Eric Michael, who founded Occasions Caterers with his twin brother, spends most of his time creating blowout dinners for galas and weddings, but he still likes to throw a dinner party for friends every month. Here’s his advice for avoiding disasters and meltdowns:
• Figure out how much time you have, and then start planning. If you want to devote a weekend to cooking, you’ll be able to pull off a few hors d’oeuvres and a three-course dinner. The biggest mistake people make is trying to prepare an ambitious menu in too short a time.
• Focus on making one course special, whether it’s a homemade dessert or a standout entrÃ©e. Paellas, which work for every budget (dress them with anything from sausage to lobster), are festive and easy to make ahead of time. Curries work well, too, with bowls of almonds, toasted coconut, papaya, bananas, and chopped scallions set out as accents.
• First courses aren’t necessary, but a chilled soup is a simple way to kick things off. It can be made ahead of time and served out of punch cups while guests are mingling. Yellow-tomato gazpacho and fruit soup made from honeydew or cantaloupe are good choices.
• Michael suggests buying one bottle of wine per guest, as you never know how late the party will go.