• Choose dishes that compliment one another in flavour, colour and texture.
• Combine a variety of temperatures, flavours, colours and textures to keep the meal interesting.
• Culinary globetrotting doesn't always work. Try to choose foods from one area of the world so that the meal doesn't become too eclectic.
• If you're serving dinner as a buffet or on platters to be passed at the table, make an extra portion so that no one has to take the last morsels.
• Hate to be up and down from the table? Can't decide on a suitable main course or worried about your guest's food preferences? Try serving a one course meal of appetizers or tapas. Asian, Indian and Spanish themed parties are particularly well suited to this type of menu planning. Just be sure to serve each item on a separate plate so that individual foods don't mingle and contaminate each other.
• Go from light and fresh tastes to more intense flavours. In other words, build the flavours so that a spicy appetizer doesn't overshadow the subtlety of a delicate entrée.
• If you include all of the food groups in your menu, the meal is likely to be both nutritionally and gastronomically balanced.
• If your friends are like mine, they slide in and out of vegetarian eating habits without always informing you. So, as a safeguard include at least one dish that is 100 per cent animal product free to ensure there will be something that everyone at the table can eat.
Dana McCauley is author of Pantry Raid: Out of the Cupboard Cooking (Whitecap 2002).