WE ALL KNOW THEM. Friends who never need an excuse to host an enjoyable get-together. These are the people who have a ready-made party in their pantry, complete with ingredients for a perfect martini and gourmet olives of every origin and flavor. They have plastic cups personalized with their monograms and cute pink and green polka-dot napkins with matching appetizer forks and plates ready to be pulled out as soon as the doorbell rings. We know that dropping by unannounced does not send them into a cleaning frenzy, but merely sends them to their deep freeze for the crushed ice they use to mix their current favorite concoction. The blender sits ready on the kitchen counter, and as soon as it begins to whir, we sit back and make ourselves at home. These are the people we all aspire to be: welcoming, gracious and fun.
Sadly, we are not all made that way. Fun has to be planned. Powder rooms need to be sanitized and cocktail napkins ironed before we can relax. If you fall into this category, planning is mandatory. It doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy entertaining, but it does mean that your parties are scheduled and thought out weeks in advance. The date is circled on the calendar in red ink and your countdown to the event is a schedule that is followed to ensure you are ready for the big event. By the time the evening arrives you have baked ahead, shopped ahead and even chosen a new outfit to wear…ahead. All this planning may provide just the excuse you need to forget the party. It’s just too much work!
The truth is, fun lies somewhere in the middle. Whether or not “spontaneous entertaining” is in your vocabulary, you may still crave a great party. In these busy times, a supper club—where everyone shares or takes turns with the planning, prepping and serving—may be the answer. These groups are the updated version of the 70s Pot-Luck Supper. You may remember those: They could have been a get-together held in the backyard of a neighbor’s home, or a gathering in the church basement. Regardless of location, Pot-Luck Supper rules were always the same. You brought your specialty dish, sat it on a long table alongside Gladys’ au gratin potatoes, and everyone shared a meal. Kids ran wild and adults chatted. It was fun.
Today, the 2009 version of the Pot-Luck Supper has changed a bit. We now call them “Gourmet Group” or “Dinner Club.” The rules are not set in stone. Some groups don’t even have rules, but hold their gatherings whenever the entertaining mood strikes one of the members. Some have regular schedules and meet every month like clockwork. Whichever plan suits your taste, remember the idea is to socialize, share a meal and enjoy great conversation.
If this sounds like your idea of entertaining, here are some helpful tips to get you started.
- Think of three or four couples who share your cooking skill level. It may not be a good idea to invite the executive chef of your favorite restaurant and his wife if your culinary repertoire consists of tacos and pizza. On the other hand, if your goal is to expand your horizons and your recipe file, you may want to invite the chef, issuing a disclaimer with your invitation.
- Take into consideration the seating issue. Most dining room tables seat eight comfortably, so keeping the group small is a good idea. My club has six core members and the hosts invite a new couple to join us for the evening. This is a great way to meet new people. Inevitably, however, the extra couple wants to join and you may end up helping them organize their very own Gourmet Group!
- Decide whether you want to make a schedule or whether you want to mix it up. My group hasn’t met since the spring because the summer months are busy for all of us. We resume a monthly schedule in September when our vacations and baseball games are over. It is a good idea to rotate homes so the hosting duties are shared. This is great for those of us who are “challenged” in the area of entertaining.
- In keeping with the pot-luck idea, your group may want to share the cooking responsibilities. Our club picks a theme every month and everyone brings part of the meal that corresponds with the theme. For instance, if the theme of the month is Greek cuisine, one couple may bring stuffed grape leaves as an appetizer and another may provide an olive and feta salad. The host couple usually serves the drinks and cooks the main course. Some other groups don’t share the cooking at all. The host couple may want to prepare everything themselves, or decide on the menu and provide recipes for dishes they want the other members to bring. Maybe your group doesn’t want to make a whole meal. Tapas or appetizers and cocktails are just as enjoyable as steak and potatoes, and are a lot less work!
- Finally, I caution you to keep it simple. Trying to out-do each other puts a lot of undue stress on everyone involved. Resist the urge to fly in Maine lobster or dig a barbecue pit. You may lose the other three couples in your group who feel they just can’t compete!
Gourmet Groups are a great way to make certain you socialize on a regular basis. With a little planning ahead, you may just become that gracious host you aspire to be. Call some friends, pour a glass of wine and get cooking!