I began my college career at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Despite taking in all the cool new traditions I was experiencing there, I sorely missed all-American traditions like Thanksgiving. As Scotland doesn't celebrate this holiday, I didn't have a break in my class schedule to fly home and be with friends and family. So, I decided to bring Thanksgiving to Scotland.
Throwing a large dinner party is challenging, especially since I was the sole chef. I wanted to ensure that my friends had the full American Thanksgiving experience, complete with all the trimmings.
Many of the guests in attendance had never been to America, so I wanted to make sure I accurately represented my culture. In the end, my Scottish, English, and other European friends all enjoyed the meal and the exposure to this quintessential American evening. If you ever find yourself planning a Thanksgiving bash abroad, or are about to host a large group of people for a nice meal, here are my tips to pull off the dinner party of the decade.
1. CrowdsourceMost of us college students have a pretty tight budget, and funding an entire dinner party can be pretty pricey. While I wouldn't suggest this move for an extremely formal event such as a wedding, there is no harm in asking for small contributions.
My friends and I all pitched in £4, which covered the cost of all the food and drinks. While £4 would hardly cover the most second-rate of microwave meals, it afforded us all a wholesome, home-cooked meal in the company of close friends. Everyone was more than happy to contribute, so just ask!
2. Plan Ahead
Pulling off a big dinner party is a big commitment. Be sure to send formal invites early enough so that you're guests are likely to be free, and so you have an accurate head count to keep in mind when purchasing food, drinks, and utensils.
Cooking for a large group is also very time consuming, so be sure to set aside the larger part of the day to prepare, cook, and portion the food. If certain things, such as sauces, can be cooked ahead of time, this is an excellent way to save time the day of.
3. Choose Manageable Recipes
While it's great to have haute-cuisine aspirations, a solo-managed dinner party is not the best time to flex these muscles. Remember, your friends will appreciate the effort you put in and will enjoy practically anything you cook if it's well-executed. Stick to tried-and-true recipes. Attempting a Michelin-star recipe that may flop is best left for other occasions.
4. Brainstorm Social Activities to Precede Dinner
Okay, maybe a full on party-party before dinner is not a good idea, but it's smart to plan out ways to encourage mingling. If you're like me and have friends from multiple groups, this may be the first time many of your pals meet.Last year, I made a cinnamon-apple whiskey sangria, and the group of us sipped our drinks and chatted in the kitchen before heading to the dining room. This broke the ice and fostered more engaging conversations during the actual meal.
5. Relax and enjoy your company!I'm not going to lie, it was really stressful pulling this all together. From cooking morning to evening, setting the table, and praying my friends would all get along and not clique off into pairs or small groups, party planning is really an art.
Ultimately, the best advice is to not let this phase you. Your friends will greatly appreciate the time and effort you put into planning the event, whether or not the food is Iron Chef quality. These are the bonding experiences that make college and young adult life so memorable.