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Serving A Crowd: Host a Fall Dinner Party

Serving A Crowd: Host a Fall Dinner Party

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Making components ahead of time and dividing cooking duties can reduce the stress of cooking for a large group.

Problem: A Maine reader frets about preparing supper for a large group.

Strategy: Save time and reduce stress with uncomplicated dishes that feature make-ahead components.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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When Bob and Cindy Gurry left their fast-paced, 70-hour-a-week city jobs in Massachusetts a year ago and moved their family of four to the small seaside town of Scarborough, Maine, it meant they'd finally have time for entertaining. Bob, 40, says he envisioned hosting dinner parties and inviting eight or 10 of his new neighbors. But there's one hurdle. "Cooking for a big crowd is a little intimidating," he admits. Cindy, 35, is willing to share cooking duties, but the couple needs advice about how to manage meals for large groups.

To ensure the Gurrys' success, we offer a few key strategies: Choose straightforward recipes, prep the ingredients in advance, and divide cooking duties. This efficient, no-fuss approach allows the couple to throw dinner parties they'll be sure to enjoy as much as their guests.

Crowd control

Keep it simple. Elaborate dishes are impressive, but they often require lots of prep time, particularly when you're cooking for 10 or more. Stick to recipes with relatively few components or streamlined preparations you can handle easily.

Opt for one-dish meals like casseroles, stews, or main-dish salads. Eliminating side dishes wherever possible reduces your workload.

Showcase a few high-quality ingredients. You don't need to spend lavishly or prepare fancy recipes to impress guests if your components are stellar. Buy fresh wild salmon for plank-grilled fillets, for instance, or ripe farmers' market produce for a simple mixed vegetable salad.

Work in advance, preparing a salad, dessert, or components of the main course. The goal is to minimize active cooking time after guests arrive. In colder months, offer braised dishes and slow-roasted meats, which you can put in the oven earlier in the day, then simply serve when ready.

Divvy up the duties. When some foods are grilled and others are cooked on the stovetop, a couple can share the cooking responsibilities. This way, food prep is faster and neither partner is overwhelmed.

Let guests help. Consider compose-it-yourself dishes like tostadas or chili with various toppings so guests serve themselves.

How to Prepare a Contactless Meal for an Outdoor Party

From choosing containers for a single-serve meal to the best drinks to have on hand, a professional caterer shares her tips.

&aposTis the season for outdoor entertaining, and if you aren&apost already thinking about single-serving menus, now&aposs the time to do so. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, safely hosting guests is of the utmost importance. "Whether it&aposs in the form of personal picnic baskets or designated containers with single portions of food, a contactless (or single-serving) menu means that guests will have their own individual setup in terms food, drink, dishes, and utensils," explains professional caterer Annie Campbell. "You&aposll need to choose dishes that can be prepared and packaged well in advance, and at served room temperature."

Along with sparing you from the hassle of serving food buffet style (and making your guests more comfortable in the age of the coronavirus), Campbell says employing a single-serving menu at an outdoor celebration allows you to be more present, too. "It takes the awkwardness out of having to navigate each step of the party," she explains. "If everything is set up safely in advance, you can jump to the main event: great food, great conversation, and hopefully some much needed laughter." Curious how you can prepare a contactless menu for your next backyard party? Campbell&aposs advice makes the process simple.

How to Host a Fall Dinner Party

Hosting a fall dinner party? We got some autumn entertaining tips from an expert and scoured the web for our favorite fall dinnerware and table linens—so you can pull off a festive fall get-together without stressing out about it. And yes, there are ideas about what food to serve too.

A delicious meal is the most important aspect for obvious reasons (well, besides the company and camaraderie), but a beautiful, seasonally decorated dinner table sets the vibe for the evening—and a few thoughtful touches can make whatever you’re serving seem even more special.

So invite a few friends or family members over some fall night, and surprise them with your gorgeous table. But don’t go too crazy here. Hold off shelling out your dough on some Waterford crystal (by all means, put it on your Christmas list if you’re feeling lucky). Coordinate a few key pieces to keep it autumnal and extend that attention to the food as well, and you’ll have an evening to remember.

Bobby Flay's Party Plan

Flay's love of food comes through when he's talking about it or eating it, and most especially when he's cooking it &mdash that's what has made the 47-year-old New Yorker one of the best-known and best-loved chefs on TV. Since four of his 11 top-selling cookbooks are dedicated to the thrill of the grill, it's easy to guess this season is prime time for prepping simple yet absolutely spectacular meals for friends and family. And, good guy that he is, he's eager to share his best tips for summer entertaining with Good Housekeeping readers.

Each summer weekend, Flay leaves his bustling food empire in Manhattan behind and heads to the Hamptons, where he and his wife, actress Stephanie March (best known for her role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot), have built an environmentally friendly cedar-shingled retreat. An imposing mansion was never in their plans instead, it's a place where the living is easy. "Everyone who visits says, 'Wow, this is the most comfortable house I've ever been in,' " he reports with pride.

On these relaxed weekends, the celebrity chef becomes a typical husband and father. OK, maybe with one exception &mdash while most people would prefer not to work on their days off, Flay just can't stay out of the kitchen. "I know it's very unusual for someone to say that what he does for a profession is also what he does to relax," says Flay, "but I absolutely lovecooking."

So, after a morning workout to clear his head and stay fit (he has run three New York City marathons and is training for a triathlon with Today show anchor Natalie Morales), Flay heads straight for the kitchen. "My whole day is glued together by food," he says. If Texan-born March wakes up craving her favorite Southern breakfast, Flay gets to work making biscuits, gravy, and sausage. If Sophie, his 16-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, has a slumber party, he whips up a brunch buffet (pancakes, eggs and bacon &mdash the works) the next morning for the kids. All the while, he's thinking about soaking wood chips, firing up the grill, and deciding what's for lunch: grilled pizza, or maybe fish tacos?

But the action really starts when Flay makes plans for dinner. The Hamptons may be famous for glitzy celebrity parties, but Flay is happiest when the festivities are at his house and the dress code is swimsuits and sunblock, with him manning the grill.

Flay's Foolproof Party Plan

First and foremost, choose a theme, Flay advises. Though he could easily wing it when guests are heading his way, he likes to give his get-togethers a reason for being. "Creating a theme is really important," he says. "It gets people excited, and it gives me an idea of things to go with the main dishes, like sides, cocktails, and wines. So I don't just think, I'm going to do a chicken dish. I think, I want to make an Argentinean meal. With all of our great information access, I can research it."

Flay will start with the cornerstone of a particular cuisine &mdash in this case, chimichurri, Argentina's signature herb-based sauce. "What do they use the sauce on? Beef, pork, and sausage. And what kinds of side dishes do people in Argentina serve? Roasted potatoes and something called provoleta, which is grilled provolone cheese that could be an hors d'oeuvre, with some bread or chips to go with it. All of a sudden," says Flay, beaming at the thought of putting together a meal, "you start seeing the menu come together."

The recipes he shared with GH don't hail from South America. They are summer favorites rooted squarely in U.S. soil &mdash fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, and sliced watermelon &mdash all made with his trademark big, bold flavors and an ease of preparation that makes them party-perfect. When you make these, feel free to tell guests you're serving Bobby Flay's cookout classics.

With a theme in place, Flay's next move is to grab pencil and paper: "I'm a big 'list person.' I make one for shopping and one for prioritizing &mdash from what can be done ahead of time to what can be left for the end, right before the guests arrive." Specifically, that means running through the recipes and meal prep in advance and working backward from the moment the first guest is bound to ring the doorbell, so the step-by-steps are clear. Another smart idea: Flay tapes the priorities list to the cupboard so he can check it as he works and course-correct as needed.

As he does his prep work, Flay's Hamptons house is filled with the sounds of the hip-hop and R&B music he loves. (His wife insists on swapping in a softer soundtrack, like Coldplay, once guests are due to arrive.) Usually on his pre-party agenda: making sauces and rubs, and precooking corn on the cob until it's just cooked &mdash then he'll set it aside to be grilled later. He'll also whip up potato salad: "Actually, sometimes I make a couple of different kinds [see his blue cheese-vinaigrette version]. One might be a whole-grain-mustard-and-scallion potato salad. I'll also do a Southwestern-style kind that has a mayonnaise-based dressing and some chiles, cilantro, and lime juice. But the key to making any potato salad is that whatever you're going to dress it in, you have to have it ready so when the potatoes are done cooking, you can dress them while they're hot. That's the key to life in the potato-salad world. Otherwise, if they're cold, they repel it &mdash it's almost like the potatoes are here, and the dressing is over there!"

Mixing drinks is another pre-guest-arrival activity Flay is adamant that a host shouldn't also play bartender at a get-together. "Make pitchers of drinks instead of individual cocktails," he advises, so guests can help themselves. "But don't add ice that will water the mix down," he says. Instead, put out a bucket of ice near the glassware just before your guests are due.

Sangria is a favorite at Flay's dinner parties. "I like making it with rosé," he says, "because it goes with almost any grilled food &mdash and besides, who doesn't love a pink drink?" (He uses red wine, though, for the Sangria Ice Pops.) Or, depending on the evening's theme, Flay will serve up his super-simple signature margaritas. "They're crisp and clean and taste exactly like the three ingredients I use," he says. "The recipe is two parts tequila, one part triple sec, and one part freshly squeezed lime juice &mdash that's it!"

All About Appetizers

Flay says you don't want to be in the kitchen baking or sautéing appetizers when you could be out chatting with your friends, so he's a big advocate of serving cold hors d'oeuvres. They can be made ahead of time, kept refrigerated, and put out the moment guests come over. Flay personally is mad about chilled seafood, such as oysters, clams, and boiled shrimp, with lots of different sauces &mdash but for those with simpler tastes (or more modest budgets), there are plenty of other options. "I'm a lover of Southwestern ingredients, so there's always some kind of avocado concoction, whether straight-up guacamole or some kind of relish," says Flay. "I made 'avocado-chickpea smash' for an Access Hollywood cooking segment with Katharine McPhee, from the TV show Smash. That guacamole-hummus mix is going to be served in my house all the time now."

His wife often requests queso, which Flay describes as a cheese sauce. He says March grew up on a Velveeta-and-Ro-Tel (canned cooked chile peppers and tomatoes) mixture, but he makes it his way: "I just can't do it her way. So I take chiles and onions, and I roast and cook them, adding some garlic. Then I do my own cheese sauce, and I make queso out of it. That's really good to have with tortilla chips and pita chips."

The Main Event, Made Easy

For the entrée, Flay will aim for dishes he describes as "bold, risky, and impactful."

Built into these delicious dishes is one of Flay's ultimate time-savers and stress-reducers: making the meal a buffet. "I'm big on platters and serving everything family-style," he says. "Otherwise, it's like an assembly line, and not everyone's tastes are the same. With platters, guests can take what they want." Flay's recipes for skirt steak and fried chicken are perfect examples of this simple-to-serve party fare. Another option, says Flay, is to think of big cuts of meat that can be carved, such as leg of lamb, the cooking of which is so much easier than tending to individual chops. Or, try a tenderloin &mdash you can save the smaller cuts of meat for date-night dinners.

There is actually one Flay dish that bridges the gap between dinner for two and dinner for 10. "Stephanie has this crazy recipe for filet mignon that works so well," he says. "It was the most requested recipe on that season of my show Boy Meets Grill." March marinates the filet and broils it under a high heat for about 10 minutes. Then she wraps it in foil and allows it to sit for 45 minutes. "It comes out spot-on perfect," Flay says with admiration. "Stephanie makes that for my birthday every year." And it will wow a crowd as well. (Interestingly, one of the couple's first date-night dinners cooked by Flay didn't turn out quite so auspiciously. The Iron Chef roasted a chicken, but &mdash distracted by March's charms &mdash he somehow allowed the bird to go up in flames.)

Cook Within Your Range

It's standard advice not to prepare new-to-you dishes for a party, but Flay puts his own spin on it: "Do make one dish that's slightly challenging, so you can improve, but cook within your range, so it's enjoyable."

So while the main course may involve a new recipe, side dishes can be kept simpler. Even Flay, who trained at New York City's famed French Culinary Institute, doesn't see the need to get too fancy for guests &mdash especially when he's working with summer produce at the peak of its flavor. His take on tomato salad is a perfect example. "I'll go shopping and buy whatever tomatoes are in season at that moment, like heirloom, beefsteak, or cherry tomatoes," he says. "I just put a whole bunch of them in a bowl tear up some fresh herbs and add vinegar, a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, some cracked black pepper, and some cheese, like blue, feta, or goat &mdash something crumbly and a little dry." Couldn't be easier, tastier, or healthier, which is something he takes into consideration when cooking. Not drenching food in butter, oil, and sauces has helped keep Flay one of the fittest chefs around. "You can eat well and eat plenty, but make good choices," he says.

10 Reasons You Should Host a Potluck

It's your turn. You've been to quite a few dinner parties, but you haven't given one yourself. Or maybe the kids' soccer team, your church group or book club wants to have a get-together with a meal -- and you're in charge. If you're on the spot for a gathering involving food, don't despair. There's a way to have a dinner party that's fun and filling without breaking the bank or tearing your hair out. It's the old-fashioned potluck dinner.

Potlucks weren't always the group efforts they are now. The dictionary tells us that the word "potluck" has two meanings, both reaching back into history. One has to do with a traveler or other unexpected guest showing up at mealtime and sharing whatever's in the cooking pot. The other -- the one we know today -- involves people bringing various dishes to a communal meal, and everyone sharing in the luck of whatever is provided. Potlucks developed for practical reasons -- think of everybody bringing a dish or two to a funeral, a barn raising or a church dinner on the grounds. The result is a varied, ample buffet.

Not convinced? Read on for plenty of reasons in favor of a potluck.

10: You're off the Hook as Cook

The idea of a potluck is that everybody brings a dish that can feed several people. As host, your jobs are to invite, organize and provide the basic necessities such as plates, flatware, napkins and glasses. Unless you ask someone to bring drinks, you'll need to serve them. And you'll want to add your food to the "pot," just as your guests do.

There are various ways to organize a potluck. Some people assign guests dishes, or at least categories, such as salad, vegetable, bread or dessert. Others just trust luck. If you're worried about having a sufficient main dish, you might want to provide ample amounts of, say, fried chicken, or a sizable roast or a main-dish casserole. Some people grill a meat and let everybody else bring the side dishes. In any case, you should not feel responsible for a lot of cooking.

But if you've been wanting to try a new dish, now's a good time. Read why on the next page.

Harvest Party Table Setting

Set the Stage with Natural Elements

Setting the table is your chance to set the scene and mood for your party. I wanted my dinner to be special, but relaxed and casual, as well. It features beautiful seasonal produce in its natural form with little alteration — allowing the true beauty of these pumpkins and gourds to shine. Along with the pumpkins straight from the farm, the setting includes super-tall, elegant taper candles — elegant and rustic elements — my favorite combination. A centerpiece made of pumpkins, squash and gourds versus a formal floral design says all of the right things about my party.

As the harvest season is all about the celebration of bounty, I wanted the table to feel full and plentiful. With so many colors and shapes to choose from, it is easy to get overwhelmed and end up with a hodgepodge result. I recommend that you pick 2 or 3 complementary colors to avoid making the table setting too busy. I selected gourds that were all muted in color – pale butternut, green-blues and creamy white, then added pops of red-orange for contrast.

What You’ll Need:

  • Linen runner: If you don’t have one, you can use a piece of burlap or brown kraft paper, or create a runner out of a drapery panel folded in half, like I did.
  • 2 or 3 medium blue pumpkins: If you are seating 6, place 2 medium pumpkins down the middle of the table, placing them in the gaps between the place settings. If you are serving 8, use 3 pumpkins, placing them in the space between the place settings.
  • 8 to 10 small gourds and squash: Use a variety of sizes, shapes and colors (sticking to your coordinated palette), and lay them evenly down the center of the table in groups of 3 or 4.
  • 2 branches (I used pear berry branches): Weave branches in through the pumpkins and gourds, creating a natural flow down the table. The branches help to visually pull all the elements together, creating a cohesive look.
  • 6 mini pumpkins: Create candle holders by coring out the center of mini pumpkins. This is an inexpensive way to make candle holders if you don’t own any. For step-by-step instructions, visit the “How to Create a Mini Pumpkin Candle Holder” post on Everyday Occasions by Jenny Steffens Hobick .
  • 6 taper candles: I used ivory, but a soft toffee or fawn-colored candle would look great with this, too.
  • 6 white pantry plates: I like to use solid white plates when I am using a large variety of colors on the table. The white helps to ground the table and provides some much-needed simplicity to the bountiful centerpiece.
  • 6 white hemstitched linen napkins: Let the centerpiece be the center of attention. These hemstitched linen napkins are luxurious, but in a subtle classic way.

Harvest Party Menu

Not only should your table reflect the bounty of the season, but your menu should, too. When you’re at the farmers’ market selecting your centerpiece pumpkins, ask around for great recipes that utilize the season’s best. The menu I’ve compiled below is a balance of indulgent, fresh and flavorful seasonal recipes.

Tips for Hosting a Great Dinner Party

Entertaining your friends for dinner can seem more challenging than it needs to be. With these helpful tips, you’ll be able to host a fall harvest dinner party with ease … and have a great time, too!

Make the House Buzz

Have you ever been the first to arrive at a party? If the house is quiet and the lights are bright, it doesn’t quite feel like a party. I like to have the lights low, candles lit, fun music going and a “help yourself” cocktail station ready to go 30 minutes before the party begins. Getting everything set out early allows me to wind down before anyone arrives and gives me a chance to feel like a guest at my own party. There is nothing worse than arriving when the hostess is frantically dusting the mantle and juggling pots and pans in the kitchen.

Cocktails, Then Wine

I like to start a party off with a fun festive drink for cocktail hour, then serve wine at dinner. I hardly ever offer a full bar to my guests – it is too much to put together for a small gathering. If you offer someone a tasty seasonal drink when they walk in the door, it gives you another opportunity to set the mood for the evening. For the harvest party, I recommend serving Spiked Mulled Cider and a local Pumpkin Beer to kick off the night.

Leave the Dishes!

After dinner, so many times my guests offer to help with the dishes … no way! No one really wants to do dishes, not even me. I encourage my guests to leave their plates right where they are — “don’t worry about the dishes, let’s have dessert!” — and we all move into the most comfortable room in the house (perhaps around a fire). I like to pre-set this chosen, comfortable area with coffee or an after-dinner cocktail and dessert.

If I want the evening to last forever, I’ll put out a big tray that is full of chocolate-covered fruit, cookies, candies and caramels that can be continuously nibbled on as the evening goes late into the night. This open-ended dessert invites guests to get comfortable and help themselves. Easy conversation and stories are certain to follow.

About the author: Jenny Steffens Hobick, a home entertaining and lifestyle blogger, makes entertaining accessible and enjoyable… for the hosts and guests. As a former caterer and party planner, Jenny shares her secrets to hosting casual and elegant parties. From table settings to recipes, her creative tips and resourceful methods inspire her readers to make Everyday Occasions special – whether it be a family style feast, elegant cocktail party or intimate dinner for two. Jenny believes that entertaining at its best is done often, with an effortless and easy style.

How to Host an Unforgettable Family-Style Dinner Party

Hello, hello! Lauren Kelp here from your favorite thoughtful entertaining website. If you’ve been following along on any of our posts over here on the lovely Kendall-Jackson blog, you know that we love to entertain. We love any excuse for a good dinner party, relish an easy recipe that allows us to spend more time with friends, and have a particular penchant for throwing fabulous get-togethers that won’t break the bank.

We love dinner parties so much that we decided to travel around the country & host fun pop-up dinners for people doing cool things in their community. Imagine hosting a get-together for your best friends just because! Well, my friend, I am here to convince you that this weekend is your time to shine because we are going to throw you a family-style dinner party! You’ll find tips, tricks, and a few tried and true tidbits to help get your party pants on & throw the best family-style dinner party there ever was.

Summertime is basically here & everyone is itching to sit outside, drink wine on the porch with friends, and have a lazy evening chatting and catching up. What could possibly sound better than that? Why not get everyone together and have this fun hang out at your place?


When hosting a family-style dinner party, or even a dinner party for a larger crowd, it’s best to pick a theme and stick with it. You can go local & choose to only use ingredients that are seasonal, or maybe something more broad like ‘Italian’ food – either way, it helps keep you on track and if people want to bring something, you’ve got guidelines to work with.

The key is to find dishes that yield a lot & don’t have you slaving away in the kitchen. I love a big hearty salad, a nice cold pasta dish that you can make earlier in the day, and a great meat dish that cooks itself while you’re hanging out. If you are tight for space, try out a meat dish that requires a crockpot (like pulled pork!) instead of the grill.


Now it’s time to get serious! You’ve got your menu hashed out, now it’s time to pick a date & gather up some friends. If you are looking to host 5-10 people, I think a group text is great. Anything bigger than that requires an email, a fun e-vite, or (call me crazy) a Facebook event.

I love a big dinner party (we host 40 people regularly!) but when you start to get upwards of 15 people it’s nice to get have an easy way to monitor RSVPs (easy way of getting a good head-count) plus the added bonus of having your invite populate straight to your guests calendar is a major win.

PRO TIP: Depending on your guests, someone out of your group will ask what they can bring. You can either address this question in your email/text/Facebook event, such as:

We need people to bring these things, sign up if you want:

2 Appetizers

Fresh bread


Another option is to tell your guests you are serving a family-style dinner with an Italian theme, so encourage everyone to bring their favorite bottle of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc or Kendall-Jackson AVANT Red Blend.


This should come as no surprise, but setting the table is my favorite part! Plus, it’s fantastically easy when you are hosting a family-style dinner. Find wherever you are going to have your meal (porch, dinner table, etc.) and set your table around the serving dishes.

Grab the best serving dishes for your menu (big bowl for pasta, tray for your corn on the cob, etc.) and place them down the center of your table like a runner. Now, once’ you’ve got your platters down, you can set the rest of the table. This ensures there is enough space for food & allows for people to easily pass dishes and get seconds.

Place some candles or flower buds in little gaps to fill in the holes & add some texture to the table, put a water carafe or two on the table so people can serve themselves, and most importantly, open a few bottles of wine and have them sitting on the table. This, just like the food, allows people to serve themselves and try new wines!

Okay, my friends – what do you think? Inspired to throw a family-style gathering this weekend? The make-ahead menu is simple, your friends help with the clean up, and everyone goes home happy – it’s the makings for a perfect summertime get together!

For wine and food pairing tips, visit the Entertaining section of our website.

Easy Tartufo

End the feast with a cool treat to provide contrast to a hearty, warm buffet. Tartufo is an Italian frozen dessert, an ice cream ball surrounding a dried fruit center that is coated in melted chocolate. These tartufos have the added surprise of a crushed cookies layer. Serve a couple of these sweet Italian ice cream balls in a dessert dish, topped with some whipped cream, and sprinkled with cocoa powder.


You’re already rearranging your home, so why not go all the way and create a gorgeous tablescape as well? For my dinner parties, I make one long rectangular table by placing a square folding table next to my regular dining table. The height is slightly off, but no one ever mentions it. Why? Because I’ve covered the tables with one long tablecloth and set the table beautifully with flowers, candles, cloth napkins, and place cards.

You can also make the dinner party a themed event to help inform your decorations and arrangements. The first big dinner I threw was Moroccan-themed. I didn’t have a table that fit 14, so I made an area of the floor the table and had everyone sit on pillows.

1. Make Your Own Pizzas

Swing by your local pizza parlor or supermarket, and grab several batches of pre-made pizza dough, estimating about 10 ounces per person for a 12-inch pie each. Then mix up our Best Marinara Sauce Yet, and set out an array of toppings in bowls, such as chopped bell peppers, olives, caramelized onions, saut mushrooms, pepperoni, cooked sausage, fresh herbs, fresh mozzarella, shredded cheese, and olive oil. Allow everyone to play pizzaiolo for the evening and assemble their own single-serving pie. Then cook each on a pizza stone in the oven, or for summer suppers, try baking them on a grill.