Tips & Tricks: hosting a dinner party for 8 in a tiny apartment

deboestudio_tips&tricksentertaining

On one hand, I produce events for a living and have planned many parties for others.  On the other hand, those parties are usually for a few hundred people and catered by someone else.

Intimate dinner parties in my own home with meals prepared by me?  Uh, yeah.  Not so much.

Of course,  I’ve been to many dinner parties in my day and have friends and family members who are extremely adept hosts/hostesses and have been a phenomenal example.  But, having never put much energy into learning to cook , I never put much energy into the idea of hosting people in my own home for dinner, either.

…Until I became married.  Wes and I enjoy learning to cook together. We enjoy socializing.  We also both enjoy decorating  and creating a ‘home’ together.  Entertaining as host and hostess should also be something we enjoy together too.

The primary thing holding us back hadn’t really been the fact that we’re not the best cooks. Instead,  the fact that we live in a relatively small apartment caused our hesitation.  We’re just two humans and a puppy. Our 2 bedroom/2bath apartment suits us just fine on a day to day basis, but we assumed it would be too small for 8 people to be comfortable hanging out in.

That is, until we shifted our perspective. Instead of looking at our space as too small, we looked at our space as an intimate setting perfect for a dinner party.  With a little advance prep work and planning, anything is possible!

This past weekend, we finally hosted our first dinner party for 6 of our dear friends.   I’ve taken note of a few tips and tricks that I think saved the day and allowed us to not only keep our cool under pressure, but to actually thoroughly enjoy ourselves too!

1.  Prepare Prepare Prepare take a breath and Prepare some more!

While preparation is necessary for any size party in any size home, thoughtful preparations becomes critically important in tight quarters.  Assume, during your planning/prep phase that you will NOT have any counter space whatsoever. You will want to do think like that because the truth is: you will NOT have any counter space whatsoever.  But that is ok, as long as you accept that as true and prepare in advance.

DeBoeStudio_setthetable

Setting the dinner table in advance has many benefits.  Most obvious, you won’t have to deal with this laborious task when you will already be trying to balance entertaining your guests and preparing your meal. You will be able to ensure your table will fit 8 guests and have enough time to troubleshoot this issue if it does not.  Setting the table in advance also prevents you from assuming you have enough dinnerware, glassware, flatware and server ware to accommodate your guests and meal.  This is an assumption you will not want to get wrong.

KEY TRICK: the tip is setting the table in advance. The trick is setting it 3 days in advance.  If you discover that of your only 8 water glasses, one is chipped you will have enough time to drive to the store and replace the chipped glass.  You won’t want to be running ANY errands, if you can avoid it, beyond the morning of your dinner party.

DeBoeStudio_measure

Remember what I said about having no counter space?  You won’t have it. But you’ll need it and wish you had it when you go to measure out and prep all the various stages of your meal.  In our tiny kitchen I would have absolutely lost my cool if I had to deal with going in and out of my drawers and fridge and cupboards and finding what I needed, measuring etc… during the party.

So instead, by the time guests arrived, every single thing that would need to be measured out at any point to finish any component of our menu had been pre-measured already.  EVERYTHING.

Our menu:

Ceasar salad with grilled shrimp – Lettuce was pre-washed, dried, put into serving bowl and refrigerated. The dressing pre-made with a whisk out on the counter ready for serving time.  The parmesan pre-measured. The shrimp washed, prepared, seasoned and set aside until time to add to grill pan.

Beef tenderloin with a gorgonzola cream sauce - the heavy cream was pre-measured, ready to go. The gorgonzola, parm, s&p all pre-measured and in their own bowl, covered and labeled, ready-to-go.

Grilled asparagus – pre-washed, trimmed, wrapped up and ready to go.

Mashed cauliflower – pre-washed, cut up, set aside, the water to boil, was pre-measured into the pot and ready to go, and the ingredients that I was using to season the cauliflower (parm, s&p, cream cheese, garlic) was not only pre-measured but pre-measured into two separate bowls as I was making so much of the cauliflower that I knew it would need to be processed in two separate batches.

Cakes for dessert – All the cake slices (I bought a variety from Cakes Royale in the West Side Market) were pre-cut and displayed on a cake plate and refrigerated until after dinner. (thank you Reena Goodwin for the picture!)

dessert

2.  Clean While You Go 

clean copy

After pre-measuring everything, we were sure to wash, dry and put away all those dishes and utensils  before our first guests arrived.  Doing this meant our dishwasher and sink would be empty and free to take on and deal with the overload of cooking pans, bowls, plates and utensils etc..once cooking (and then dinner itself) commenced.

In a tiny apartment cleaning while you go is absolutely imperative.  IMPERATIVE!! But don’t over do it.  You don’t want to miss out on spending quality time with your guests (after all that is what all this effort is for!).  Find the balance. Sneak in little quick bouts of cleaning here and there, you’ll be glad you did.  A tiny apartment becomes even TINIER when all the counter space is full of dirty pots and pans.

People hang out by the kitchen island and then around the dinner table and buffet when it’s time to eat.  When dinner is over and conversation at the table subsides,  people will gravitate back towards that kitchen island. It’s just a fact.  Prepare to be able to accommodate that by some quick stealthy bouts of cleaning.  Throw as much as you can in the dishwasher and START IT!  Then, if you need to, put the bigger pots and pans out of site (in the oven, in your garage, wherever…it’s just temporary as you can clean them when guests leave or in the AM).

KEY TRICK: CONSIDER THE GUEST EXPERIENCE FROM BEGINNING TO END 

I employ this trick with every event I’ve ever produced and in key planning and meetings with clients too.  Visualize the guest experience. Pretend you’re the guest.  Where did you park?  Was it obvious how to find the correct door to go through?  Was signage necessary?  Do you need to remove your shoes or is it ok to keep them on? How accessible are the beverages?  Self-serve or do I need to ask for it?  And so on and so on and so on….I do it repeatedly throughout the planning process of every event to do my best to prevent anything from falling between the proverbial cracks. 

3.  Do you have a partner?  Well then, work as partners in prepping and executing your next dinner party!

DeBoeStudio_entertaining

{Above photo compliments of Reena Goodwin}

Wes and I prepped everything in advance together.  We divided our responsibilities and determined in advance how we would execute our menu together efficiently.

Inevitably, things will go wrong…After planning and executing events, parties and weddings the last several years, I’ve come to just accept this as fact.

Yet, a little team work and preparation will allow you to react to things going wrong more easily and without totally losing your cool!

For example, we have an EXTREMELY sensitive fire alarm (our apartment once caught on fire causing it’s tenants (friends of ours) to lose everything they owned).  During the most critical phase of the evening (preparing the meal) the alarm went off no less than 10 times.  An extremely loud and persistent fire alarm is definitely a frazzling thing to deal with while already dealing with a frazzling thing like cooking a meal for 8 people!

Simultaneously, out of the 5 meat thermometers we own,  ZERO of them worked. This caused us some confusion and stress as we tried to determine the doneness of a 4 lb piece of meat that we had no previous experience cooking.  Throughout this time, Wes and I simply took care of business. We handled everything the best we could and at one point Wes said to me “I like this, I feel like we’ve really developed a nice cadence cooking together”.

He was right. We did and it helped us through the most stressful phase of the meal prep and ultimately towards continued enjoyment of a special evening to us.

Work together.

So those are my TOP 3 TIPS (and a few tricks) towards entertaining in a small space.  Below are a few of my favorite considerations for planning parties of any size:

Details

It’s easy to go overboard here.  Pinterest can be a great source for fun party detail ideas but don’t get carried away. A few simple, cheap, easy and coordinated details can go a long way to make your party feel well thought out and give it a nice touch of whimsy.

When considering details and decor for parties I think about the senses:  sight, smell and feel or texture.

details

Some of the details we used:

*We used washi tape to bind the napkin/flatware rolls and then echoed that same washi tape by creating washi tape flags on our drink stirrers.  Total cost: $0 (I just used one of the washi rolls I already own) and 30 minutes to create the flags.

*super textural and bright and colorful dyed Anastasia flowers for low centerpieces (I cut them short and used low flower boxes as the table was going to be very tight and full and thought they’d be more conversational this way).

*romantic and soft ranunculus and peonies for the more intimate areas of the apartment (back hallway, bathrooms and bedrooms).

bedroombathhallspace

Menu & Libations

menu

Once you know your food menu, it is a nice touch to consider a handful of drink options that coordinate nicely and/or offer a diversity of options.  Then, be sure these options are clear.  As people arrive, it may not be readily obvious what their drink choices are and they may just nervously default to what is in sight.  Even with home entertaining a written or printed sign or menu is not just a lovely detail but a functional one as well.

We recently took an old beat up steel industrial cart from Wes’ office and had it powder-coated to give the cart new life.  This worked perfectly as a bar cart where our drink options (while written on the chalkboard above) were also in view.

Other considerations: 4-legged family members

We LOVE our doggy, Bucci.  But, we also know that she is still a puppy and while we’ve trained her to do all kinds of fun things such as not going to the bathroom indoors, we have a long way to go with her still. We would have loved her company but the reality was that we simply knew we couldn’t splinter our attention that way.  She is still a puppy and definitely requires observation at the least and so I would recommend being realistic with yourself and what your capable of.  I knew that I would have a difficult time managing the meal with here there.

We are lucky enough to have family members that love Bucci nearly as much as we do. My brother, Bucci’s uncle, lives just minutes away and offered to babysit anytime.  We are no fools, so we took him up on it!

bucci

THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT:  Good Company

goodfriends

Last but certainly not least, the best ingredient to a successful dinner party in a tiny apartment or anywhere? GOOD FRIENDS!

Truth is, no matter what happens at your dinner party from your meat thermometer not working to the fire alarm’s incessant interruptions, all that really matters at the end of the day is having the good fortune to be surrounded by such loving and incredible friends.  In that department, Wes and I are pretty darn lucky.

xoxoxo

danielle

 



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