If you do much entertaining, dinner party mistakes are inevitable. Today I'm going to share with you what to do and how to recover when something goes wrong.
A few months ago, I threw a study party for my son's academic team at school before their big state competition. I had invited both parents and kids and planned one of my go-to meals for groups: a Mexican food bar.
But, instead of making pork carnitas in my crockpot, like I usually do, I decided to try it in my Instant Pot instead. I had just gotten it as a Christmas gift a few months before, and I was all about trying new recipes.
When the moms saw that I was cooking something in the Instant Pot, they asked what I thought about it, and I did what most enthusiastic Instant Pot owners do: I gushed about all of its amazing features. I really talked up my Instant Pot.
The problem was, I had never cooked a large cut of meat in it before, so when it came time to eat, I was surprised when I opened my pot to find that the pork hadn't finished cooking. I had just been singing the praises of my Instant Pot to the other moms, and now, everyone was hungry.
But the pork needed at least another 45 minutes to cook. Talk about embarrassing.
I definitely learned some lessons the hard way that night, but I also recovered and went on to enjoy the evening with my guests. Here are five things you can do when something goes wrong while entertaining.
Stick to what you know.
It’s the cardinal rule of entertaining: stick to what you know.
If you’ve never fixed a certain recipe before, it’s a good rule of thumb to try it ahead of time before serving it to guests. A dinner party isn’t the best time to try new things unless you’re an experienced, confident cook.
If I had made carnitas in the Instant Pot for my family before making it for my son’s party, I would have learned that I need to cut huge chunks of meat into 2-3 pieces before cooking it in a pressure cooker. Or else plan for it to cook a lot longer. Helpful information, right?
An even better idea when entertaining guests is to pick one of your best recipes, one that you know backwards and forwards. That way, there’s less of a chance for a mistake.
But we all make mistakes in cooking sometimes. So, what should you do when something goes wrong?
Take a deep breath. If your steak burns or your lasagna doesn’t cook all the way through, it’s not the end of the world.
Remember, your meal is just what brings you together. It’s a means to an end. The whole reason you invite someone over is to build a friendship, not to try to impress them. They'll understand if something's not completely perfect. They're just honored that you invited them into your home.
Some etiquette experts say to never draw attention to mistakes that you've made in entertaining. Don't talk about your dirty floors or the fact that the chicken is dry, they say. Pretend like everything is just like you meant it to be. It's actually a great strategy for saving face.
I think it's fine, though, to mention one time that you're sorry that the food is taking longer to cook or that the chicken got overcooked. But say it that once, then let it go and move on to something else. It just makes things awkward when you go on and on about something you did wrong. No one likes to hear someone put themselves down.
When you make a dinner party mistake, the single best thing you can do is to put your thinking cap on and figure out a solution.
When I realized that the pork for the carnitas wasn't going to be done in time that night, I set out the chips and salsa I had planned for the meal and let everyone snack while I figured out what I was going to do next.
I remembered a huge package of ground beef in my fridge and decided to pull it out and start cooking it up to use as taco meat instead. And I borrowed another bag of chips from my next-door neighbor to go along with the guacamole and queso for the meal.
And you know what? We had a great time the rest of the evening.
You can always come up with a creative solution to any mishap:
- If the food is taking too long, set out a snack.
- If your meat is too dry, set out a couple of condiments or whip up a yummy sauce to drizzle over the top.
- If you forgot to pick up something at the store, borrow from a neighbor.
- If you're missing an ingredient, google substitutions.
- If all else fails, order a pizza. (There's no shame in take-out!)
You've got to be willing to laugh at yourself when you make a mistake. Everyone makes them. The difference between handling it well or poorly is in your attitude.
Don't let a cooking mishap keep you from inviting people into your home.
Yes, I was embarrassed when the carnita meat didn't cook in time -- it had been a long time since something that big had gone wrong while I was hosting guests. But we still had a great time, and I learned from it. The next time I want to serve guests Instant Pot carnitas, I'll know what to do.
And there will be a next time because I'm committed to inviting people over.
Even if I burn the garlic bread.
Even if my normally-amazing grilled potatoes turn out blah.
Even if the carnita meat takes another hour and a half to cook.
Inviting people over is always worth it.
Because people are always worth it.
Related: Building Friendships with Dinner Guests
The Take-Away About Dinner Party Mistakes
The next time you invite someone over, serve them one of your best recipes. And if something goes wrong, don't over-apologize. Take a deep breath, find a way to improvise, and be willing to laugh at yourself.
Oh -- and always, always keep inviting. It's worth it, I promise.
Has anything ever gone wrong while you were entertaining? Share how you handled it in the comments below.
Love this article, Sandi! Such great advice and yes, your grilled potatoes are yummy. 🥔 😘 I feel close to you just reading this article. Sending you a big hug from Miami.