novice party host seeks help!
June 25, 2014 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Is it a faux-pas to not provide dinner for a party held during dinnertime? Also, need more suggestions for a first-time party host!

Since I have my house to myself for the time being, I decided to host a party this Saturday. The invites already went out and there will probably be about 10-12 people there. There's plenty of space, as well as a backyard.

I'm a little nervous though, because I haven't hosted a gathering like this at a place of my own residence in a long time, maybe ever!

I am mostly nervous about food. I set the party time as 5-9pm ("times flexible" is written on the Facebook invite). I said I would provide snacks and drinks and that guests could bring something if they wanted to. However, this is dinner time and I am not planning to make dinner- is that a problem? I will provide numerous snacks (dips, chips, fruit, etc). I set the time as flexible, so that means people could eat first and then come, or leave early....but is it annoying to have this kind of gathering without providing dinner? I was picturing more of a drop in and graze situation... I like the early evening time in summer, which is why I chose it.

Another questions I have is about what snacks and drinks to get/make...especially on a budget and vegan/vegetarian friendly.

And any other suggestions are welcome! We will have access to a backyard and a good amount of space. The party is casual, and the guests are laid-back types, most in their 30's.

posted by bearette to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, you said snacks, so everyone is forewarned. But when I have had similar parties (anything starting before 7 or 8) I usually end up getting a sandwich or felafel platter, or expand my snacks into a taco or nacho bar, just because I fret.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:50 AM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think it is a faux-pas to have a party at dinner time and not provide dinner, or at least enough food to count as dinner. Chips & fruit will not cut it. There are a lot of very easy "entree" options you could provide- pizzas (delivered or frozen), big pan of pasta with sauce or lasagna, sandwich fixings, taco fixings, crockpot shredded meat or chili, etc. Or is there a grill in your backyard? You could grill burgers & hot dogs. With so many easy options available (and a small crowd attending), I think you should do your best to provide something dinner-like.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:52 AM on June 25, 2014 [27 favorites]

As long as people know ahead of time what food will be there, you should be good.

That said, often when I throw a party I provide a main course type thing, possibly a salad, and suggest people bring sides. That way if nobody brings anything, you still have a complete meal. Chances are at least 50% of the people coming will bring a side and you'll be all set.

A main dish could be as simple as a big pan of lasagna, which is easy to adapt for different diets, can be made ahead of time, and is good even when it's no longer hot. The leftovers freeze easily too, so you can make other meals out of it if it doesn't all get eaten at the party.

The main thing is not to stress. People will deal and your friends won't care what you do. Worst case people chip in and order pizza.

Just have fun at your party and don't stress.
posted by bondcliff at 7:53 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I feel that if you're holding a party at the dinner hour, you're expected to provide enough food to feel like dinner - it doesn't need to be dinner, but it needs to be pretty serious snack food. Also, you don't want a bunch of hungry people boozing it up and getting lit up really fast because there isn't enough to eat.

If I were doing this and really didn't want to cook, I'd invest in some tasty hummus and hummus-like things and some breads. Make it nice - slice some tomatoes and cucumbers, get some olive tapenade, warm the pitas in the oven and keep them wrapped in a clean towel to stay warm and soft. Get variety stuff like baba ganoush or imam bayaldi or fava spread or whatever is locally available.

I would probably also make some artichoke "dip" - buy a couple of jars or tins of marinated olives and blend them in the blender with a little olive oil.

Get some avocados and make semi-guacamole - mash the avocados with chili, lemon and a little salt.

Also, everyone loves a cheese plate - a couple of reasonably nice cheeses will do. Frankly, at this type of event most people will be happy with sliced up Cracker Barrel swiss and sharp cheddar, especially if you get good crackers. (Or you could go fancier, of course.)

And why not ice cream for dessert - with sorbet for the vegans?
posted by Frowner at 7:53 AM on June 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

I would make the snacks pretty heavy if the party is so explicitly over a dinner hour. Have a cheese/meat/cracker tray or even a little station for people to make sandwiches.
posted by something something at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

A grazing dinner, as opposed to a sit-down affair, is fine. Just try to find out what people are bringing, and fill in the gaps so that the combined offerings cover soup to nuts.
posted by beagle at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also put everything on plates or trays - this will help it feel more like dinner instead of "pitas out of a bag and hummus out of a little plastic tub.
posted by Frowner at 7:55 AM on June 25, 2014

it annoying to have this kind of gathering without providing dinner

Yes. Your times cover all the various times most people consider the dinner hour. You can't just have chips and dip and fruit. Make up some sandwiches, a taco station, pigs in a blanket, samosas, etc - a lot of these things you can buy frozen and just stick in the oven. Also a big salad.
posted by sweetkid at 8:02 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think snacks is fine, especially since you specified it on the invite. I'd probably make a couple hors d'oeuvres type things, and have at least one of them be hot. And definitely make some sun tea, so refreshing when hanging out in the yard.
posted by catatethebird at 8:02 AM on June 25, 2014

If you have the budget, too, here are a couple of other ideas:

Chevre with herbs - get some of the plain goat cheese at the grocery store and mix with chopped fresh herbs; serve with crackers from an attractive bowl

The nicer kind of nuts - stick to one kind to save some money, just get some cashews or almonds.

Baguettes or ciabatta and good butter (vegans can use the artichoke spread, tapenade, etc). Again, I've had success with a decent quality "take and bake" frozen loaf....unless your friends are extraordinary food snobs, "good enough" bread will be good enough. Although a nice baguette is nice.

Fancy popcorn - this is my "OMG this party is larger than I intended" food. Make popcorn. Top with fancy things - sriracha mixed with butter/oil; sumac; japanese rice-topping mixes; parmesan; nutritional yeast; etc.
posted by Frowner at 8:04 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's perfectly fine, as long as you specify that this is not a dinner party, but a "drop in at any time between 5 and 9, there will be snacks" party.

But I've noticed a lot of people (a lot of Americans, at least; you don't say where you are) get super weird about HAVING TO HAVE A FULL MEAL WITH MEAT AND POTATOES EVERY THREE HOURS. I'm exaggerating slightly because I find it very odd, but it's a thing. So maybe if you cook or buy something easy and dinner-like, and enlist one or two friends to bring some other dishes to round out the dinner menu, that would be a good idea.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:06 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also - consider that if you've said 5-9pm with 10-12 people organizing their evening around finding dinner elsewhere, chances are that only 2-3 people will be there at a time. If you want folks to hang out drinking wine and chatting, they'll need some food at some point.

One VERY EASY side salad: Easy bocconcini salad. Get the mini bocconcini balls from Whole Foods. Cut them in halves or thirds. Cut up and equal number of cherry tomatoes in half. Get a big pile of basil and stack them. Slice into ribbons. Optional: get a nice local cucumber. Slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Slice hollowed-out cucumber logs into little half moons. Mix in a big bowl with very good sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and a bit of balsamic. Everyone loves this and it's very summery!
posted by barnone at 8:11 AM on June 25, 2014

I also think it's fine since you've been clear about what you're offering and clear that people can come late or leave early etc.

I think it would still be nice to have something more substantial than chips -- bread and cheese, hummus, frozen-then-cooked spanakopitas, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:12 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look at it this way -- do you really want people taking off from your party because they're too hungry to stay any longer?

You don't have to have a serious, cooked "main dish," though. How about a caprese bean salad (white beans, good tomatoes, basil, red onions, mozzarella) or a Tex-Mex bean salad (black beans, tomatoes, cilantro, red onions, avocado)? Add a few of the following: bread, cheese, green salad, olives, cherries, brownies. You'll have an excellent light dinner, not much fuss needed.
posted by ostro at 8:16 AM on June 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Do you have a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or stock pot? If so, 10-12 is not a terribly unwieldy number of people to cook up dinner for at all. In situations like this, I always go for a hearty multi-bean chili. Very little effort, cheap, filling, omnivore- and vegan-friendly, set it and forget it.

You can use a recipe if need be, but here are my general rules: Saute a chopped onion, a minced jalapeno, and 2-3 cloves of minced garlic in some olive oil for 5-7 minutes or until soft. Add a tablespoon or two of chili powder, and a teaspoon or two each of cumin, coriander, Mexican oregano, etc. Sprinkle in some cocoa powder or cinnamon for a nice touch, and toast the spices with the onion/garlic/jalapeno mixture for a minute or so, stirring constantly. Dump all that stuff in the slow cooker along with a tin of diced fire-roasted tomatoes, a can of corn, maybe a couple of chopped carrots, and 3 cans of garbanzo, pinto, kidney, and/or black beans. Add a few splashes of water or vegetable broth, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least an hour.

Salt to taste when your guests begin to arrive and set the chili pot and a ladle on a trivet on a card table in your yard. Put shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, cilantro, guacamole, hot sauce, etc. on the side. All you'll need to supplement are bowls and tortilla chips. You could also ask a couple of your guests to bring sides -- quinoa/black bean/corn salad is an excellent summertime side dish.

For drinks, how about a big batch of spritzer? Whip up a few pitchers of something fruity -- fresh or frozen strawberries blended with seltzer water is a failsafe base -- but leave out the booze and put some sliced limes on the side. That way, the teetotalers can have something super-tasty and refreshing to enjoy and the drinkers can add alcohol as desired.

Enjoy your party!
posted by divined by radio at 8:18 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some ideas for hearty, easy food:

-this recipe for white bean dip has become a standard not only for me but for people i've served it to; if you stick white beans, lemon juice, olive oil, and whatever flavorings you have around into a food processor or under an immersion blender, you have a delicious protein-filled alternative to hummus that tastes dope as heck. the recipe linked calls for a bunch of expensive herbs but just basil is my favorite. in winter you can probably just get away with aleppo pepper or maybe even (rinsed and patted dry) jarred roasted red pepper.

-easy oven hot wings: line a cookie sheet with foil, put a cookie cooling rack on top, and arrange chicken wings on top. sprinkle very lightly with a mix of brown and white sugar; cook at 400 F until cooked through, probably about 20 minutes. toss with your favorite hot sauce; franks's mixed with melted butter is classic but i love using gochujang, a fermented korean chile paste
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:26 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Quiche is easily vegetarian (not vegan, but) friendly and is a good party option -- it's tasty at room temp, it's easy to make, it's a good hit of protein, it registers as food rather than snack.
posted by kmennie at 8:36 AM on June 25, 2014

It's not rude or annoying, as long as you're clear what you are (and are not) serving.

People have a choice about what parties they choose to attend, so if someone would prefer to eat dinner at this hour, s/he can opt to do that.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:37 AM on June 25, 2014

I have friends who have dinnertime parties offering only "cheese and wine," and while I attend [edit: for work-related reasons, otherwise I'd skip], I must confess that I judge them for it. I think it also impacts the attendance at these things, since people come late, having first eaten dinner at home, or they leave early to have a meal. As you can see from the many easy food suggestions in this thread, putting together even a casual dinner is not much work. Not even making that little of an effort comes across as somewhat gauche to me.
posted by Atrahasis at 8:38 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

If I got an invitation that said "times flexible" and "snacks" that would indicate to me that I should show up after having had my own dinner. If it doesn't say "come over for dinner" I would be a clod to show up expecting a full meal.

That said, heavy appetizers is good - get a big pizza from Costco and cut it into smaller squares as opposed to big slices, it will go farther that way. Maybe some meatballs.

Here's what we learned the hard way - don't work during your party! Don't get stuck at the grill, stove, or bar. Have something that's already ready to go when people get there, so you have time to sit, relax and mingle. Direct people to the cooler or the kitchen counter and tell them to help themselves and then come sit next to you.

What we also learned - don't work after your party! Don't leave yourself with a ton of dishes to clean up before you fall into bed (or even worse - when you wake up). If you must serve something that requires dishes to eat, use disposable.
posted by vignettist at 8:42 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

If its a party during dinner time, but theres no dinner, then your guests have to eat first and show up late, ditch your party early to go eat dinner elsewhere, or decide to stick it out and be hungry the whole time. None of these options are particularly party like. Or conducive to having the most people at the party at the same time.

Also, If some people decide to leave early to eat dinner elsewhere, the rest of the party might think thats a good idea too and join them, ditching you, which definitely isn't what you want.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:44 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

If your invitation says "5-9, drop in anytime, there will be snacks," you're pretty much guaranteed to only have 2-3 people there at a time. Most people will probably want to eat dinner either before or after your party, since you don't specify that a meal will be served.

I think that's OK, since your guests know what to expect, but did YOU expect that they'd all be there the whole time?

You might want to change your invitation to say that dinner will be served. Not because it's a faux pas not to, but just to increase the chances that a larger percentage of invited guests will show up, and will stay for a longer period of time.
posted by tckma at 8:44 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm of the opinion that unless you don't want people to stick around, you need to provide something hearty. Otherwise, you'll get folks popping in, nibbling, getting hungry and leaving.

If you're low on cash, but want to provide something substantial, I recommend the "Big Sub."

These are easy and cheap to throw together.

Get a big French or Italian bread an slice it length-wise.

Layer in meat (even bologna will do) and cheese. Do one veggie-only if people are vegetarians. Onion, tomato, lettuce. You can provide condiments on the side for people to add. They can cut off the hunk they want. It's enough for dinner, without being complete junk-food.

You can probably get by with two subs. If everyone's an omnivore, do one turkey, and one ham.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:45 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh! If people get nommish, no law says you can't order a pizza or two.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2014

If I was invited to a party from5-9pm where I knew there would only be snacks, I would plan to go early and leave early or show up late. I also would make plans with other guests to grab dinner with me. So if you don't mind people coming for short periods and going (like an open house), snacks are fine. Otherwise, offer something more substantial or put potluck in the event name.
posted by bluefly at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the practical side, if you serve drinks but not much food, you may get stuck with some overly-drunk guests.
posted by tomboko at 8:56 AM on June 25, 2014

Response by poster: I was planning to have plenty of filling snacks (not just chips) and with guests bringing some too, I didn't think anyone would be starving....

I think I will order a pizza as well and put that on the invitation. thanks for suggestions!
posted by bearette at 9:01 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think your invitation was probably clear in terms of snacks only. However, this is dinner time, people will be popping in when they would normally expect to eat a main meal.

In theory, we're all able to organise ourselves to eat before/after going to your party. But people will have been out and about and pop in directly from their other activities. If they eat first and then come to yours there's less likelihood of them stopping by at all because you know, large meal, inertia etc.

Likewise, if people are enjoying themselves do you really want them to have to leave because they are hungry? It would take away from your party. The alternative for them is to stay, starving? So provide substantial snacks, that will stop them remembering your party as 'bearette's party last summer, where there was no food?'
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:09 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe specifically say something like "lots of hearty snacks" instead of just snacks.
posted by mskyle at 9:44 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with putting on the invitation (or sending out as an email post-invitation) "we'll order some pizzas or delivery food for dinner"- that way people can eat some actual dinner and they are forewarned to bring cash to throw in for the food so you don't have to pay for everything. At least, this is how we handle most parties in my friends-group of casual 30-somethings.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 9:46 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Because I get all angsty about allergies/hungry guests, I always have way too much food when I host. A few months ago my mother-in-law invited about 20 people over to our house and forgot to mention it until they arrived. (I know!) We ordered from the barbecue pit for lunch and in the evening I ordered pizza. Everyone was fine and had a lovely time - including my husband and me. That impromptu party reminded me that I'm a host, not a restaurant. I gots what I gots. Guests are more flexible than we give them credit for being.

A bonus tip: Don't put all the snacks out at once. Some things can stay out for the entire party (chips, crackers), but it's nice to put some things out in waves. I makes the snacks feel more varied and fresher somehow. Later in the party I like to put out some petit four size sweets and chocolate bon bons.
posted by 26.2 at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Came back to say, if you do it right, all the snacks are so yummy that people eat them for a meal. I do this on New Years Eve. Just total shit-snack food and we have the BEST time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:32 AM on June 25, 2014

Best answer: There's lots of ways to "feed" people without supplying a full meal's worth of food. I usually put down a shorter time range for a party, no more than 3 hours. If you do longer than that, people come and go and miss each other, and then what's the point of a party?

For my friends group, which is primarily grad students, we often do it potluck style. This is basically what you asked people to do on your invitation. This works out really well in my group because many guests take the initiative to check with the host about what to bring, and others just show up with some booze. You can definitely be more lax about an after-dinner party though -- I threw a small party for my bf's birthday a couple weeks ago, starting after dinner, and just had Doritos, booze, and cake. Because it was well after dinner, nobody came hungry. OTOH, I'm having a "bday BBQ" for my own bday this weekend (at a friend's house), and am bringing burgers and hot dogs, pretzels, cake, booze, and a watermelon, and have had lots of offers from friends to bring stuff so I expect somewhat of a feast. I would probably be fine not even bringing "real" food because we always go pot luck at dinner-time parties, but as a hostess I want to make sure my guests are well-fed and have a great time.

I've also played it by ear before, having easy hors d'oeuvres in the freezer that only took 10 minutes in the freezer, so they could be made if needed and if not were good for the next time. Or making black bean salsa that is great for chips and salsa, but also great leftover in a veggie quesadilla. Or you can have cheese and crackers, which is cheap and filling, and you can cut more of as needed, but if it doesn't get eaten and there's a ton leftover you can throw in the freezer.

If I were you, I would wait to order the pizza in case your guests show up with way too much food (which happens!) -- I had one Xmas party where we had a leftover box of 20 or so wings, and a huge tray of empanadas.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:34 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

A platter of cut up veggies & dip, hummus & crackers/bread, corn chips & salsa & bean dip, cheese & crackers is all easy and filling. Wings are really easy to make and are a nice hot addition. If you serve alcohol, you want to have food to help people not get too tanked too fast on an empty stomach. I agree about pizza - have the number, and some cash, handy, in case you need it, but you might not.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on June 26, 2014

Best answer: Yes, it is a faux pas not to provide dinner for people you invite over during dinner time.
posted by tel3path at 10:34 AM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

2nding (or nthing?) what Frowner said. Some veg-friendly things that don't involve ovens or much cooking at all (I'm guessing it might be hot out where you are):
  • Crudités (i.e., raw carrot, celery, cucumber sticks) are a good alternative to crackers as a substrate for hummus and bean dip and the like, and are not too heinously expensive.
  • Salads can be made pretty satisfying with the addition of beans, tofu, tempeh (pan-fry it a little first), sunflower and pumpkin seeds, etc. Chickpea salad is a good standby in that vein (or a more minimalist version here).
  • For a non-oven dessert, you could buy whatever fruit is on sale and make a compôte to serve over ice cream/sorbet - you can even use the microwave for that, actually.
Maybe more as I think of them.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:09 PM on June 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

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