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Shortcuts: Hosting a successful dinner party

By Dean Irvine for CNN
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(CNN) -- Getting the balance of food, guests and bonhomie isn't easy. Here are some tips on how to be the host of the season.

Be the host with the most

If you're feeling a little nervous about hosting the event of the season, or simply having some friends round for dinner, some self-belief and maybe a positive mantra could help. Whatever you do try not to calm your pre-party jitters with booze.

Go easy on the drink

It's a common scenario: opening a bottle of wine to let it breathe before the guests arrive and then drinking the best part of it before they do. Being drunk will only make organizing the meal more challenging than it needs to be. Likewise passing out face down in your home-made chocolate pavlova or making your excuses to go for a quick lie down while everyone else is still on the cheese course, is not a good party trick for the host.

Timing is everything

Debrett's, publishers of guides on taste and etiquette since 1769, suggests that food is served within an hour of guests arriving, which means that most of the preparation for the meal should be done before they turn up. This is sound advice. Even if you're not going for a formal affair, you want to avoid situations where you find yourself shrieking "The gratin potatoes!" and then running back to the kitchen to attack some spuds with a peeler. It might help the comedy element of the evening, but won't help your blood pressure. Stick to cooking something you know, or at least something you've practiced a couple of times.

Show off your skills

If you're a fairly confident cook, you can use this as a chance to show off. Whatever you produce from the kitchen should look incredibly complex, and be as far removed from something found in a celebrity chef's cookbook as possible. Presenting a recipe you discovered while on your travels in the Maghreb or from a recently unearthed medieval cookbook should do it. Avoid serving salmon mousse immortalized in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life," as it's far too retro and will have any guests who know the scene repeating it ad nauseam. If any of them do, remember not to invite them next time. Or maybe you should and serve them poisoned salmon mousse.

Let's get the party started

"Food is not necessarily the most important thing; it's the company that matters," say Debrett's. This goes for your guests and also for you as the host. Running back and forth from the kitchen all evening like a demented Jeeves, proffering hors d'oeuvres and drinks isn't going to do you any favors or give the soiree the desired air of relaxation and bonhomie.

Delegate the duty of getting glasses topped up to a trusted friend. It's your duty to keep conversation ticking along and fill any yawning silences. If you haven't got any pithy anecdotes on hand, at least have some music playing in the background to take the edge of the silence.

Seating arrangements

At the table, try and seat those with similar interests together and separate couples. Not permanently, obviously. But if you do mistakenly reveal one half of a couple's infidelities (in which case you've probably ignored earlier advice about not calming nerves with alcohol) you may find yourself having to play cupid, a role that Debrett's believe is the "host's prerogative."

Dinner parties have long been find fodder for excruciating situation comedies and if you want to know what not to do watch Mike Leigh's 1977 television play "Abigail's Party" about an overbearing hostess and her forced attempts at hospitality that ultimately ends in death. It'll put any failed souffle or faux pas into perspective.

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