Hosting a dinner party always sounds like such fun—so tasteful, so elegant. But I recently entertained eight friends on a weeknight. Insane, right? The cooking didn’t intimidate me. The cleanup? I was a wreck.
Once my friends were out the door, all I wanted to do was to grab the last clean glass, pour in the rest of the wine, and lie down on the couch. But that was impossible! The next day was a work day and I didn’t want to wake up to a stinky mess.
So, with my helper (see step 2), I started the cleanup. I had this idea—that cleaning up is like having the party in reverse. The kitchen appliances, the same ones used to cook the meal, could transform the cleanup into something manageable.
Here's how it went.
1. Start with a clean kitchen
If you do nothing else on the list, do this: Clean as you go. Tidy your prep area and hand-wash the tools that can't go in the dishwasher. Toss those pots and pans into the dishwasher by themselves on a heavy cycle. If you have a good dishwasher, you might be able to fold down the tines to make room for the all the cookware. Remember that you can raise and lower the racks to make room for taller items.
When you start the party with a clean kitchen, you can serve apps on the island, so the dining room is pristine at the start of the main meal. Plus, the kitchen is ready to go at the end of the party when it's time to clean dinner plates, silverware, and wine glasses, once the party breaks up.
2. Recruit a helper
It’s rude for the host to start cleaning while the guests are still hanging out. (Or maybe that's just my excuse.) So, recruit a friend or family member to assist—the best guests volunteer. Always accept. Assign them tasks, like clearing the table, putting away the food, etc.
3. Put away leftovers
Have food storage containers ready, so you can get everything into the fridge or the pantry. Assess what’s okay to keep, based on the ingredients in the dish, and how long it has been out. Leftover chicken, maybe not. But you can cover the cheese plate and slide it into your refrigerator's cold drawer.
Also, clear some space in the fridge for the flowers—adjust the shelves if you can. Flowers will last longer if you clip the stems regularly, change the water daily, and refrigerate them at night.
4. Gather empty bottles and cans
If you do not want to inhale the smell of stale beer in the morning, corral cans and bottles, dump the contents down the drain, and move them to the trash or recycling bin. If there’s wine left and it’s worth keeping, cork it and put it away.
5. Scrape plates
Sure you could scrape with a knife or fork, but a silicone spatula is the ideal tool for this. It will scrape more thoroughly, which is a must, because dried food is so much harder to remove. We see this every day in out test labs. When you have a modern dishwasher, there’s no need to pre-wash.
6. Start the dishwasher
Around now, you’ll be very happy that you already washed and put away the prep dishes and utensils. Water glasses can go straight into the dishwasher. Wine glasses need to sit securely, so use the dishwasher's stemware holders. Some dishwashers specialize in glassware, so you can fit more in without breakage. Since most parties run out of glasses well before the end of the evening, if you have to, load the first batch of dirty glasses in during the party, and run a quick cycle. In under an hour, you'll have a lot of clean glasses.
7. Wipe off the counters and the sink
Do not use the dish sponge—grab a fresh sponge to swab the counter. If your counters are granite or marble, avoid any vinegar-based or ammonia-based cleaners. Warm soapy water should get the job done.
And while you're at it, scrub the sink. The sink drain is the dirtiest spot in your kitchen, but it's not hard to clean. Boil water in a pot on your cooktop, and pour it down the drain. Let it sit in the drain for a few minutes, then dump in an equal amount of cold water.
8. Clean the cooktop
9 Sweep or vacuum the floor
You’re almost finished. There's nothing left to do but the floors. Take a quick walk around with your vacuum cleaner to pick up all the crumbs and broken glass. If you have a robot vacuum, you can start relaxing now.
If you're exhausted, it's okay to put the clean dishes, silverware and glasses away in the the morning. If you loaded silverware into the third rack, it will take practically no time to put it away.
This is the time to pour yourself that last glass of wine—you’re done.