We’ve all been there. You begin your first forays into hosting a big gang for dinner and inevitably bite off more than you can possibly chew. You decide to cook about four dishes too many from scratch and end up having multiple rolling panic attacks during the day leading up to your guests’ arrival. I too have been guilty of doing this in the past, and several dinners later, I have figured out some techniques to make the whole process as enjoyable as possible.
The biggest tip I could give anybody cooking for large groups is to keep it simple. Your friends and family are coming over primarily to enjoy each other’s company, and there is nothing less relaxing for a guest than a host who is absolutely not relaxed. Don’t bother faffing around with complex, individually plated dishes. Instead, serve a few big pots of victuals for people to serve themselves. Some of the best meals are the relaxed ones - big trays of lasagne, slow roast lamb shoulders, and bountiful salads always go down a treat. It’s easy to worry that you haven’t cooked enough food when scaling up your quantities for a crowd so, if in doubt, pad your offering out with more carbs - extra roast potatoes or garlic bread never go amiss.
Similarly, giving people lots of crisps and olives before the main meal is obligatory to me - it tides people over before the main event, and means they won’t be too ravenous if your timings are a bit off. On the other side of the meal, there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking your guests to contribute a pudding. They don’t even have to be homemade; somebody showing up with a couple of shop-bought tarts you haven’t had to organise will alleviate some of the decision-making paralysis that often accompanies planning these events and will make you feel much more serene.
If you are the one doing the cooking for a massive crowd, the likelihood is that you generally enjoy cooking. It can be easy to forget this when you get swept up in the stress of hosting, but just remind yourself of this fact at any opportunity you get. Pretend you are just cooking for yourself, and forget about all those folk squished around your dining table for a second. Choose to conjure up food that you genuinely love cooking and eating; this will be the most foolproof way of having a good time.