Author International Hotel School   |  March 3, 2011

There’s a lot of thought and planning that goes into preparing a three-course meal. Especially if you’re hoping to really wow your guests. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning a big dinner party or event…

Food for thought

A three-course meal traditionally consists of appetiser, entree and dessert.

A mistake that many people make is mixing too many styles of cuisine. If you’re cooking Italian for example, make sure each course matches that theme.

Another thing to keep in mind when you’re planning your menu is the season – in winter you might want to serve hot food and drinks, whereas in summer, chilled dishes are an option.

You also want to make sure each course fits together as a whole. For example, if the main meal was particularly ‘heavy’, then maybe pick a light fruity dessert to balance it out.

It’s a good idea to spend some time perusing cookbooks and online recipe repositories, in order to decide on what three dishes you can do the most justice to. If you’re feeling adventurous, choose a more elaborate meal to prepare. If not, stick to standard fare. Sometimes simple quality ingredients are all you need to make a magnificent meal.

A great way to impress with food is to pair it with wine – the right wine can really compliment a meal.

Budgeting for time and expenses

Throwing a dinner party or event doesn’t have to break the bank, and it doesn’t always mean hours slaving away in the kitchen. It helps to set a budget – for your time, and your expenses. That way you can make sure you get the most “bang for your buck”.

When deciding on your menu, consider the amount of time and resources that each dish will require, and how difficult they will be to prepare. If you’re not sure how the meal will turn out, it might be necessary to have a trial run so that there are no surprises on the night.

It’s also always helpful to do your preparation in advance. Some desserts, for example, can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated until you need them. The average sit-down meal takes between one and two hours, so you also need to make sure you’ve planned ahead for keeping any hot dishes warm.

Decorating a dinner table

There are a lot of elements that add up to a successful event – in a month or two your guests may not remember what they ate for appetisers, but they will remember their overall experience. So you have to make sure that everything – not just the food – is up to scratch.

Will you be decorating your table? If good food is your priority, don’t overdo it on expensive extras like table centerpieces. Simple settings can stand out, for example tapas on white plates will focus attention on the food, and if that looks good, then half the battle is already won.

On the note of table settings, remember to lay out your cutlery for each course, working from the outside in towards the plate i.e. in the order it will be used. Dessert silverware is always placed horizontally above the plate.

And if you have limited sets of dinnerware, silverware and glasses, then why not plan to purposely mix and match? You can make a stock-standard meal your own by presenting it in an original way.

Arranging atmosphere

Make sure music is playing when your guests arrive, so that they’re arriving to some ‘atmosphere’. Keep it at a comfortable volume so that no-one feels they have to shout (or whisper if the room is too quiet).

Choosing the perfect place to host your three-course meal can make or break your event. If you’re hosting for more than eight people, can they all be seated at the same table? Will you be splitting people up? It might make for a better atmosphere if you can keep everyone connected and together.

Light several candles and dim the lights for instant atmosphere. If you’re hosting the meal at home, perhaps consider serving each course in a different room, to allow for clearing away of dishes. Not everyone finished their meal at the same time, but it’s important that you don’t leave empty dishes on the table for too long. Clear away plates and dishes at every opportunity.

And finally, even though you’re busy planning and preparing for everything to go smoothly, don’t get your heart set on perfection. Be prepared to adjust and adapt if things go wrong or if the unexpected occurs.