The guide to hosting a dinner party
The festive season is a perfect time to host an evening at your home — Katy McGuinness speaks to the experts to find out how you can stand out from the crowd
This is the time of year when we are more likely to find ourselves inviting people over for dinner in our houses, and the prospect can strike terror into the hearts of inexperienced cooks and novice hosts. But it doesn’t have to be like that, if you heed the advice of some of the most experienced people in the restaurant business — whose job it is to make people feel at home and make sure that they have a good time. Working in the business doesn’t put restaurant manager Denise McBrien off entertaining at home, whenever she gets the chance. “At work I see how easily things can be done,” she says, “which makes the prospect of doing it at home less intimidating. And I am definitely in the right job, because I genuinely love hosting people; the only difference is that at work I get paid for it.”
Denise will be a familiar face from restaurants around Dublin (including Pichet, which she founded with chef, Stephen Gibson, and her ex-husband, Nick Munier) and London, and now runs front of house at The Old Spot on Bath Avenue, Dublin.
She says that fuss-free entertaining at home is a doddle when you know how. “The first thing I’d say is to keep your numbers manageable. Up to eight guests, I can manage myself, but if I’m having any more than eight at home, then I hire a chef and a waiter. Although I like going to big parties, I don’t like hosting them in my home — it feels like an invasion — so I would never have a really big gang. I prefer dinner around the table.
“I have two trestle tables that I bought from CaterHire that I set up when I am having people over. Most people, including me, don’t have room for a table for eight to be in place permanently. I have white table cloths from Penneys and I always put two on, one on top of the other — the table feels more luxurious that way.
“I light scented candles an hour before my guests arrive — French Linen Water from Max Benjamin is my favourite. I use it in the restaurant too. That way if I burn anything — my house is open-plan — they’ll disguise the smell. I buy white roses from M&S for the table — they cost €5.50 and last for two weeks; you definitely don’t have to spend a fortune on flowers. I have dimmers on my lights and use them, because women in particular like nice light. And I set the table with matching glassware and cutlery and use linen napkins. I think it’s important that it looks as if you have made an effort.”
When it comes to food, Denise says that she chooses dishes that don’t need much attention. “Guests in your home don’t expect restaurant-standard food,” she says, “but if you are a regular in a restaurant you can always buy eight portions of a starter, main or dessert from the restaurant and the restaurant will give you instructions as to how to heat and serve it. It happens all the time.
Cheers to the perfect evening: Denise McBrien pictured at The Old Spot in Dublin