7 Tricks For Turning an Average Dinner at Home Into Something Special
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, restaurant closures and business shutdowns have forced billions of people to spend more time at home. While many yearn for a return to normalcy, people have also come up with creative ways to make the most of the situation. One example extends to meals at home: couples, in particular, have started seeking ways to transform a typical weekday or weekend dinner into a memorable or romantic event.
Even in the best of times, a special dinner at home is a great way to enjoy a memorable evening with your favorite person. To learn how to pull it off like a pro, explore these seven strategies for transforming a simple dinner at home into a special occasion.
Prepare the Space
Set the tone by making your home feel more like a restaurant than a residence. A little cleaning goes a long way, and extra touches like relocating your kitchen or dining room table to the center of the floor space can make a big difference.
You can enhance the ambience by removing as many visual references to everyday life as you can. Put personal items away, then draw on these strategies to help sell the illusion that your home has become an intimate bistro:
- Create place settings as you would for a formal meal
- Use your best dishes, silverware, and glassware
- Include cloth napkins and fresh (or fake) flowers
- Use your best tablecloth or runner
- Add a bread basket to the table (ideally, with fresh artisan bread, cut into pieces and nicely arranged)
If you want to go the extra mile, add a temporary wall covering to the space overlooking the table to reinforce the idea that you are in a “different place.”
Create a Menu
This step requires some planning, but it adds a great deal to the atmosphere. Your spouse, significant other, or dining partner will also notice and appreciate the extra effort. The idea here is simple: create a menu.
If you plan to cook yourself, you will need to put your special dinner menu together in advance so you have time to buy the necessary ingredients. You don’t need to create a long or intricate menu: simply narrow your options down to a few finalists and present them to your dining companion.
Chalkboards and whiteboards make convenient menu presentation formats, but if you really want to go the distance, you can also print them. Write up your food choices in an elegant font and select the highest-quality paper or cardstock your printer is compatible with. For maximum brownie points, you can even have the menu professionally rendered by a local printing company.
For an effort-saving hack: pre-order your food options from a meal delivery service, then include a select shortlist on your menu. The bonus of choosing this approach is that you can more accurately replicate the restaurant experience, since you will not have to present the menu days in advance. Instead, you and your dining companion can each choose your meals, then enjoy them within minutes.
Build the Mood
Cleaning up, removing personal items from the dining space, and setting the table properly will get you started. Yet, you still have two more huge secret weapons to create an even more convincing mood: music and lighting.
With music, your goal is to augment the ambience without disrupting it. The music should not drown out your conversation or distract your attention from your dining companion. Instead, keep it floating in the background at a volume high enough to hear but low enough so that you do not constantly notice it.
Your choice of music can reflect the theme of your evening. If you are looking to recreate the experience of going to a fancy restaurant, classical music makes an excellent choice. Modern and pop-oriented options are better fits for a more casual atmosphere.
Next: lighting. Nothing says romance like candlelight, so real or electric candles come highly recommended if intimacy is on your agenda. Short of that, you can use dimmers or strategically leave certain lights on and off to create just the right luminosity level.
Start With a Beverage
When your evening is ready to begin, start the same way you would at a restaurant: with a drink! Offer wine or cocktails, and if you are looking to go alcohol-free, expand your options beyond basics like water or store-bought juice. Consider:
- Sparkling water (flavored with fruit slices, if you prefer)
- Virgin cocktails
- Freshly squeezed juice or lemonade
As with dinner options, you can elevate the experience by creating drink menus on chalkboards, whiteboards, paper, or cardstock.
Take Presentation Cues from the Pros
After pre-dinner drinks are done, it is time for the main attraction. Serving the meal in courses is another recommended touch, but no matter how you choose to proceed, professional food presentation is a must to make the restaurant illusion extra-convincing.
Fine dining restaurants are very picky about their presentation standards, and the principles are complicated. You will probably want to keep things simple. To that end, the major rules of appealing, bistro-style food presentation run as follows:
- Arrange meal items to create a visual sense of height on the plate
- Put moist foods and sauces on the bottom of the plate and dry foods on top
- If you are serving pieces of meat from a larger item like a roast, slice it against the grain
- Vary textures and create color contrast whenever possible
- Keep portion sizes on the smaller side and leave empty space on the plate
As a final reminder: everything on the plate should be edible. If you choose to accentuate the presentation with decorations and garnishes, figure out a way to do it using foods or sauces.
Once dinner has ended, cap things off with an elegant and tempting dessert. The same general ideas apply to the final phase of your meal: list options on a menu and pay attention to presentation. Cap things off with coffee or a final glass of wine or cocktail, then enjoy the rest of your evening together!
Let Someone Else Do the Cooking
This final tip is just a general note: preparing your special meal yourself certainly has its appeal, but if you want to avoid messes and cleanup (and maximize time spent with your dining partner), you can also let someone else do the cooking for you.
Here are a few ideas:
- Purchase ready-made, high-quality items from a supermarket, farmer’s market, or local independent food vendor
- Order food from your favorite restaurant, then serve it course by course as you would during an authentic dine-in experience
- Use a meal delivery service to get delicious home-made appetizers, main courses, and desserts without effort or fuss