Planning in advance is key to a successful gourmet dinner club group.
Put some thought into making a list of potential participants. Which of your friends enjoy entertaining in their homes and would be willing to commit to an every-other-week, or once-a-month event? Three to four couples comprise the best number. If you include too many, you won’t find dates when everyone’s available. In addition, you won’t be able to seat everyone around your dining room table!
You can invite people who have never met before, but your guests should be compatible. You want a cohesive, committed group. Your club members may not see one another outside of dinner club, yet by coming together every other week – or once a month if that suits better – they will find themselves forming a bond, and will always have something to say to “catch up” from the last dinner club event.
Explain that the idea of a gourmet dinner club is to try new recipes – something outside of the normal, everyday family dinner. Don’t serve in home style; instead, fill the plates in the kitchen and add garnish to make a beautiful presentation. Bring the plates from the kitchen and set them in front of your guests once they are seated around the dining room table.
If you plan to serve alcohol (I can’t picture a dinner party without wine), be sure everyone is comfortable with imbibing and ask each couple to bring a bottle of wine to each event. This helps everyone to learn more about wine, plus it’s easier on the budget.
Invest in a good set of white dishes that can be mixed with a variety of placemats and napkins depending on the season and the party theme. Don’t spend money on disposable decorations, but make wise purchases on quality table coverings that are timeless and can be used for many years. Prepare centerpieces for a gorgeous table and organize a playlist of background music.
Don’t plan every minute of your party, but do plan your menu, theme, decorations and what you’ll wear in advance. Do your shopping well ahead of time (the morning of your party is too late), and if you can prepare any part of the menu in advance, by all means do so. Write down a timetable for each part of the event, including when every item on the menu goes in and comes out of the oven, when to pour water in the glasses, and when to turn the coffee maker on.
Set the assigned dates in advance for each hosting couple. If you have four couples, plan four to eight weeks of events in advance. A month before the last couple’s turn, schedule the next four to eight weeks out. That way, every couple has the dates on their calendars and can plan ahead. Don’t spend time during the dinner club with calendars and planning – that should take place in email communications or phone calls beforehand so that scheduling doesn’t take away from your evening. Send out an email reminder a week before your event. Adding the menu to the reminder helps guests to know which wine to bring to accompany the meal.
Be the first to host your event so everyone knows what to expect. What makes the party memorable is keeping the conversation moving (drinks help) and enjoying your own party since your guests will follow your lead.
If you add a theme to your dinner club event, remember it is a tool to help you pull your menu and decorations together and provide an ice-breaker for your guests.
Here are some theme suggestions to get you going:
Mad Men Theme (from the television show) – request your guests to dress in 1960s costumes. Serve the “Around the World” menu that Betty Draper presented for her dinner party. The “Around the World” party was popular in the 1960s and was made up of a variety of international dishes. Betty served rumaki (from Japan – an appetizer made with teriyaki sauce, garlic, ginger, chicken livers and water chestnuts), gazpacho (from Spain – a chilled soup), leg of lamb (from Holland) and egg noodles (from Germany). Serve cocktails with your appetizers.
James Bond party – invite everyone to come as their favorite James Bond movie character. Serve fondue for appetizers, and for the main course, a man’s meal – steak and potatoes. To impress your guests, end your meal with Bananas Foster, created in the 1950s when Ian Fleming wrote the first James Bond novel. It is a flaming dessert with caramelized banana slices in brown sugar and butter with rum poured over the top and set on fire (called flambé). CDs from the Bond movies or a compilation of 007 movie theme songs make a festive musical backdrop at the beginning of the party during appetizers. Of course, be sure to serve martinis.
Moving away from television and movies, you can host your own Murder Party. There are a variety of games you can purchase with clue books and character assignments. Prior to the party, send your guests a dossier about their character, complete with costume suggestions. At the party, distribute the clue booklets to each guest since they are all suspects in a murder mystery. Dinner courses can be arranged between the rounds of the game to give the suspects a break from guessing clues. The murderer is exposed over dessert. Each game has a theme (some are set in foreign countries),which lends itself to menu suggestions. For an Italian mafia murder mystery, for example, serve lasagna with tiramisu for dessert.