You used to visit with friends in the evenings. You used to delight in casually choosing from the wonderful variety of dining options the city has to offer. Often, both of these things went hand in hand.

You used to visit with friends in the evenings. You used to delight in casually choosing from the wonderful variety of dining options the city has to offer. Often, both of these things went hand in hand.

And then, baby came.

All of a sudden, recapturing the pleasures of dining with friends becomes a costly logistical conundrum: find a babysitter, schedule the babysitter, provide instructions for the babysitter, be home by a reasonable hour for the babysitter. And try not to worry about your precious new arrival while enjoying your time away.

While my husband and I still occasionally rely on the services of a babysitter, we've largely given up on it, and instead of going out, we've brought the dinner party home.

At first, this was fairly unnerving - we knew that everyone's enjoyment was largely in the hands of our infant daughter. However, at around 5 months of age, she settled into a routine of falling asleep by 7 p.m. All of a sudden, the evening was reliably ours!

Of course, you're just trading one set of complications for another if you're going to the effort of hosting a true home-cooked dinner party and, as such, this article was inspired by the wide range of efficient alternatives we've found. Below are some of our favorites.

Costs are indicated based on our best estimate of how much it would cost to serve a party of four adults: $ = $25 or less; $$ = $26-$50; $$$ = $51-$75; $$$$ = $76+


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• SUSHI: Tensuke Market (Tensuke MarketKenny Centre, 1167 Old Henderson Road, Columbus 43220,614-451-6002) is a great place to get high-quality, freshly made sushi. They offer a wide selection of party trays, including ones that you can customize. Just order ahead and arrange your pickup time. Round out the meal with Japanese snacks, miso soup and beer, sake or soju - they're all in the market. Japanese-style dessert pastries can be found in the nearby Belle's Bread (1168 Kenny Centre Mall, Columbus 43220,614-451-7110). COST: Tensuke $$, Belle's Bread $

• BBQ: On the weekends, Ray Ray's Hog Pit food truck (2619 N. High St., Columbus 43202,614-753-1191) will happily sell you a party's worth of ribs by the slab, brisket by the pound and sides galore. City Barbeque (multiple locations) are also pros at carryout and feature party packs for groups of 4-24 people. COST: Ray Ray's $$, City Barbeque $$

• PIZZA: OK, so this one may be obvious, but what may notbe obvious is how good Harvest Pizzeria's frozen pizzas are (available at multiple stores). Like, truly delicious and better than anything that comes out of your freezer and goes into the oven for eight minutes has any right to be. zpizza (multiple locations) has also recently announced their delivery of full pizza meals for groups, including the pies, salad, appetizers and dessert. COST: Harvest Pizzeria $$, zpizza $$

• DESSERTS: Where do we start? Pistacia Vera (541 S. Third St., Columbus 43215,614-220-9070; also located at North Market) and Sassafras Bakery (657 High St., Worthington 43085,614-781-9705) are among the great bakeries worth keeping in mind. Jeni's for ice cream, of course (multiple locations), and you can pair it with a home-delivered pie from Honeykiss bakery. Patisserie Lallier (multiple locations) takes orders and offers delivery service for their utterly amazing and thoroughly decadent pain au chocolat, bread pudding and many other delectables. COST: Pistacia Vera $-$$, Sassafras $, Jeni's $, Honeykiss $-$$, Patisserie Lallier $-$$

• FORMAL/SPECIAL OCCASIONS: Hire a chef or caterer to cook at your house for a night and split the bill. This may seem indulgent, but it can be done at prices similar, on a per-head basis, to a night at a nice restaurant - particularly if you cover the beverages. COST: $$$$

• HIT UP THE MEXICAN MARKET: You can find most of your favorite taco meats premade and cut for taco use at the butcher's counter in La Plaza Tapatia (4233 Shoppers Lane, Columbus 43228,614-276-0333) and salsas and other toppings lie within, too. Grab a pack of corn tortillas, and you'll be eating well for only a few minutes' worth of prep. COST: $

•…OR THE KOREAN MARKET: The flavors are very different, but the idea is strikingly similar to the Mexican option. Premade marinated proteins and banchan (Korean apps) are available at Arirang market (1526 Bethel Road, Columbus 43220,614-459-8070). Grill the proteins (this can even be done communally on a tabletop with an induction burner), put them in a lettuce leaf like the Koreans do and eat them like a taco. Rice is a typical accompaniment. COST: $$

•…OR THE JAPANESE MARKET: Tensuke not only offers premade sushi, but also all of the ingredients and tools to quickly do it yourself at home. They have great, sashimi-quality fish, seaweed wraps, Japanese vegetables and more. The only cooking, so to speak, is the preparation of the sushi rice. COST: $$

• POT LUCK: It may require some cooking on the part of the host, but one dish is easier than 10, right? Or, even easier, just hit up any of the above for your contribution. COST: $

-Bethia Woolf is the owner and operator of Columbus Food Adventures, a food tour company.