Tips for Serving a Multi Course Meal (without a personal chef!)

tips for hosting a multi-course meal - A Well Crafted Party

Someday I will hire a personal chef to cater a party for me. Actually, someday, I absolutely will hire this personal chef team and sit back and enjoy being served throughout an entire party. That will be a treat in itself, however, I also really love to cook and serve for my parties. I enjoy the whole process of planning, executing and serving dishes to my guests. Many of my parties are fairly simple with serve yourself or buffet style dishes of foods. Occasionally, I like to serve multi-course meals (either plated or family style) and when I do, I like to use the following tips/tricks/hacks to make the dinner more enjoyable for everyone involved. 

Tips for Serving a Multi Course Meal (without a personal chef)

I am the first person out there that will recommend hiring out (or purchasing out and bringing in) for large parties and life events. I value the talents of others and their ability to make my life easier more than I can say. These tips will work for just about any type of party, big or small, but they still require the work be put in. Hiring a chef, ordering catered items, renting dinner ware, hiring a cleaner or hiring a server are absolutely time and sanity saving options for important events. This list is for someone who really wants to do it themselves, whether because of circumstances or because they enjoy it.

These tips will also help for those trying to save money in their party budget for other area. I do stress that you know your limitations however because saving a few dollars here or there and being disappointed in the end will only make it feel like you wasted the money you did spend. I enjoy throwing parties, preparing dishes, and cooking foods. I’m pretty good about timing things out as well. I am terrible at getting the house spick and span before a party. I often hire that portion out and do the entertaining part of it all myself. Know your talents, your limitations and your resources and have a fantastic party!

1. Prep what you can before the party day.

This seems easy, right? Prep anything and everything you can for your party before the big day hits. It is trickier than it seems however because some items don’t keep as well as other items. Anything that you can prep without compromising the quality should be prepped as far in advance as possible. When creating my menu, I often try to get at least one or two items that can be prepped prior to the big day on the menu. Some menu items that can be prepped early include soups, sauces, vegetable cutting prep and many dessert and drink items. Need a simple syrup for your speciality cocktail? Whip one up nearly a week in advance and store in your fridge. Want to serve a dessert of cookies under ice cream? Prep the cookie dough up to a couple of months in advance and store in your freezer. This works great for home made crackers as well!

2. Pre-plate what you can before the party begins!

A lot of my multi-course parties combine a mix of serving dishes family style and plated. Family style is easier on the chef (and whoever does the dishes afterwards) and the plated style of serving is often easier on guests. I tend to serve the dishes that have to be made or finished during the party as family style and pre-plate (or even pre-dish for an all family style meal) what I can. Salads can often prepped an hour or so before the party, wrapped in cling wrap, and stored in the fridge. If you are serving an individual cheese course or a cheese platter you can also prep these early and put in fridge, just make sure you get it out with enough time to get it to room temperature before serving.

3. Include Entertainment at the Party

Include some form of entertainment at your party so that time between courses goes unnoticed. A little time between courses is actually great because it gives your guests time to really savor the course before it. Too much time can be a drag, but with the rest of these tips and a little entertainment no one will notice a time slag. I often do a photo booth, music, questions at the table or even drink pairings that guests can talk about in between courses.

4. Serve a menu that doesn’t all need to be served HOT.

Planning your menu carefully is very important when you are doing it all and wanting to actually sit down and enjoy your meal with your guests. I try to serve at least a couple of items that can be serve chilled or at room temperature. Salads, appetizers, cheese plates and desserts are easy places to put in items that do not have to stay hot before serving.

5. Utilize warming and cooling appliances.

Take advantage of any and all warming and cooling appliances that you have in your home. I clean out my fridge as much as possible before a coursed meal so that I can pile in pre-prepped plates of items or pre-cut elements that will come together for a portion of the meal. My oven, if not in use, is set to warm and all hot dishes are carefully stored in the warmer so that they can still be served. (Be careful to not let hot food dry out in your warmer. Cover with foil and try not to put in to stay warm for too long.) My crock pot is typically in use for sauces or soups that are prepped in advanced, but need to be served hot.

What tips do you use when serving a multi-course dinner to friends or family? Comment below!

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Jenni is a freelance writer and media assistant based in Portland, OR. A Well Crafted Party is a blog about all the little things to celebrate in life. Follow Jenni or A Well Crafted Party with BlogLovin, RSS feed, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.

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  1. Reply

    Good ideas! It’s all in the planning. In my early cooking days, I invited 8 friends over for a Chinese dinner. I’d never cooked Chinese dishes before. At 9:00, I was still in the kitchen struggling to get the dishes completed. The guys were huddled around me cheering me on and begging for food NOW. What a hoot! The dishes actually turned out very good. I eventually became a cooking instructor and caterer. 🙂
    Susan | LunaCafe recently posted…Blueberry Salad with Baby Lettuce, Burrata & Blueberry Ginger-Lime VinaigretteMy Profile

    • Ali
    • August 4, 2015

    Definitely a big fan of prepping as much as you can beforehand. These are great tips for an effortless-seeming party. Thanks for the great post!
    Ali recently posted…A Room of One’s OwnMy Profile

  2. Excellent tips! I’m a big fan of prepping as much as possible in small increments over a few days before the party. Although, one time I prepped so much in advance that I actually forgot about one of the (several) dessert courses in the fridge and found it after all the guests had left! Oops! I thought of it as our unexpected after party reward for hosting a large party 😉
    Marlynn @UrbanBlissLife recently posted…Travel Bliss: Lava Hot Springs, IdahoMy Profile

  3. Reply

    The idea of pre-prepping a meal the day before is new to me, but totally brilliant! I am hoping to host more shindigs in our new apartment once we get all settled in. I’ll remember these great tips! Thanks for sharing, cheers!
    Danielle recently posted…The 10 Most Significant Beatles Lyrics of All TimeMy Profile

  4. Great tips, Jenni! I am partially terrified for the day I have to serve my first Thanksgiving or major holiday meal. Number 4 is such a good one. I will definitely have to remember that one and diversify the menu.
    Chloe | The Paper Airplane recently posted…A Day at the Oregon Coast: Iconic Oregon Adventures Fueled by Naked JuiceMy Profile

  5. Reply

    What great tips!
    I know when hosting a party I try and prep what I can the few days before, it saves the stress quite a bit.
    Putting little trivia cards or something like those are perfect for in the middle of the tables! Love it!
    Angie Agerter recently posted…Happy 3rd Anniversary With Us Roxy!My Profile

  6. Reply

    Those are all great tips!! Pre-plating is so smart. Wish I had a little more counter space for it, though! And #4–I definitely need to widen my repertoire of foods that don’t have to be served hot!
    Create/Enjoy recently posted…Street of Dreams 2015 – a morning of inspiration and overwhelm!My Profile

    • Jen
    • August 4, 2015

    “Know your talents, your limitations and your resources” – YES!! This applies to throwing parties AND to enjoying life in general. 🙂
    Jen recently posted…US national parks road trip on $33.50/person/day.My Profile

  7. I always prep ahead (because I like to enjoy my own parties) but I’ve never thought of pre-plating. That’s a great tip!
    Renée ♥ The Good Hearted Woman recently posted…Korean-style Pan-Fried Fish {Saengsun Jun} with Fresh Zucchini & Avocado SlawMy Profile

  8. Reply

    Hiring a catering service can be convenient, but if you can prepare all the food yourself, you’ll feel so accomplished, especially when you see how much your guests enjoy your own home-cooked food. Thanks for sharing your insights!

    1. Jenni

      Catering is absolutely convenient and I like to do it for certain types of events. There is a joy involved in serving home-cooked food!

    • Abby
    • August 29, 2017

    These are great tips! It is very important to plan your menu carefully. Thanks for sharing!

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