The challenge of timing or how to flawlessly get everything on the table
getting everything on the table at the right temperature without too much frustration is the most challenging aspect of entertaining
Have you ever gone to a restaurant, had your order taken, received your appetizer within 10 minutes and then waited for another 30 minutes for your main course? Or when you’ve finished your meal and have to wave down the waiter for a dessert menu or the check.
Both of these are examples of bad timing. Proper timing is when the waiter, the kitchen and the managers handle the rhythm of service to make it flawless. When all goes well, it may not be something you consciously realize but when it is off, you definitely notice that the service was poor or disappointing.
In the restaurant industry, the concept of timing is an important skill learned over time and through experience. With that being said, timing is also one of the more difficult areas of service to master.
Entertaining at home is not as complicated as in a restaurant but the idea of timing is really important. I have friends who say getting everything on the table without too much frustration is what is the most challenging.
Here are some basic things to think about to help with timing.
Decide on a menu you are comfortable with, does not require a great deal of last minute cooking time and makes sense
If you are not a confident cook, or until you become one, it is best to begin with a main course that you have done a few times before….if you are going for a new recipe with very different ingredients or techniques, try it first on family and get it right. When I first started entertaining, I often used it as a platform to try out new, exciting recipes which sometimes ended in disaster.
Begin the meal with a first course that requires little to no last minute cooking. Starters such as, soup, mozzarella and tomato, fish cakes, smoked salmon or salads are good ideas. You can prepare the course in advance and chill or leave to prepare before anyone arrives.
Minimize recipes with main courses that are a la minute-prepared to the minute. Aside from grilling or BBQ, having to be in the kitchen cooking the main course takes you away from your guests. Select recipes that require pre-cooking such as, stews, pastas (the sauce), roast meats.
You can’t remember everything, so like anything you do in work or life, keep a list. The idea is so simple but many people think cooking a meal for 6 people should all be in your head, and magically be easy- no way! Plan, think and get organized- the 10 to 15 minutes taken to put pen to paper saves you a great deal of energy (and frustration) later.
Write down your menu, your grocery list, and then what you will prepare and at what time.
I go a step further and keep a notebook where I record the date, menu, guests and all other information that helps me for that dinner party, and the next.
Decide the best time to serve the main course and work backwards
8.20-30 main course
8.00 candles lit, first course, wines
7.15 guests arrive
6.30 appetizers out, wine opened, music
5.00 finish prepping
Organize and prep as much beforehand as possible
In the restaurant industry your mise en place- putting things in place, is one of the many service components that distinguishes the good from the bad. Organization is key for both in the kitchen and in the dining room.
Have you ever watched food shows, and seen how the ingredients are measured out in bowls? It is the easiest way to work and keeps you organized, especially making something cooked right before serving. Clean, chop, prep as much beforehand as possible.
Aside from the cooking, the presentation and table arranging is key, and the easy part. It also sets the tone for the evening.
Set your table well beforehand, and think through what you are serving and what guests need for each course. This can all be done well in advance to get it out of way– from water being chilled to wine glasses out for pre-dinner appetizers to dessert plates/forks out and ready in the kitchen.
Entertaining is fun and should not be a stressful occasion. Keep it simple (at least to start), master a few recipes to start with, buy what you know is good and substitute where it makes sense, get organized and you are ready to become the perfect host.