Expert advice on setting the stage for a truly stunning summer soire
Who gets an invitation Avoid party stress from the beginning and set yourself a guest-list target. If you’re hosting an intimate dinner, let the dining room furniture be your guide. If you only have a table that seats six or eight people, stick to inviting no more than that. There’s nothing worse than having to pull out the emergency chairs and watch your best friend swirl around in an office chair while eating their entrée. When it comes to larger parties and more relaxed get-togethers, consider your invitees carefully to create the right ambience. Extending a plus one to guests who aren’t familiar with your circle of friends makes everyone attending that little bit more comfortable.
Don’t just Whatsapp them Depending on your style, personality and tone of the event, the method you choose to invite people is perhaps the most important. Sending an email to someone who checks it once in a blue moon will result in empty chairs and a mountain of leftovers, so consider your guests’ communication routines. If you see your dinner party guests regularly and want to pull a Martha Stewart, sending out formal invitations is an elegant touch. For a more casual shindig, sending a text or message over Facebook should get the RSVPs back instantly. Taking the fancy shmancy route? Paperlane sell a selection of art and crafts materials from card to embellishment accessories, so you can make your own unique invitations. Paperlane, Town Centre Jumeirah, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 3633).
Theme nights are more fun Sticking with a theme is an easy way to make the event memorable. Get quirky and throw a murder mystery party for a fun-filled night, have a candle-lit toga dinner and call it a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Whatever you choose, you can theme everything from the décor to the music, menu and dress code. Buy a murder mystery party kit online at www.mymysteryparty.com. Games include instructions for the host, character lists, costume and menu suggestions and name tags. If you prefer to create your own mystery party, accessories such as fake moustaches and top hats are great props to give each guest to get into character and are available at Mr Ben’s Costume Closet from Dhs20. Al Ghazal Mall, Satwa, www.mrbenscostumecloset.com (04 346 3422).
Get out of the kitchen Whether you’re serving canapés, a sit-down dinner or a buffet, your menu is what your guests will remember. Timing is everything here, and outside catering relieves the stress of serving up to 50 guests, as well as ensuring you don’t spend the entire night wearing an apron and dashing to and from the oven.
Sushi platters make excellent canapés – Sushi Art offers platters with 13 pieces up to 58 pieces. From Dhs69-395. The Beach, opposite The Walk, JBR (800 220). For luxury sharing boards, Markets and Platters offer options including shellfish, artisanal cheese, sushi, antipasti and patisserie goods. The seafood platters can be tailored to your requirements; featuring whole cooked lobsters, langoustines, tiger prawns, oysters and king crabs. Pre-ordering is recommended and delivery is offered for orders over Dhs500. Platters range from Dhs160 for the cheese to Dhs640 for luxury seafood. Markets and Platters, Pinnacle Tower, Dubai Marina (04 450 4466).
For more individual canapé options, Lafayette Gourmet’s catering menu offers inventive bites such as Thai chicken curry, seared scallops and steak and chips. Dhs28-120 per person. Galeries Lafayette, The Dubai Mall (050 654 9388). Going down the more formal, sit-down dinner route? Jones the Grocer’s ‘roast dinners to go’ deal provides home delivery and takeaway. Choose between Australian black Angus striploin and rib-eye, leg of lamb from New Zealand and a slow-roast corn-fed chicken. The roast menu comes with a selection of sides including four cheese cauliflower bake, roasted root vegetables, roasted chilli and sesame sautéed broccolini, ratatouille and sautéed new potatoes served with chopped mint and thyme. All orders need to be placed at least three days in advance. Dhs350-990 for four to ten people. Al Manara, Sheikh Zayed Road www.jonesthegrocer.com (04 346 6886).
Retro European dining is having something of a revival in Dubai, so round off the meal with sweet treats from Zo’s Kitchen, a bakery established on old Irish family recipes. Catering to all occasions, treats include salted caramel brownies (a box of 12 will cost you Dhs120 – or select a mixed box of 12 baked cakes for Dhs140), as well as a profiterole cheesecake with Chantilly cream (Dhs240). Dhs50 is charged for Dubai delivery. Sheikh Ammar Bin Humaid Street, Ajman www.zoskitchen.com (056 297 7234).
If you insist on doing it yourself Preparation is essential if you want to avoid stress and spend more time with your guests. Stick to simple dishes and don’t make anything for the first time on the night. Clean as you go to avoid a mountain of washing up and groaning sideboards towards the end of the night. Event planner Hessa Al Alawi from Pinch Me Events in Dubai (www.pinchmeevents.com) suggests serving light canapés and welcome drinks as guests arrive to keep hunger at bay. ‘When it comes down to the dinner menu, avoid too many heavy dishes and think about how well all the dishes flow together. It may be easier to select a theme and base your menu on that, for example Italian or Chinese. You should also check if any of your guests have any special dietary requirements or allergies that you need to be aware of, and always have a vegetarian option.’
Make a talking point out of your table setting Impress your guests with a flashy touches on the table. A bouquet of flowers, tall candles and fancy napkins can go a long way. Both Spinneys supermarket (various locations including Marina Walk, 04 367 4810) and Waitrose (various locations including The Dubai Mall, 04 434 0700) have floral options starting from Dhs50. JJ Engelbrecht, event manager at Dubai Party Queen, says décor is key for creating your desired party mood. ‘If it is a smaller affair, candles are fantastic for creating an intimate ambience. Slate slabs are a stylish way to serve nibbles and you can write with chalk on the boards. We love incorporating guests into the décor. Why not design a wall of fame with names and pictures plotted along it, or personalised name cards at the dinner table with a mugshot? It makes people feel welcome and part of the event.’
Let your guests snoop around in your bedroom As the old saying goes, ‘Mi casa es su casa’, meaning ‘My house is your house’. Inviting people into your home means welcoming them with open arms and making them feel at ease. While there is no need to give a guided tour, it’s nice to have some doors open to explore living areas. If you have photographs on a bookcase, it’s a nice conversation starter for guests to get to know each other. Be sure to spruce up your house, keeping the bathroom tidy or hiring a maid for a few hours to save you the hassle and time. Dubai Maids cover everything from mopping to vacuuming, dusting and tidying. Dhs35 per maid per hour, minimum two maids required per booking of two hours. Locations across Dubai, www.dubai-maids.com (04 880 3111).
Throw in a few surprises throughout the night ‘Create a fun party experience and make your own candy station. Fill empty glass jars from any home store with sweets, popcorn and chocolate so your guests can nibble throughout the evening. Afterwards, set up a dessert table filled with yummy home baked desserts made from family recipes to create a more intimate experience or encourage some of your guests to bring in their secret home baked treats to add to your dessert bar. Our instant Polaroid cameras have become quite popular to have at events. They are fun, simple to use and a crowd pleaser,’ explains Hessa Al Alawi.
Predict who’ll make friends To make the party run smoothly, assign seating and add name cards or cute photo frames with either their name or the guest’s picture as a personal touch. ‘Think about their personalities and interests. Try to place guests with similar interests (who haven’t met before) together to ensure lively conversation. We also recommend having couples seated across from each other rather than next to each other, so that they’re more likely to make conversation with other guests around them instead of each other,’ says Hessa Al Alawi.
Hire a few co-hosts If you can’t handle the heat, hire other people to scurry in and out of the kitchen. Professional bar staff, waiters and mixologists can make hosting a lot easier, and vastly more impressive. Partymood offers a range of staff, including mixologists who can create personalised menus to suit your needs or theme – and they even supply all the bar tools. From Dhs800 for one bartender up to seven hours; Dhs500 for one waiter up to seven hours. Locations across Dubai, www.partymood.ae (055 494 5275). As the host, you should be the life and soul of the party – think of yourself as the ringmaster at a circus, bringing all the acts together. Stay relaxed and calm and cheerful, even if things do run awry.
Keep an eye on the clock ‘Aim to serve food after the initial welcoming hour, there is nothing worse than waiting around for food when you are hungry. Entertainment between the main course and dessert breaks up the evening nicely. Just remember not to start cleaning up before your guests leave as it creates a very unwelcome feeling. If you are holding a larger party, have nibbles and drinks on hand from the get-go and throughout,’ advises JJ Engelbrecht.
Kick them out in style End the night making sure your guests get home safely, especially if you live in an area where taxis are hard to get. Book ahead with a private car service and leave your well-fed friends and family without the hassle and stress. Sign up to Careem and order a car online using the mobile app or by calling ahead. Just give your pick-up and drop-off locations and pay with a credit card. Prices vary. Locations across Dubai, www.careem.com (04 440 5222).