We’ve partnered with Stella Artois to host Genius Recipes dinners in some of our favorite cities across the country. Today we're sharing tips for hosting when you aren't in your own space—and how to make it feel like a home-away-from-home.
When we decided to dream up a dinner series with Stella Artois to celebrate the art of bringing people together, our minds (and appetites) immediately went to our eponymous Genius Recipes column for inspiration.
And the genius behind a mess of kale and white beans or a humble bunch of carrots lies not only in the textures and flavors you can coax out of them with a recipe, but in the techniques you use to do so. And in many cases, how adaptable they are for serving four people—or twenty.
The first Genius Recipes dinner was held in San Francisco, where the menu, table, and atmosphere we planned were informed by our own successes (and mishaps) in hosting. Here are a few of the lessons we learned along the way, and tips on how to throw a dinner party—that people will actually remember—when you're hosting dinner somewhere other than your home:
The people make the party.
First things first: The most important piece of a dinner party is the mix of people. Try going for an eclectic invite list: it will keep conversation going in different directions. It's refreshing sitting next to someone who's in a different line of work, or active in areas outside of your own interests.
Keep the food simple and local, and serve it with a crowd in mind.
Serving tried and true recipes that are comfortable to both eat and share—is important if you are looking for an intimate evening—even when you are hosting away from home. Laying out hors d’oeuvres for cocktail hour? Mess things up a bit before others arrive (i.e. eat some of the cheese, or a few crostini, so no one is afraid to take the first bite).
Sharing dishes family-style works best for larger gatherings; prepare hors d'oeurves that can stay out for longer as people mingle and serve salads or mains that can stand up to some talking between bites. And if while plating the main course it seems you may run out of something, improvise. Repurpose leftover appetizers for a side dish or place cheeses on the table for extra nibbles. Extra bread never hurts, and nuts on the table can fill in gaps, too.
The same goes for the atmosphere and table: use what's around you.
If you are planning a dinner away from home, give the space a sense of place with what's nearby. That applies even if you're just down the street, or further afield, like on vacation, at a friend's who won't be there, at a rental space, a shower or rehearsal dinner, or in a park.
Source local flowers to decorate the table, as well as vintage objects if you can, like candlesticks and cutting boards. To give San Francisco's tablescape a coastal feel, seashell salt cellars lent an inch of whimsy. Linens give a quiet elegance to any table—use them whenever you can (we went with grey for a neutral backdrop for the food).
Don't keep all the fun to yourself! Get people involved in the evening's festivities.
Involving guests with the evening’s music isn't just a way to ensure everyone has a 'Hey, that's my song!' moment—it's an inclusive way to break the ice. All you have to do is create a Spotify playlist with some pre-selected go-tos, and then set people loose to add their own right when they walk in the door.
And, if you've got an adventurous crowd, keep the conversation going by asking them a 'yes or no' question before dessert to swap seats. (We asked guests if they’d ever lived in New York, and if so, they had to trade spots with another present or former New Yorker.)
Takeaways from dinner leave a lasting impression.
Offer something that might end up being put to use, like the menu recipes, so that if guests enjoyed the food, it might end up on their own dinner table:
Photos by Nanette Wong