Dinner parties are over. As the Daily Telegraph reported last week, 4 out of 10 Britons are giving up on dinner parties because they are a drain on our time, and our bank balances.
In a way, it’s not that surprising. People are sick of being stuck in the kitchen perfecting their twice-baked soufflés or their tangy lemon tarts, and then ending up tired, stressed and out of pocket. Not to mention the washing up. But this news made me very sad. I love dinner parties. Sitting around with friends or family, eating, drinking and being merry. What could be better?
An ordinary dinner party is expensive, and it is tiring. But when the going gets tough, it doesn't mean giving up. We just need to get inventive – and find ways to keep having fun in spite of it all. Here are my creative solutions to keep being the host with the most – without breaking the bank. Get in touch with your own suggestions!
The Rise of the Supper Club
Supper clubs date back to 1930s America, but over the past few years they have had a revolution in the UK, as a way to keep eating out despite the recession. They are hosted by individuals, usually in their living rooms, and they are like a relaxed restaurant; you pay a ‘donation’ for a set meal and bring your own wine. The host tends to seat guests with people they don’t know, so it has become a popular way to find love as well as save money.
In this intimate environment (and with a bottle of wine per person) these supper clubs often become a raucous affair. In prohibition-era America, the clubs went out of favour because they became seen as all-night destinations where people went to break the law and get drunk. Sounds like fun!
Supper clubs are a great solution for the hard-up host, because they are chance to actually make money out of your cookery skills. They can be challenging, but if you think you're up to it then check out this guide by informal dining pioneer Ms. Marmite Lover who offers advice to guests as well as hosts.
Try a Semi-Supper Club
This is my version of the supper club, as it is the perfect solution for people who love to cook but don’t fancy inviting strangers to have dinner in their front room.
Do as I did: Plan a dinner party, and warn people in advance that you're going to charge them five or ten pounds, but in exchange you will provide an amazing feast.
When I told my ten chosen friends the plan, their initial reaction was a bit nervous (‘Wait, so you’re having us to dinner, but we have to pay?’) but everyone soon got very enthusiastic.
I found the whole experience really enjoyable (promise!) The knowledge that I was being paid something to cook made me pull out all the stops. You might not be charging a lot, but you can’t ask your friends to pay to come for dinner and serve them cottage pie.
Dinner for ten, especially in a kitchen as small as mine, requires proper preparation. I made a pudding that could sit in the fridge and a main course that could sit in the oven – so I could focus on the starter and have fun.
And it was lots of fun. It had the relaxed atmosphere of a dinner party, without any resentment. The fact that everyone was contributing to the cost made it more of an event, and strangely made people even more generous than usual – laying the table, pouring the drinks, even helping with the washing up!
The money was handed over right at the beginning (I’d recommend having a box or jar so people can just pop it in) and after that it wasn’t an issue, it just seemed to make people feel better – and made my bank balance a heck of a lot healthier.
How about a Pot Luck Party?
I understand that people aren’t just put off dinner parties by the money. Some people dread the cooking as much as (if not more than) the cost. If this is you, then ‘pot luck’ is the perfect solution.
This has been a huge trend in America for a long time. Rather than bringing a few dollars, the guests bring a dish – and so the burden of cooking is shared. The host provides the location, a dish and often a theme (‘Moroccan’ for example) and the guests do the rest. One nice idea is that the host might cook a centrepiece – a joint or a pie – and everyone else does the starters, the sides and the pudding.
All the fun and food of a dinner party, but sharing out the faff between everyone.
Britain, don’t give up on the dinner party! If you’re creative you can avoid the pitfalls of being the perfect host. Get in touch with your own suggestions or try one of our solutions in our Simple Dinners recipe collection.
"People are sick of being stuck in the kitchen for hours perfecting their twice-baked soufflés and their tangy lemon tarts, and then ending up tired, stressed and out of pocket"