Cooking With Friends Will Always Beat A Night Out
Why a dinner hang at home is way more rewarding than any restaurant.
BY Philip Bator | Oct 25, 2017 | Food & Drink
It started, as most things do these days, with a text. “Making dinner Monday, come by around 7. Bring wine.” It was an unassuming invite from an Australian friend whom I’d known for a short time. I recognized a few numbers on the thread, but most were unfamiliar.
On a windy December night in Detroit, my brother and I raced from the car to the apartment to find our friend making full use of her limited kitchen space. As burners fired and pots simmered, she greeted us with a big hug and full glasses before we were sent out to see who else had arrived.
The apartment was filled with familiar faces and total strangers, quick to make room on the couch or pass a plate of cheese. Conversation came easy as you learned how everyone was connected, making our city feel like a close-knit neighbourhood. Soon enough, mismatched platters of food were set out with little ceremony. “Dinner’s ready,” our host announced. “Can someone open more wine?”
Monday dinner became a regular occurrence. A core group existed, but each week brought new people—out-of-towners, friends of friends, someone you’d seen at the coffee shop that morning. The meals shook something loose in my brain: the unfussy perfection of inviting people to break bread together at home. No waiting for your entire party to arrive in time for a reservation, no shouting over a bad soundtrack, no strange elbows inching onto your plate, and no anxiety about spending half a month’s rent on your share of the bill.
Inviting people over is a good excuse to bring people together and make them feel, well, at home. It’s a chance to introduce a new girlfriend to longtime friends, to pair off a work colleague with that neighbour down the hall, or to bring your group chat to the table instead of texting them underneath it.
Yet no matter how casual, serving a group of four to 14 in one’s home takes effort. But with a little bit of planning and preparation, you can be a dinner party hero. Here's how.
Give proper notice
Until it's tradition, get the word out to your guests way ahead of time. Four days is optimal—it’s far enough out to make arrangements if needed, but not enough time to overthink things. And yes, texting is fine.
Stock up the day before
Make a list, check it twice, and hit the grocery store or farmers' market. This cuts down on the dreaded afternoon scramble, freeing you up to focus on what actually matters—the dinner.
Pull your playlists together
Don’t be the host who keeps running to a record player or Spotify to search for new tracks. Ask a musically inclined friend to share their favourites ahead of time, or find a stream that matches the vibe. (Hint: Press ‘play all’ on Reverberation Radio, a weekly mix of spaced-out psychedelic from the Los Angeles band Allah-Las and friends, or if you're really serious about your soundtrack, Austin-based Orchid Music Design creates hours of moody magic for clients all over the country.)
Don't be afraid to snack
Forget childhood anxieties over spoiled appetites—we're all adults here. Set out store-bought bites like roasted nuts, raw veggies, olives, cheese, and crackers for guests to munch over drinks. Just like the entire night, no need to get fancy.
Let the guests bring the wine
It helps to keep your home bar stocked at any rate, but a bottle per person is usually a safe bet. Your guests might not drink it all, but free-flowing wine keeps the party going and encourages the post-dinner hang.
Don’t sweat it
A stressed-out host makes for a stressed-out party. Remember to breathe and not take things too seriously. If the food needs a few more minutes to finish cooking, don’t apologize to the entire room—pour a glass and enjoy the moment.
Stick with what you know
While flexing your culinary prowess may be tempting, now is not the time to experiment with something new. Planning on dusting off the pasta maker your ex gifted you last year? Save it for a solo night. When cooking for a group, think minimal effort/high reward dishes. Chef Jon Kung, who operates Kung Food Kitchen—a pop-up dining and event studio in Detroit’s Eastern Market—recommends this Moroccan spiced roast chicken with vegetables. Just be sure to do a test run.