Some of our fondest memories are from social gatherings with good friends, good food and good times. Even if you're short on time you can still plan a great little dinner on the spur of the moment. It isn't hard to do. Here are ten tips to help you.
Tip 1–Know your Reason: You don't need a reason to get together on short notice, but most times you have one. Perhaps friends are in town for the day. Or you have a new HD television and want to share a movie with friends. Why should you know? You might want to postpone the dinner to have more time to plan it. But you don't have to delay. Impromptu dinners can make for the best of times.
Tip 2–Make It Informal, Simple and Small: I usually invite just friends with perhaps one or two new people I think fit in with the group. Plan on four to seven people (counting yourself) for a cozy gathering.
Tip 3–Do a list: Even if you use the back of an envelope write down what you need to do. Include memory joggers. With so little time you have to schedule and use it wisely
Tip 4–Limit the Errands You Run: Get groceries and supplies (including cleaning supplies) from a combination grocery and department store. If your meal is from a restaurant, phone in your order to be ready an hour before your guests arrive. Have it delivered only if service is reliable and timely. Otherwise, pick it up. Check that it's complete, but leave it closed until you are ready to serve.
Tip 5–Make Sure You have Enough Dinnerware: If not, pick up what you need with your groceries. Good quality paper plates, platters and plastic utensils are fine. Get the finest paper napkins you can. Your guests will appreciate it. I use the dinner size for meals and the luncheon size folded in half for bathroom guest towels.
Tip 6–Do not Fret If Your Home isn't in Perfect Shape: You're doing this on the spur of the moment, so your home may not be as organized and spotless as you would like. Do the college dorm stunt: put everything in closets. Vacuum, dust and fluff. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher or in closed cabinets. But make sure to thoroughly clean the powder room or bathroom. Provide amenities: liquid soap, guest towels, toilet paper and a small waste basket. Before guests arrive, add an electric air freshener set on low. Spray your entire home with a mildly scented air freshener. Then close doors to off limit rooms.
Tip 7–Serve a Simple Meal: I set a simple table and serve meals that require little work or attention. (You'll need that time for other tasks.) Below are two menus I often use but feel free to develop your own.
Menu 1: Serve fried or grilled chicken from your favorite restaurant (allow 2-3 pieces per guest) with rolls or biscuits from there or a grocery store bakery (allow one dozen per 7 to 8 guests). Serve a comfort food like macaroni and cheese. It works well with chicken. I buy frozen family trays and add extra cheese (4 to 6 ounces shredded) after I bake them. Time them to be done thirty minutes before serving but keep them covered. Mixed greens with vegetables like carrots, spinach and radishes are readily available. Add your favorite chopped vegetables (tomatoes, onions, green peppers) from the salad bar or store deli. Serve with a variety of dressings. Serve dessert with coffee and tea. If the dinner is substantial, serve a light dessert like ice cream. If the dinner is light, serve something substantial.
Menu 2 Chinese Carry-Out: I purchase complete dinners for four or eight. I always order extra egg rolls and sauces (but I also keep sauces on hand.). I serve heavier desserts with this menu. Nice extras: fortune cookies are amusing and delivery is usually reliable.
Tip 8–Do not Sweat Cleanup: There should be little of it. I wait until guest leave and clean up quickly.
Tip 9–Complete your Preparations Early: Finish your preparations (including setting your table) at least thirty minutes before guests arrive. During that time take a quick shower, change into something comfortable, start your music and light your candles.
Tip 10–Relax and Enjoy your Friends: Last minute dinners can make for the best of times for everyone. So cherish them and their memories.