From time immemorial, human beings have gathered and snacked. What was once a fireside occasion moved to the dining table, but now it’s moving back again. The dinner party is evolving, forwards, and in some ways backwards, but altogether for the better. These are not the soirees of your parents, with matching tablecloths, fancy crystalware and the china that otherwise never made it out the cupboard. The rules have changed, and your mismatched earthenware and eclectic glass collection (that’s definitely not liberated from your favourite bars) will do just fine. But how do you go about planning a dinner party in the wild? Let’s take a look.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – you are planning a dinner party at a venue that isn’t yours. Something, possibly several things, are gonna go wrong and all you can do is attempt to mitigate the inevitable issues that might arise. The first thing you’ll need is a list of your friends that’ll be joining you and an idea of what you’ll be serving, what you’ll be drinking, and whether it’s suitable for your guests. Much like you would for a normal dinner party, have people send you their preferences, allergies and latest experimental diets. That way you’ll find out if someone’s turned vegan, turned back again, ditched dairy or come off the sauce, while you still have access to a shop with late opening hours.
The first thing on your agenda should be to check out what kind of facilities you’ll be working with when you get there. Are you going classic French dining on the gas hob? Crafting charred root veg on the BBQ like the Argentinians? What about Mexican one pot? Paella in a kadai firebowl? Check your space’s listing, what’s on offer, and if there’s any confusion, speak to our GET team, or contact the owner directly for clarity. Remember, simplicity is the beauty of these spaces, so if you’re hoping to find a mandolin or a plating mould – the only one there, will be the one you bring with you.
Whether you’re trying to emulate the sophistication of the French or the culinary bravado of the Italians, the standard advice is much the same. First, you are (probably) not a chef, nor is this space a restaurant – don’t plan to cook something you’ve not done a hundred times before, or which takes a huge amount of prep. Slave over the stove while your guests are next door, and you’ll simply miss too much of the best bits.
It can be great to centre your menu around a local specialty - Angus beef in Scotland, lamb in Wales, cheese in the West Country. You might not need to do much more than get it in and lay it out. You could also forage for a little garnish, just remember the golden rule – take only 10% of what you find, and know what you’re foraging or, best-case scenario, your guests start seeing entirely new colours.
Once you have the menu and supply list down, you can plan what you’ll be taking with you. Even if you’re not hosting a party, we often recommend guests take a pre-made meal for their first night. It allows for all-round errors – arriving after the shops have closed, or after serving times of local eateries. Pre-preparing dishes is a solid choice if you’re wanting something a little more on the complex end, especially if making it requires anything specialist, and it solves that issue of getting caught up in the kitchen when you want to be vibing. Anything that can be done before, should be. Ready the sardines in escabeche, stuff those olives, hoard that radicchio for a life changing salad, and pre-rub your leg of lamb for the BBQ. Just be as ready as you can be when you arrive.
When it comes to drinks, the chances are you’ll be somewhere near either an up-and-coming English vineyard, or a purveyor of local beers, wines and spirits, but it’s not something you can count on. If, on day two, you want to include something you’ve picked up nearby, more power to you – but bringing a selection is always wise. If you’ve a cocktail shaker, maybe plan for a foraged Bramble, or use your mixing spoon for some pre-dinner negronis, and beer is always welcome for post-hiking refreshment even if it doesn’t match your menu. As for wine, you’ll have to make your own decisions as to what pairs well with the food, but the question of how much to bring... Bon Appetit has already worked that out for you. One last important note – don’t forget to have an option for the non-drinkers. Plenty of people are now heading sober, and one of the only new etiquette rules to spring up in the last few years is, that it’s good form to cater to it, and not to ask.
Believe us when we say, this won’t be a struggle. Our owners have already poured their heart and soul into these places, and they’re already a pretty incredible space to exist in as it is – it’s kind of the point. But, if you’re looking for something a little different, a particular mood, or even just some extra panache for the table – remember to bring whatever you need to cultivate it. This might look like bringing a tablecloth, taper candles and appropriate holders, or other table accoutrements – but if you think it has to be fancy, complex or even pre-prepared at all – you’re missing a trick. The most effective mood setters at one of our spaces will be what you find around you. You’re here celebrating your escape to the wild, not high culture styling. When you arrive, and this will be unavoidable, take a moment to take it all in. Forage for fallen branches, sprigs of fresh green, berries bursting with colour, wood-scented pinecones – and turn your table into a celebration of simplicity.
Just because you’ve lumbered the responsibility on your own shoulders, doesn’t mean you can’t delegate a little here and there. It’s unlikely this dinner party is going to be a formal affair, so lean into the benefit of that, avoid the breakdown, and ask for a little help. There’s a fine line between having help and shifting the dirty work to a pal, so where you can, divert your friends to odd jobs. Have them plate, set the table, pour some extra drinks, but don’t lump Gareth with all the washing up. Even if he is an ass.
There are all kinds of odds and ends that make a dinner party a night to remember – especially if you want it to be a for a good reason. Some little tips include:
Plan the playlist, music can make or break you, and you don’t want to be halfway through mains when shuffle throws on a thunderous throwback to your metal era
We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again, something will go wrong. Laugh it off, own it, but don’t apologise. You’ll draw more attention than a dry filet ever could
Start earlier than you thought, it’s later than you think
A seating arrangement might seem a little old school, but you already know no one wants to sit next to Gareth.
Don’t question it. Don’t force food or drink on anyone, it’s a faux pas, and you’ve no idea what good reasons they have, but it’s frankly none of your business
No one ever complained there was dessert
Expect nothing, and then there’s nothing to get disappointed by. Look for standing ovations elsewhere
It’s fun to collaborate, let people help if they can
It doesn’t have to all be homemade, you’re not a superhero and it’s a dinner party in a fabulous wild space. The setting will do a lot of the work.
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