The Skip-Dinner Party

But what if you want tons of people, tons of food, and tons of time?

The problem with a dinner is, unless you have a dining area of baronial proportions, it's very hard to seat more than six or eight people, or organize a buffet for more than ten or 12.

The problem with a larger, stand-up-and-scarf-finger-food cocktail party is, it's only supposed to last about two hours. Apart from the one or two super-tipplers who can be counted on to be licking the salt out of the nut dishes while crooning "My Way" into the wee hours, everyone will clear out in time to go to dinner elsewhere—and that can be a real letdown for the hosts, who will have gone to tremendous effort getting ready, only to spend the night taking people's coats and then handing them back again.

The problem with a late-evening all-dessert party, which starts after dinner and at which numerous luscious sweets, coffees, and liqueurs are laid out on tables from which guests serve themselves, is...wait a minute, what was the problem with that one? Oh, I remember. It's at a weird time, it's only truly fabulous for the truly sweet of tooth, and nobody who's not Viennese will get it.

The solution: the Skip-Dinner Party. Lots of drinks, lots of hors d'oeuvres, and lots of desserts...all made ahead of time and strategically placed everywhere, along with any necessary forks, plates, or glasses. Granted, the host will still need to do some passing and replenishing of food, but that's intermittently over the course of a nice long party, not feverishly for two hours straight.

As for the guests, they will have great choice, in terms of tastes and timing: Those who want to come and go before dinner may do so. Those who want to come after dinner may do so. And those who want to keep talking and drinking for hours on end can do so while continually filling their stomachs—on savories, on sweets, or on both.

At least that's how it's supposed to go. I won't tell you everything that went wrong at my last Skip-Dinner Party. Let's just say it involved small pieces of bread, small pieces of meat, and timing. It turns out that, although the recipe may say it takes just 30 seconds to flay the filet, one should allow considerably longer to flay enough of it for 50 people, lest one find oneself frantically plastering bits of meat to rounds of frantically buttered baguette and damning the Merlot glaze while the doorbell rings...and rings...but I will get it right the next time. Or the time after that.

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