The idea of having a get-together with your closest friends and relatives sounds fun, but you don’t really want a raucous party — and taking everybody to a restaurant on your tab can be prohibitively expensive.
Why not hold a dinner party, instead?
Whether you’re an amateur chef eager to display your talents or a new homeowner ready to welcome people into your abode, dinner parties offer a way to simultaneously deepen your bonds with others and have a good time — but only if you do it right.
If you’re ready to get started on your first adventure hosting a grown-up dinner party, here’s how to get started:
1. Make a Selective Guest List
Dinner parties are way more intimate than other kinds of parties, so whittle your guest list down carefully. If you have a specific social circle in mind, that’s fine. If you don’t, try to invite people who at least know each other on sight, are good conversationalists and fairly social — since the atmosphere can suffer if there are too many introverts together in a room.
2. Set a Date for Dinner
It probably goes without saying (although we’re going to say it anyhow), but Friday and Saturday nights are best for these kinds of events. If your guests are worried about getting enough rest before work the next morning, they may spend half the evening watching the clock — and the party can break up prematurely. Try to give your guests at least a week’s advance notice, although two or three weeks may be better.
3. Figure Out a Theme
Is it someone’s birthday? Is it the season finale of your favorite TV show? Is it the autumnal equinox or 100 days until Christmas? Whether silly or serious, having a purpose for your party will make it all the more entertaining. It also makes it easier to get the conversation flowing and can give you a ready-made direction to go when you’re thinking about entertainment, food, drinks and desserts.
4. Plan Your Menu Carefully
You don’t need to be a Michelin chef to put together a fabulous menu for your dinner party, but you do need to plan a menu that’s easy to prepare ahead of time. (Otherwise, you could end up spending half of your party stuck in the kitchen.) Here are some tips:
- Ask your guests about any dietary restrictions. While you don’t need to make wholly different meals because someone is lactose intolerant and another person is doing Keto, you do need to find out if anybody on your guest list has a nut or shrimp allergy. Avoid allergens on your menu entirely, and make sure that guests on specific diets have options.
- Don’t try to flex your culinary skills on a new dish. This is not the time to try a fancy new recipe you saw on Food Network. Stick with dishes that you’ve successfully prepared in the past.
- Select food that can be prepared early. Ideally, you want dishes like lasagna or meatballs that you can make in advance so that you’re not stressed or stuck in the kitchen all night.
- Have a lot of finger food and drinks. Appetizers, drinks and dessert should all be on the menu — and there should be plenty of each. Food and drink (whether you break out the craft beer, the good wine or indulge in spirits) should all be flowing freely throughout the night. Don’t hesitate to bring out the charcuterie board and pop a cork as soon as the first guest arrives.
5. Communicate with Your Guests Early
Let your guests know what’s on the menu in advance, so that you can sort out any problems ahead of time. This also gives your guests a chance to offer to bring something, if they like. While you don’t have to accept their offer, letting people bring a bottle of wine if they want can make them more comfortable about accepting your hospitality and help them relax.
If you have decided on a theme for your dinner party, make sure your guests know what to expect — whether that means you’ll eventually be outside roasting S’mores over the firepit or gathered around the television to watch the finale for The Walking Dead.
6. Clean and Decorate Your Place
You don’t have to deep clean every part of your home, but you do want to eliminate dirt and clutter from the kitchen, living room and bathroom. If you plan to carry the party outside at some point, make sure your deck or patio is also spotless.
7. Make an Effort to Create Ambiance
Save the majority of your efforts for the dining room table. Fresh flowers, candles, cloth napkins, a bold centerpiece and matching plates all help create a sense that the night is truly special.
Don’t overlook the power of music, either, when it comes to setting the mood for the night. A good playlist can help move your crowd (and you) beyond the humdrum of daily life and set a lively tone for the evening.
8. Don’t Skip the Cleanup
With rare exceptions, you don’t want to start the cleanup until your guests have left (so that nobody feels obligated to help out) — but you shouldn’t go to bed until your kitchen is mostly restored to order. You’ll be grateful when you wake up to a clean kitchen, and that will help you look back on the night with more pleasure.
Finally, remember the cardinal rule of dinner parties everywhere: Relax and enjoy yourself! If you’ve curated your guest list carefully, nobody will care if the lasagna is a tad overcooked or the wine glasses have water spots. Just kick back, revel in your company and let a feeling of camaraderie and ease take over the evening — because that’s what hosting a dinner party is really all about.