The idea of cooking dinner for yourself after a long day in the office can often feel like such a Herculean effort that even a pesto pasta is simply too much to consider. Imagine, instead, cooking for twelve people: it is quite simply terrifying.
Beyond the effort involved, the cost of hosting can be a real turn-off. Polls have shown that the traditional dinner party has been on a steady decline due to the outlandish expense. Add in the pressure of providing for various dietary preferences, and producing something that all your guests want to eat can feel impossible.
But while the temptation of Deliveroo beckons, there’s nothing quite like bringing all your friends together around a table of delicious food, stimulating conversation and a bottle or three of plonk. The personal touches of hosting a dinner party just can’t compete with a takeaway – and it doesn’t need to break the bank.
Falconer got into hosting dinner parties after meeting her husband. The couple met at work so they didn’t have many friends in common and hosting was a great way to get to know each other’s social groups. The pair now host dinner parties once a month. “I just love the ritual and rhythm it gives the year,” she tells The Independent.
Having worked at the British Fashion Council and as Business Director at Matthew Williamson, Falconer now consults, presents, writes and entertains in the most spectacular style. Undoubtedly influenced by her former employer, Rosanna’s obsession with riotous colour and vibrant patterns lays waste to the monochromatic, minimalist aesthetic favoured by many these days.
Thanks to her well-stocked Instagram profile, Falconer is famous for her handwritten menus and inspired tablescapes. As the Christmas season kicks off, she reveals her top tips for hosting the ultimate festive feast.
1. Pick a theme – and stick to it
Start with your theme and go from there, says Falconer.
“If you lack confidence in where to start, I would always say look at seasonal festivals, whether it’s Halloween, Diwali or Christmas”, she says. “Personally, I really enjoy thinking about the colour scheme: it’s one of the ways my mind actually turns off from the stress of the day, thinking about tying a ribbon or placing a flower. I love that kind of focussed work.”
Falconer advises you add your own personal take on each: i.e. don’t shun a Valentine’s-themed dinner just because you hate pink and hearts, instead “focus on one really romantic flower like a white rose and then your whole table can be white, luscious and flamboyant, rather than the typical cheesy red hearts.”
2. Prep everything in advance
Once you’ve picked your theme, avoid last-minute stress by dressing the table a few days in advance.
Then, for food, opt for a big one-pot dish like a curry or a tagine – something you can cook ahead of time and then just heat up and embellish on the night. These types of dishes have the added bonus of becoming all the more delicious a day or two after they’ve been cooked as the various juices and spices take hold.
That way, on the actual night, all that needs to be done is putting it all together – think Blue Peter’s “here’s one I made earlier”.
Another straight-forward rule is to “always do two desserts because that means you end on a high”. One will be gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan and the other more indulgent.
Falconer also advises making tarts (as they can be made in advance and served cold) or brownies (as they can be heated up quickly in the microwave).
3. Don’t be afraid to go veggie
“When I first started hosting dinners, I thought I had to do a big salmon and cover it in pastry with herbs”, says Falconer. “Doing that will set you back fifty pounds”.
With increasing environmental awareness, she explains, “everyone is so much more into seasonal food and the importance of eating more vegetables that I never apologise for serving a fully vegetarian menu.”
Anyone will love it “if you make vegetables taste as great as they can,” she explains. And as long as it’s plentiful. “I always have a tagine or a stew or a curry bubbling away along with lots of Ottolenghi-style sharing salads”.
4. Put your guests first
Once you've done your decor and sorted the cooking, you are free “to focus on your guests and make them feel as relaxed as possible”, says Falconer.
“I would say the first hour of the party is key. Go around connecting people who might not know each other, so that by the time they come to taking their place at the table the ice has broken and the barriers have come down a little bit.”
She advises to do a seating plan but “always move people around for pudding in case they’re not getting on with who they were sitting with originally.”
5. Avoid unnecessary expense
Dressing a table beautifully doesn’t need to break the bank.
Simple hacks like using a scarf instead of a table runner or a long piece of wrapping or tissue paper avoid incurring unnecessary expenses – and it means you can always do something new each time.
Having a runner also adds a pop of colour to the table, which means that fiendishly expensive flowers can be used more sparingly.
Buy a small number of little inexpensive colourful glasses that you can use time and again and pop small flowers into each.
Falconer also keeps a “really useful box of trinkets...everything from mini-feathered birds to ribbons” along with candles in every colour that she has built up over the years. “I always like pillar candles that are quite short and stout as I don’t like anything to block guests from each other”, she explains.
Another easy saving is not to bother with starters. Instead, Falconer opts for bowls of Monster Munch and Hula Hoops as “it makes people laugh” as they drink their aperitifs.
6. The wash-up
Falconer’s top tip for after everyone has left? Never, ever go to bed without washing up; avoiding it is a surefire way to make the morning after that bit more painful, and it’s much easier to tidy when you’re fuelled by an evening of wine.