1. Acquaint yourself with the "crappy dinner party", which forbids the host to do any extra cleaning, shopping or dressing up. Casual dinners are constructed from whatever's in the fridge. A fun extra element is to act surprised when guests arrive, as though they've just dropped in.
3. Banish plated dishes in favour of shared platters: either go Ottolenghi-style with big salads and braises, or have guests put together their own burritos or tacos, sushi or rice paper rolls, pides or pizzas from ingredients that you've plonked on the table. It's easy and it gets people interacting.
4. If dinner seems too serious, how about brunch? Practice your poachies or simply buy bagels, smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers and rocket. Ask friends to bring orange juice and you're done. Afternoon tea is also fun: biscuits, a teapot and ding-dong the doorbell.
5. Worried about mess? It's a good idea to give the bathroom a quick wipe down but otherwise try not to be too concerned. I scoop clutter and random socks into a box or crate to deal with later.
6. Cook just one main dish and book-end it with antipasto and a cheese platter. You can also make a whole meal out of antipasto. Check out Pinterest for "grazing table" ideas. Include lots of vegetables (carrots, celery, radishes, sliced fennel) to keep costs down.
Dan Lepard's garlic, sweet potato and chickpea soup with spiced red onion and feta scones (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem
7. When you have young kids it's easy to decide it's all too hard, what with all the Lego underfoot, tantrums and toddlers who only eat plain pasta. Try my friend-of-a-friend's "E&F dinner" concept: you come at six to Eat and "F--- off" by eight. You get to see your friends but it's not a big production, maybe just a big pot of soup, crusty bread, and perhaps plain pasta, as required.
8. I heard of one couple who come up with an annual menu each January and then serve the same meal at monthly dinner parties for the whole year. Genius! There's no what-will-I-make panic, and the dishes naturally develop over the year (seasonal fluctuations, tweaks) so there's variety even within the routine.
9. Have a few make-ahead culinary secret weapons up your sleeve, such as home-made harissa or dukkah, a killer relish, preserved lemons or dulce de leche. You can then serve a reasonably simple meal but dress it up with your "I-can't-believe-you-made-that" surprise.
10. Most importantly, know that you're already ahead because you invited people over. That's impressive in itself – culinary acrobatics are unnecessary. Gathering is about connection and conversation, so don't load yourself up with so many kitchen jobs that you're too busy to listen, laugh and enjoy the occasion that you've created.