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“The key really is simplicity. Everyone always tries to do too much. You have to design a simple meal you’re capable of making, and that’s doable. And not try to do something that’s impossible to do.”

Chef David Tanis, from an interview with thekitchn.com

Photo: Kenneth Lu

There are few things more gratifying than sharing a good meal with people whose company you enjoy.  In fact, think about how many of your fondest memories with loved ones were made in the kitchen or around the dining table.

At Zoko, we want people to share these simple, social experiences as often as possible.  That’s why we have created an online tool to make it easy to connect with your friends* and schedule a series of dinner parties within that circle.  By taking care of the scheduling and guest list, we let you focus on the best part – the event itself.

Since we’re already making it so easy to schedule your dinner parties, we thought we might as well go one step further and scour the internet to find some of the best advice for making what comes next fun and stress-free.

Here’s what we learned, from sources like ehow.com, thekitchn.com, and Oprah.com:

1) Style and Theme

After choosing the date and location for your event, the next thing to think about is style.  Will it be comfy and casual?  Fancy and formal?  Whether you are throwing burgers on the grill in the backyard or serving a ten-course meal on your best china, the style you want to capture should inform the rest of your decisions – such as menu and décor – so all the elements of your party work together.

Along with style, some hosts like to choose a theme – from something as simple as “vegetarian night” to something as involved as an “ancient roman dinner party.”

2) Menu and Beverages

There are so many great cookbooks and recipe websites out there to help you when choosing your menu!  One of our favorites is Yummly.com.  Be realistic about how much time you will have to get ready for your party, and plan accordingly.  Get as much grocery shopping done as possible a day or two in advance, and estimate how long each dish will take to prepare, as well as when you should plan to get things in and out of the oven.

Beverages can add just as much flavor to the event as the food itself.  When thinking about wine pairings, wine.com has a helpful “basics” page.  As a rule of thumb, one bottle of wine holds roughly four glasses.  After dinner, it is thoughtful to offer your guests coffee or tea.

3) Décor and Ambiance

A few inexpensive touches – such as lemons in the water pitcher – can go a long way for your décor.  Grabbing some flowers from the garden or the local florist is another easy way to add a special touch.

Consider the layout of your seating and serving spaces.  You don’t want to be stuck calling friends an hour before the dinner and asking them to bring chairs, so plan ahead if you need extra seating.  When going buffet style, note in advance where you will arrange the food.  For formal dinners, consider arranging place cards on the table to assign seating.

Music and lighting have a big impact on creating the ambiance.  Keep the volume of the music reasonable so as not to deter conversations.  There are many ways to create special lighting, but if you use candles, avoid ones that are scented.

4) Co-Hosting

Getting others in on the action can be a lot of fun.  You can choose a co-host for the entire event – from grocery shopping and cooking to washing dishes and rehashing over a glass of wine after the guests have left – or you can assign friends specific roles – such as DJ (put them in charge of the playlist) or bartender (they’re in charge of mixing drinks).

5) Have Fun! 

The most important thing to remember is to go with the flow and enjoy yourself.  People will have the most fun if they see that you – the host or hostess – are having fun.

*or neighbors, colleagues, volunteer groups, congregation members … anyone you’d like to see in person, really…