’re getting things done a day or two ahead of time, you probably won’t have that desperate need for a last-minute shower. Dim the lights, light a candle, play happy mood music, and relaaaaax.
- “I can’t afford to host a dinner.” > Ask people to pitch in. Ask them to bring an appetizer, salad, or drink. We tend to overdo appetizers anyway, so keeping it simple is best.
The key is relaxing because being stressed out is never relaxing. I know because for yearssssss, I would be so unbelievably stressed out, hot, and sweaty, and my back would already ache from working in the kitchen for hours. Then the doorbell would ring, and I would think, “Is it over yet?”
No one likes that.
And it’s not fair to you! After all, YOU deserve to have some fun on this particular night!
If you need to remember everything you have read up to this point, do this: think through all the possible stress points and determine to tackle them all a day or two before and be one hundred percent ready an hour before the fun begins.
Ready to get started?
One last tip: Dennis and I always pour ourselves a “little beer” aperitif before guests arrive, and (weather permitting) we spend time outside before the first doorbell rings.
The two of us enjoy the moment before we enjoy the upcoming moments.
I hope you have many happy moments, serving and doting on family and friends over a meal. If you have any tips you want to add or another possible barrier that you want to bring up, please share in a comment.
Enjoy the ride.
Eat well, my friends.