The Top 5 Sources Of Dinner Party Menu Ideas

Do you ever struggle to come up with ideas or themes for a dinner party menu. We have all struggled from time to time. When you are challenged go back to these 5 sources and you will come up with a winner.

  1. Restaurants

Great meals at a restaurant have been a source of inspiration with me for years. Susan and I used to live in Dover DE and our routine was to go out to dinner with Marc and Debby Waldman on a Friday night and then I would reverse-engineer a menu the following night. The restaurant gave me the ideas and an appreciative audience gave me the encouragement. While there were probably a few meals that didn’t stack up to the previous nights fare, we always managed to have a good time.

  1. Travels

Whether it is business or vacation travels you get to try different foods. There is nothing more inspiring than true authentic cuisine. It is amazing how different native cuisines can be versus imitation cuisines around your home market. A great example of that is REAL Mexican food. Mexican food in Mexico is really different than the refried beans and rice fare we get in the States. We took a trip to Cabo a few years ago and had several meals that were really inspirational and nothing like the Mexican at home.

  1. Markets

If I am ever struggling to come up with an idea for a dinner party I take a walk through a local market. When I am in Memphis it will be a trip to Costco, Fresh Market or Kroger. In New York we have made stops at Arthur Avenue in the Bronx that have given me ideas for years. Past the great ethnic areas, local markets in the New York area have really stepped up their culinary offering. The fresh produce, meats and seafood are really good. More and more retail markets are selling really high quality culinary fare. Markets are a great source of inspiration and not a bad place to buy ingredients to go with the ideas.

  1. Cook Books & Magazines

A Chef friend of mine collects cookbooks. He claims that he doesn’t look at the recipes, but he does look for inspiration from the pictures. Photography in books and magazines are a great source of ideas. I find that a picture will generate ideas that don’t always follow the recipe in the book. You can adapt a recipe to something you know will taste great or to a menu item that you know you can get high quality ingredients for.

  1. The Internet

The easiest thing ever is to Google fall menu ideas. You get all kinds of stuff from Martha Stewart, Epicurious, Bon Appetit and on and on. This is a great source, but something’s are too easy and you don’t want to be overly dependent on the internet. It is sort of like someone asking you how you met your wife. “We met on the internet” has a certain negativity to it. It’s a reality today, but sometimes it is in your best interest to make up a story that sounds better. “These menu ideas are from a chef I met in Tuscany” sounds a lot better. And, as I tell my wife, you don’t always want facts to get in the way of a good story.

Follow one of these ideas and I am sure you will come up with a great idea, or five.

If you enjoy this blog and similar other stories/supper club lessons subscribe to get future blogs at and be on the look out for my book Impromptu Friday Nights a Guide to Supper Clubs. Morgan James Publishing published the Kindle-Version on September 5, 2017 and the hard copy coming out January 30, 2018.

Traits of Successful Dinner Party Hosts

What makes people great dinner party hosts? It isn’t rocket science, but here is a list of five key traits.

  1. They are interested and interesting

My golden rule is to try to be “interested and interesting”. My 95 year old mother is the model. She lives in Westhampton N.Y. and for some reason she gets a lot of visitors during the Hamptons season. Past the fact that it is a great place to visit, mom is a really good listener. She really wants to hear what her guests have to say. She will play back their point before she makes her own. When she does make her point it is usually worth hearing.

  1. Great hosts are relaxed/prepared

Just like dogs can sense if someone is afraid of them, guests can sense when a host is nervous and unprepared. The best way to reduce stress and relax is to know that you are prepared and that your dinner will look and taste great. The French culinary concept of mise en place or “put into place” does wonders for preparation. Say what you want about the French, but they can cook. It is no coincidence that every culinary school around the globe teaches mise en place. Get your mise en place set up, and be relaxed in the knowledge that you are prepared.

Check my video on mise en place:

  1. The best hosts and hostesses are welcoming people.

A dear friend of mine just passed away. Isabel Watson was the wife of the General Manager of our company in the Philippines. She was a regal lady and she had a way of welcoming her guests to make them feel like royalty. Everyone that was lucky enough to be a guest of hers remembered her for her graciousness. She had a gift that we all can’t have, but some things she did we can all do. She would greet guests with a smile. She would ask about them be it about their trip, about their family, etc. She would make them feel welcome.

  1. Successful hosts know good food and drink

You don’t have to be a great chef or a wine connoisseur. You do have to know what tastes good and what people like. In Impromptu Friday Nights – A Guide To Supper Clubs there is a chapter titled “I Don’t Cook, But I Know Where To Buy”. It is patterned after my daughter’s in-law’s Helene and Rick. They don’t cook, but they are foodies, know where to buy and are great dinner party hosts. Again, it doesn’t hurt that they live near the ocean in Montauk NY. There is something about cocktails on their deck overlooking the ocean. Follow that up with fresh seafood from local restaurants and you have an unforgettable evening. Montauk is great, but have we friends with a lake house in Iuka MS that know good food and drink and are equally good hosts.

  1. The very best hosts develop good friends

The best dinner parties, the ones that everyone remembers are made memorable by the friends that were there. Really good hosts have a way of developing and staying connected to good friends. It isn’t always easy because people move. No matter what stage you are in life you need to be developing new friends. Dinner parties are a great way to develop friendships and keep the good friends coming back.

This is my short list. Please add your thoughts on additional traits in comments.

If you enjoy this blog and similar other stories/supper club lessons subscribe to get future blogs at and be on the look out for my book Impromptu Friday Nights a Guide to Supper Clubs. Morgan James Publishing published the Kindle-Version on September 5, 2017 and the hard copy coming out January 30, 2018.

The Five Reasons You Have To Love Costco

I have quite a bit of experience with Costco both as a supplier and as a customer. Working with Kraft Food Ingredients we sold all kinds of products to Costco and to their other suppliers. My early experience was in selling cheese powders that were a key ingredient in their bakery operation. They used our cream cheese powder in their cake icing. From that we sold them many different flavors, confection and cheese products.

  1. Menu Inspiration

Too many times my supper club menu has been based on what looked good at Costco. Simply put, the meats and seafood from Costco are better than most retail outlets.

  1. Quality Products

One time we had one of Costco’s head R&D people at KFI tech center. We had developed a flavor that could make a lesser cut of meat taste like a superior cut. The R&D guy was very up front saying: “Costco doesn’t sell lesser cuts of meat”. By in large he is right. If you see it at Costco, it is going to be a better quality.

  1. Treasure Hunt

That brings up another point. We call it the “treasure hunt” phenomena. If you see something at Costco that looks good, you better buy it when you see it because it may not be there the next time you are in the store. The Costco folks out at Kirkland Washington denied this was part of their strategy, but I think they were lying. My experience has been they shift products in and out regularly. The Treasure Hunt phenomena results in you buying more than you planned on. I can’t tell you the number of times I went to Costco to buy a $1.50 hotdog and wound up spending $200. There is a method to their madness.

  1. The “Snackies”

I will never forget the time my daughter brought her roommate Amy from London home for Thanksgiving. We took her to Costco and she couldn’t believe the value of the products. She could buy a pare of jeans for what it cost her to get them cleaned in the U.K. Amy also delighted in the food samples being given away calling them “Snackies”. Like most Costco regulars we have made quite a few meals out of grazing on the Snackies.

  1. Check Out Envy

My guess I am not the only one who looks at what others are buying to decide if I have missed out on something. It usually takes a day or two but if I see something good in someone else’s cart chances are I will be back to buy it.

From a supper club standpoint if you buy it at Costco you know that the quality is great and you more than likely have more than you need for a dinner party.

If you enjoy this blog and similar other stories/supper club lessons subscribe to get future blogs at and be on the look out for my book Impromptu Friday Nights a Guide to Supper Clubs. Morgan James Publishing published the Kindle-Version on September 5, 2017 and the hard copy coming out January 30, 2018.