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Everything you need to host fabulous family gatherings and dinner parties

'Tis the season for festive gatherings and bringing the people that you love to the table. If you're planning a big family meal or a dinner party sometime soon, we've got a host of tips and tricks to keep things merry and bright, including a selection of failsafe recipes from the Mumsnet forums.

By Kelly Rose Bradford | Last updated Dec 15, 2021

Woman prepping for dinner party

In association with

We've teamed up with AO.com to show how with the right equipment, a hardworking appliance, a bit of prep (and a few deep breaths), organising and cooking for an event can be as fun and fabulous as the dinner itself.

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On the menu

Before you start consulting your recipe books, check everyone's dietary requirements – don't be fazed by people's needs, just ask them what products they usually substitute, and what you should avoid – this is particularly important if you have any allergy sufferers to cater for. Cooking with a dual oven can also make it easier when preparing food for those with allergies, as the dishes can be separated while they’re cooking. 

Once you've established what everyone can eat, then the fun starts – planning all your courses! Go with something familiar that you’re confident about cooking, and that you know your guests like. Choose something you can easily shop for, that you will enjoy preparing, and that your family or friends will be champing at the bit to tuck into.

Simple, delicious, tried-and-tested dishes are the way to go according to Mumsnetters: "I love catering for people but I have certain recipes that are tried-and-tested and I know will work for larger groups - e.g. boeuf bourguignon and dauphinois potatoes" (AlwaysLatte). And dishes that look impressive that can be prepared ahead come highly rated too: "My favourite mains have been en croutes - salmon, beef Wellington, pork fillet en croute" (RockingMyFiftiesNot).

And while it might sound obvious, do write a shopping list and check what ingredients you already have - don't rely on being 'fairly certain' you've got particular items in the cupboard – because that key spice or herb that you were convinced you had plenty of in the back of larder will almost certainly not be there when you go to use it. 

Get the right equipment

Hotpoint dual oven

Having the right tools to hand will make your prep and cooking so much easier. Get everything out in advance to save rummaging through utensil drawers or trying to separate baking trays with floury hands. And get as much as you can chopped and parboiled and ready ahead of time. Spices and herbs can be measured out and put into ramekins until you need them, and things like batters and doughs can be pre-made and popped in the fridge – good preparation really does pay dividends when it comes to hosting a dinner party!

As does having the right cooker of course, especially if you’re catering for large groups, or making several different dishes to take dietary requirements and allergies into account. And if you’re in the market for a new stove, Hotpoint's new range of freestanding cookers really come into their own for dinner parties and gatherings thanks to innovative Multiflow technology that ensures that heat is evenly distributed through the entire cavity so your meal gets cooked properly all the way through (no more apple pies with burnt edges and raw fruit centres, or part-crispy, part anaemic pasta bakes).

Also, Hotpoint's new 60cm freestanding cooker is the only model on the market to offer two full fan ovens. With Multiflow heat distribution in both cavities, you can simultaneously cook on up to six levels (perfect for dinner party prep) and get consistently even cooking results every time. And if you buy through AO.com, there's an exclusive promotion where you can get up to £75 cashback on selected Hotpoint cookers when you trade in your old appliance.

Setting the scene

Toasting drinks at a dinner party

Even if you don't have a separate dining room, you can still create a gorgeous and welcoming setting for guests. You might want to get the room ready the night before, or first thing in the morning so it's one less thing to worry about when you’re cooking.

Check everyone can move easily around the table without making anyone else get up, and that your table decorations don't obscure people's view of their fellow diners. If you want to dress your table with candles, consider tea lights floating in water-filled bowls rather than tall, tapered dinner candles – much safer when everyone is passing dishes around or toasting their host.

Don't worry about having everything totally matchy-matchy, either – mismatched china can look really chic, as can vintage fabrics repurposed as tablecloths.  

Ambience

You’ll want your guests to feel comfortable and totally at home from the moment they walk through the door, and in the rush to get things ready and dinner on the table, it can sometimes be hard to immediately give them attention. Delegate the taking of coats, the directions to the bathroom, and the offering of pre-dinner drinks to your partner or a tame teen so you can concentrate on keeping everything running smoothly in the kitchen. Prepare some light pre-dinner snacks to hand around too, so you don't feel under enormous pressure to rush to serve the main meal.

Low-level background music and soft lighting will create a calming environment, and make people feel relaxed, but have a few ice-breaker conversation starters up your sleeve to get things going if you’ve got a mix of guests that might not know each other.

Hosting fabulous dinner parties: top tips from Mumsnetters

Dinner party table setting

So what are our fabulous forum members' wise words on organising the perfect dinner party?

“The best dinner parties to me are those where you manage to find simple but impressive looking food. Being able to prep ahead, and planning for it to look brilliant, while spending as much time as possible with guests,” says party pro, RockingMyFiftiesNot.

“I find making as much in advance as possible works for me as then I can concentrate on the guests. We cook a lot of Italian and French dishes,” recommends caperpilps.

“Make a list of the food you are making and any specific times you need to do things that are more last minute - heat oven, put tarts in etc. Otherwise you will forget about a dish! Work out what you are serving each dish in. Either write a list or stick a bit of paper in each empty dish saying what is going in it," advises StrawberrySquash.

“A good oxtail stew/casserole goes down well and is largely prepped in advance (and there's something about oxtail vs just a bog standard stew that makes it a bit flashier)," suggests SpaceOP.

“The best dinner parties I've been to have always been relaxed affairs. If the hosts are frazzled, worrying about if everyone likes everything etc, spending too much time in the kitchen, it's going to be a flop,” states VladmirsPoutine.

“Get someone on drinks duty, no one likes an empty glass. Plenty of non-alcohol options. You need more glasses than you think you need. You don’t want to be washing them,” warns AnneLovesGilbert.

Delicious dinner party recipe ideas

Woman cooking dinner party food

Looking for some tasty inspiration for your next family gathering? Then why not try some of these mouth-watering party-perfect recipes, tried and tested by our Mumsnet users:

Onion and goats' cheese tarte tatin

This onion and goats cheese tarte tatin is a classy little starter, and spot-on for your veggie guests, too. Get recipe here.

Celeriac fondant

Here's a very easy but very tasty recipe for celeriac fondant that would make a great starter or side. Full recipe here.

Spanish chicken

Spanish chicken is always a popular dinner choice, and this one, all cooked in one ovenproof dish, is great for dinner parties, and would be delicious served with some lovely creamy mash. See recipe here.

Leek, chicken and bacon oven-baked risotto

Everyone loves a risotto, and this ovenbaked version is an excellent dinner party dish for laid-back, pass-round-the-table, serve-yourself dining. See recipe here.

Mushroom and cashew wellington

A fab vegetarian option that the meat-eaters are sure to want in on, too! Takes just 45 minutes in the oven, and looks great on the table. See full recipe here.

Pear and almond tart

The perfect pud all year round (serve with ice cream in the summer, custard in the winter) this impressive pear and almond tart will round off any dinner party with panache. Get recipe here.

Crumbly Wensleydale cheese and apricot cake

This innovative apricot, apple and Wensleydale cake is sure to be a winner with your guests, and negates the need for a cheese course! Full recipe here.

About the Hotpoint Freestanding Cooker with 2 Full Fan Ovens

The new Hotpoint 60cm freestanding cooker is the only cooker on the market that offers two full fan ovens. With Multiflow heat distribution in both cavities, you can simultaneously cook on up to six levels and enjoy consistently even cooking results every time, without compromising on performance or taste. Hotpoint’s powerful Multiflow technology evenly distributes heat through the entire cavity so you never have to worry about burnt edges or uncooked fillings and can enjoy delicious, evenly-cooked meals.