The dinner party, always a great way to bring people together, is usually ended quickly with the mere hint of the words “clean up.” Unfortunately, people hate to clean. It is a slow, boring, uninspiring task that is usually on the heels of a lot of hard work already put into something else. Though the party is over, the clean up doesn’t have to be a major chore with a little planning and preparation.

The Guest Mess
When we invite people into our home we always hope that they will be respectful and cautious, treating what is ours as though it were theirs. Who knew these people were such slobs with their own stuff? At least that may be what you are compelled to think as you look at your previously clean home, and the disaster areas it has become, after the guests leave!

When hosting any party, we always need to consider a few aspects ahead of time. Who are these people and how many of them are there? Close friends and family deserve an invite to your home, but that doesn’t mean that business associates, clients, and casual acquaintances deserve or expect the same. Inviting 50 people in that you are not very close to, and turning them loose, is bound to wreck havoc with your home. Consider an alternate location if there are lots of people or if you are just not close to them.

Should you still choose to have the party in your home, even knowing that some of your guests may not be people you would ordinarily think about inviting in, always remember that, as the host, free reign over your home is not a guest’s right, it is a host’s option. Creating private spaces in your home is an acceptable practice that can help to reduce your clean up burden. Typically homes have “lockable” interior doors. These doors do not require a key, just a simple knife or screw driver will open them, but they can slow down wandering guests. Letting guests know ahead of time that while they are free to roam around, that there are areas that are private and to which they will find the doors locked. Areas such as offices, personal bedrooms, and personal closets are logical places that an ordinary guest will be unsurprised to find, or hear, is locked. Use these areas to store items that you fear could be harmed or present a hazard during your party.

The items relocated to these rooms may not be fragile or even valuable. After determining the space you will allow your guests to roam about, go into those rooms, turn out the lights, and think about crossing the room. You should immediately have a list of items that you think about trying not to run into. While your guests are not blind, there are always pieces of furniture in any room that can be in a blind spot for those uninitiated to your home. Move or remove any items that block the space to ensure that a guest can cross any room easily. This will help to prevent spills and falls, which will reduce clean up of food, drinks, and broken items.

The Drunk Guest Mess
Some people just can’t handle alcohol, whether they are a recovering alcoholic or just a drunk that hasn’t realized they have a problem. When discussing the mess of a dinner party, alcohol can certainly affect how big clean up becomes in our role as host. Sometimes just telling people to bring their own drinks to share is enough to allow some moderate drinking while preventing those with alcohol issues from becoming destructive forces. Even a raging alcoholic will only show up with so much alcohol. Between the confusion of who brought what, the invitation to share, and the people who conservatively bring soft drinks unsure whether or not that was an invitation to bring alcohol, there is usually less alcohol than there are drinkers. As a result, the supply of alcohol typically fizzles out before people get severely impaired.

One, rarely thought of, mess for a dinner party host to clean up, is the mess created when a guest consumes too much alcohol and attempts to drive home. Depending on where you live, as the host of the party they became intoxicated at, you may be responsible for the results of their drunk driving. Always be prepared to make alternate arrangements for your guests who have had too many. Call a cab, provide or locate a place for them to spend the night, or take responsibility for keeping them off the roads any way you can. While it isn’t the ordinary mess one thinks of with a dinner party, a guest turned drunk driver is one that no host wants to deal with.

The Food Mess – Before
While cooking a meal is an obvious chore, may hosts make the clean up of their yummy creations more of one than it has to be. Keeping a sink of warm soapy water while cooking allows you to clean as you go. Placing dirty pots, pans, bowls, and utensils into the water starts the cleaning process and prevents their clean up from requiring a sandblaster. While you may end up just rinsing those items and placing them in the dishwasher, items that haven’t dried out always come clean on the first cycle. Just make sure that you rinse off the sink dish liquid completely to prevent suds lock on the dishwasher. It is also perfectly okay to run a dishwasher cycle, unless the machine is obnoxiously loud, while your guests are arriving. That way, once your dinner party is complete, you just have to unload the clean dishes and refill the machine with any new dirty dishes.

The Food Mess – During
Of course you will serve the food you cooked at your dinner party, and there are more choices than ever for hosts looking to reduce the mess after a dinner party when it comes to food. Disposable plates, cups, cutlery, platters, pans, napkins, and more can turn clean up into a breeze. Rugs or drop cloths over carpet can help to catch and contain any food or drink mishaps and corral the nightmare of stained carpets and ruined flooring. So consider the kind of dinner party that you are having, who your guests are, and the impression you would like to make and look at all of the tools to create an easier clean up afterward that are available to you as a host.

The previous section, “The Food Mess Before,” discusses using a sink of warm soapy water while cooking to alleviate the cleanup of items used while cooking, and the same general idea can be applied during your dinner party as well. For small gatherings, a sink with some soapy water for your guests to place their plates and cutlery in works great. For larger gatherings, where there may be more plates and cutlery than there is sink space, this suggestion may not work. All hope, however, is not lost! A larger storage container (similar to the bus tubs that you see in many restaurants) labeled for “rinsed dishes and utensils” placed next to the sink can allow for the same cleanup ease.

The (Almost) Empty Mess
Your guests may have every intention of putting empty containers where they belong, there just might be some questions about where exactly that is. An empty glass bottle, an almost empty cup, or an almost finished plate may create some confusion for the guest about what to do if they are unfamiliar with your household. Some people recycle, some do not. Some people have garbage disposals, some do not. Some people are picky about what they put in their trash, some are not. While many of your guests may just go with it, placing recyclable items, food waste, and almost empty drinks in the trash, some may not.

Whether environmentally conscious, concerned that animals will open trash bags for food waste, or fearful of the mess that remaining liquids may cause, some guests will not just throw those items into the trash. Though it makes for a bigger clean up mess for the host, these guests have their hearts in the right place. Making sure to have an empty sink, preferably the side with the garbage disposal, always available to guests to use for extra food or drink disposal, can cut the clutter of almost empty drinks and plates. As for recycling, setting out two bins, clearly marked for trash and recyclables, will help to alleviate the confusion and reduce the dinner party clean up. If any of these do not apply, or if none of them do, make sure to let guests know. Placing a sign over the trash can, giving the green light to place recyclable, food, and liquid items into the trash (as it applies to your situation) will help with the after dinner party clean up.

The Trash Can Mess
The biggest clean up helper for any host is the obvious and accessible trash can. Not all guests are pigs who just leave their trash strewn about your home. Some just can’t find a trash can. Save yourself some work after the party and start with an empty trash can at the beginning that your guests don not need to hunt you down. An obvious trash can that is full, will obviously not help a lot, so make sure that someone is checking the trash can and emptying it throughout the party.

The ‘Minimizing the Mess’ Mess
Every dinner party host would love to close the door behind the last guest, wiggle their nose or wave a magic wand, and make the mess disappear.  A completely mess free party isn’t possible, and depending on the nature of your dinner party, some dinner parties may require more work than others.  Assuming a dinner party of friends, all of these suggestions are highly applicable, but if you are out to impress, some of these will unfortunately detract from the elegance of your evening. As with any party, know your guests and know what you want their experience to be. Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, avail yourself of any suggestions that ease the burden without detracting from the impression.