It’s time to play dress up and set the table.

By Susan Hall Mahon
Updated August 05, 2020
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Being in month six of a pandemic can make meals at home feel like an unstoppable assembly line of planning, shopping, prepping, eating, and dishwashing. And while takeout is a clutch option, it can get expensive, especially for a family—and it’s definitely not the same as treating yourself to an actual dinner out.

To shake things up on the home front, we enlisted Nicole “McMom” McLaughlin, mom of three and culinary expert, to bring the fine dining restaurant experience home for a “fancy dinner night.”

Watch the video to see how Nicole fared in her endeavor to get “fancy dinner” on the table and involve the whole family.

Here are the six tips Nicole learned along the way:

  1. Make the Dinner Extraordinary: On the menu for Nicole’s fancy dinner: Beef Wellington—that intimidating-sounding, but totally doable English dish of beef tenderloin wrapped with duxelles in puff pastry. Pick a dish you know will be special and that you wouldn’t make for a typical dinner at home, but don’t hesitate to pair it with low-effort sides like Nicole did: bagged salad, store-bought mashed potatoes, easy roasted asparagus, and boxed brownies with ice cream.
  2. Prep Ahead: “Create a menu and game plan to get things prepared ahead of time so that you can enjoy the experience too and not cook the whole time,” Nicole says. She prepped as much as she could in advance, and as dinner approached, she created an assembly line of plates to make serving go as smoothly as possible.
  3. Set the Ambience: Is your dining table being used as a home office or laundry landing pad instead of a place to actually sit down and eat? Time to give that space a makeover. Break out your tablecloth, cloth napkins, special occasion dinnerware, candles, and even a centerpiece if you’re feeling extra. There’s no shame in borrowing anything you don’t have from friends and family, like Nicole did.
  4. Involve the Whole Family: It’s all about dividing and conquering—and learning something along the way. Nicole delegated tasks to each of her three kids: setting the table, making dessert and serving drinks, and serving salad and dessert. When everyone has a job, they will appreciate the event even more, and you’ll take some of the pressure off of you.
  5. Get Dressed Up: If your dining room is getting a glow-up, you can ditch the yoga pants and scrunchie for some more formal threads too.
  6. Have Fun! The most important lesson is surely this. As Nicole says, “We have to make the best out of any situation, and it’s all about making memories.”

So would Nicole recommend fancy dinner night? “I think this is something my kids will want to do every once in a while for a special treat even when the restaurants open back up, so I’m glad we did it, I’m glad we experienced it, and I’m really glad I made Beef Wellington for the second time in my life.”

Are you ready to go out to eat at home? Share your pictures with us at @MyRecipes and Nicole at @NicoleMcMom.