Small kitchen dinner party logistics
After yet another dinner party where we spent most of the time in the kitchen, we need to find new tactics to deal with our small condo galley kitchen ( living in a city where real estate is extremely expensive --- a bigger kitchen is not an option).
Our present tactics are:
Have empty dishwasher at beginning of evening and have sink and dish rack empty for items such as side plates and glasses that may need to be handwashed and reused in evening
Set dinner table and have appies set out before guests arrive
Have a make ahead dessert and as many make ahead sides as possible without compromising quality
Have mise en place ready for items being assembled or cooked at the moment.
Continuously clean ( put items in dishwasher or handwash/ put in cupboards) as cooking and changing courses
Short of making a one pot dish which is not always compatible with our foodie reputations, I don't know what else we can do.
What we find is that once the finishing and serving of the dishes begin/ dishes come back it all goes to hell. We either spend too much time in the kitchen to keep ahead of the space limitations or build huge piles of dishes which slows down the process of items coming out anyways.
We too have a very small kitchen and very small room for entertaining. I have found when we have people over, we have to cut some corners and compromise on some things to make it work. Like we'll buy disposable plates, or a few "cheater" heat and eat foods and focus on a few really good homemade things to compromise. Nobody seems to mind and everyone is gracious and glad to get together, and we never have regrets about it, only good times. We did buy a set of plastic plates for "summer" that we never seem to use, so we break those out and use those to supplement. Forget about sizing or things agreeing in style and just give people what you have. People will drink wine out of a coffee cup and won't think twice about it, and will eat a locally raised, artisnal ham next to stouffers's broccoli au gratin without blinking an eye.
I have a friend with a tiny kitchen and I keep encouraging her to make fewer complicated, last minute dishes because, frankly, she ends up coming to the table tired out and we end up feeling bad because she worked so hard. One pot meals, especially in cool weather, can make your reputation as a great cook so consider those.
As to too many dishes etc, here's a couple things that make our lives easier during a dinner party. 1. Whenever possible, we use the same plate for 2 courses in a row such as appetizer and salad. As long as the two are compatible everyone seems to thinks it's fine. 2. If your oven is not being used, stash dinner pans etc in there. 3. if you're going to have a last minute dish, make it an early one so the kitchen is not yet full of dishes etc
Your guests will have a great time when things are made ahead and you're a little less focused on the state of the kitchen--and you'll have more time to enjoy your guests and your meal.
x2 on the simplify. with similar space issues, we always prepare plated appies that are served cold or at room temp (a favorite classic is smoked salmon and caviar on endives, hot baguettes for the table) and then mains that are served from the oven, nothing "a la minute" So a roast that has been resting during apps and sliced and plated as hubby plates the sides. Generally roasted veggies or a potato gratin or simple roasted potatoes. When serving fish, I have several salmon recipes that can be served at room temp. I bought "special plates and forks" for dessert so that I don't have to wash between courses. Keeps me sane and with my guests.
do you live in a COLD climate? ---- the balcony area is valuable as extra fridge if you can be sure of the temps and security from wildlife etc. When i say "fridge" i mean things like punch (drinks) etc. not meats for days on end.
it sounds from your post like you have organized and taken care of many details. I'd like to be your guest ; )
perhaps your vision is not congruous (spell?) with your capacity? I say that with respect. Perhaps revisit your event goals and scale accordingly.
it sounds like you are making a beautiful party for your guests --- what is their feedback?
i became a young adult host during the early days of Martha Stewart (1980's early - her first books) so i have evolved toward practicality these days (40 guests outdoors in a foot of snow at my cabin? ... and we had to hand-carry everything in about half mile) I can do it with certain shortcuts (Cupcake cake from supermarket enhanced w/ fresh strawberries and sprinkles - works wonders) - even the weather worked in my favour)...
tho some basic principals still apply and always have. Don't be in a frenzy in front of your guests, make sure your co-host (spouse) is on board *(define your roles ahead of time - s/he meets and greets -- you deal with kitchen), and make sure you spend time with the guests and honor your co-host/spouse for their contribution ... ... the guests have taken their time to be part of your home and vice versa i am sure.
my experience says that dinner parties are not for MY fun as host - it's kind of like producing an event. But I have satisfaction in knowing i did it well.
one of the best hosts i know uses fantastic paper plates and matching napkins. Target. Combined with grandparent's fabulous candelabras and a vintage linen table cloth (easy to have it cleaned and "mangled" at your local dry cleaner, i'm sure) .... every guest at her dinners is thrilled. If you shy from paper for dinner - then consider using for the snack / appy course. It's a leap of faith but .... there is only so much we can do and still be pleasant company.
again, it sounds from your initial post that you are doing a lot of things graciously. That is the key point.
ps - do you have a gorgeous view? make the most of it. === it's a rare guest who does not enjoy a beautiful view. If they don't notice - then maybe they are no longer on your A list.
I am the queen of small kitchens!! Here are a couple of ideas that will help you ALOT! If you don't want to use paper plates and plastic utensils (I hate them), buy a couple of really big plastic totes. After each course stow the dirty dishes inside the totes to wash later when your guests go home. These can be put on the top of your washer or dryer, or in the bathtub, or in the bedroom, or on the patio, until you're ready to clear them! Also, if you have a laundry closet, I have been known to set up a bar or drink station on the washer and dryer to remove congestion from the kitchen area!