Every woman needs an occasional "Ladies Night," but sometimes dinner and a movie just doesn't cut it, and the bar scene no longer holds any appeal. That's why a growing number of businesses are appealing to women's inner creativity by offering a spot where friends can gather for a casual, fun-filled evening. Best of all, they leave feeling they've accomplished something.

Say "Cheers" to Easy Dinners

Dinner by Design is a national franchise designed to take the work out of meal preparation. But the real fun is found in the groups of mostly women who get together to share the experience. It's common for five to 12 friends to bring their favorite bottles of wine, says Phoenix-based franchise owner Hannah Nelson, who runs her business out of a strip mall store, and spend the evening preparing meals for their family. When the women arrive, the recipes, ingredients -- provided by local food suppliers -- measuring cups and pans are ready.

"You don't do any cooking at all," Nelson explains. "You're simply assembling the meals. We do all the prep work, as well as the cleaning." At the end of the evening, the prepared meals are brought home, ready for storage in the refrigerator or freezer as directed.

Menus are decided upon by the franchiser, and new ones are listed each month on their website at dinnerbydesign.com. Typically there are 15 menu items to choose from, including appetizers like salmon puffs and sweet and sour meatballs, entrees such as chicken sauté with ponzu sauce, and desserts like peanut butter freeze. The leader of each group chooses what the friends will make. Prices run from $69 to create three full meals that feed four to six people, to $219, the price for creating 12 full-size entrees. Nelson likes to have 48 hours notice but can be ready in as little as 24 hours, to ensure everything is ready when her guests arrive.

"We have groups that come in every month. It's a good opportunity to get everyone together while still doing something for your family. When you consider how everyone's multitasking, you can see that we're accommodating a lot of people," says Nelson. "Plus, it's a fun way to hang out."

Photo source: Haole Girl in Hawaii