How to Win at Dinner Parties


Let’s face it, being broke means you don’t often entertain guests because nothing sucks more than trying to live on the cheap and ending up floating dinner for some freeloader. But I’ve recently realized that, if you play your cards right, you can host a reasonably exciting dinner party (I mean, are they ever really that exciting?) and end up with a bunch of free leftover food and booze at the end of the night. Once you’ve got your ultimate goal in mind (tricking your friends into bringing booze to your house) the rest is easy. Simply follow this 5 Step Plan to Dinner Party Success:

1. Offer to Host – An obvious first step, I know, but if you’re friends are kind of broke like yourself then you should pretend like you are rich with cooking skills and board games. These are the kind of things that will make your friends trust you with their entree and will thus feel comfortable bringing over the potato salad or green bean casserole or whatever, and a case of beer to share with all the guests. If you play it up like it’s going to be really fancy then they might even bring over some wine. Or even better: host a theme dinner like “Taco Night” and you’re pretty much guaranteeing that someone will show up with a bottle of tequila.

2. Cook Something that Sounds Difficult – My go-to meal is roasting a whole chicken in the oven, so for the purposes of this post I’m going to stick with that. Seriously, you’d be surprised at how many people have never cooked a whole chicken. Which is crazy, because it’s just about the easiest thing to make for a family-style meal. The instant you say “You should come over for dinner, I’ll cook a whole chicken” you’re immediately off the hook from any other cooking duties. All you need is one (1) whole chicken and some random spices, which leads me to the next step:

3. Fake Gourmet – It’s been awhile since I took a High School French class, but I’m pretty sure “gourmet” is a fancy French word for “looks pretty on a plate.” With that in mind, you’ll start to realize any meal is only as  fancy as you make it look, so you’ll need to include some nice little touches. In the case of the roast chicken, you could just rub it down with some store-bought dry rub spice mix or you could look at the ingredients on that dry rub and then walk over to the produce section and just buy them yourself. Those things are pretty much just salt and dried garlic anyway, so if you can make your own mix of salt, fresh garlic, lemon peels and pepper you’re already doing good. It also doesn’t hurt to stick a sprig of rosemary in it – Not only will the fresh herbs make it look like you actually know what you’re doing, but it also makes your whole apartment smell nice while it’s cooking. People appreciate that.

4. Make Cooking Dinner into a Production – More than your after-dinner scrabble skills, this one is key to impressing your guests. Even if you have to fake it, plan out your cooking so it looks like you’re right in the middle of something important when your guests arrive. A good trick is to leave the cutting board and knife out with a bunch of halfway-chopped potatoes or garlic or whatever, so when your friends finally do show up you can look like you were right in the middle of a very laborious process. (PRO-TIP: When roasting a whole chicken get some fancy red and purple and yellow potatoes and chop them into chunky pieces. Throw them right in the baking dish with the chicken and some salt and pepper. They’ll cook nicely with the chicken grease and you really didn’t have to do anything other than chop them up. Maybe add some onions too.)

5. Get Drunk – At this point, your friends are over and they’re watching you open up the hot oven and throw the chicken in. (I’m not kidding, crank that thing up to at least 400 degrees so the chicken skin gets nice and crispy and seals in the juice.) If your friends don’t totally suck then this is the point where one of them will offer to pop open a pre-dinner bottle of wine. Since you spent sooooo much time working on this chicken no one will mind when you’re already on your third glass. Maybe someone even brought an appetizer. Go ahead and eat that too. The real goal here is to make sure that, at the end of the night, everyone is too full and buzzed on Carlo Rossi to care about taking home any leftovers or half-drunk $8 bottles of “good” wine. You’ll be enjoying free dinners for the rest of the week and you won’t even have to make a wine run before Mad Men comes on.

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Andrew Dalton - Aggressive Panhandler

Andrew Dalton - Aggressive Panhandler

Andrew is an East Coast transplant from Virginia hamming it up in San Francisco without any intention of leaving. Having worked every typical job from Bike Shop Employee to Bartender to Ad Agency Hotshot, to Dotcom Layoff he now busts his ass covering the "weird things to do" beat for gracious local audiences at and rallies the Western Addy/Lower Haight/Panhandle neighborhoods into action at His work was published in a real, paper magazine one time. One day he might even figure out how to make money from it.

  • Just made my first whole chicken with a friend about a month back. Our boyfriends were very impressed. Little did they know it took about 5 minutes of prep work, and we got to enjoy several glasses of wine while the bird roasted. Genius.

  • John

    And for extra style points, here are some super easy recipes for side dishes by Mark Bittman:

    Sure he says it’s for Thanksgiving, but most of these dishes work year-round. I recommend #43, 52 and 74.

  • Ben

    This is the best post.

  • Nice. good call John! Thanks!

  • I’m cooking tomorrow night, you know, if anyone wants to come over…