HOW TO HOST A DINNER PARTY: THE BEGINNERS GUIDE
So you’ve invited some friends/colleagues/relatives/strangers off the street over for dinner. It started with a passing comment you thought they would forget about, but somehow it’s manifested into an actual dinner party that you have to host. How did that happen?
Either way, you need to get your game face on and get prepping. Whether you’re a seasoned host or you’re losing your dinner party virginity, you need to look like you have everything under control.
We have created the complete on how to host a dinner party, right from the food to the place settings to how to seat your guests. Get reading, and we can assure you, you’ll be just fine!
So let’s start with who you invited. Your dinner party will have a different vibe depending on how the guests know each other if they do at all.
If your guests are total strangers and their only mutual connection is you, it makes sense to break the ice with games so everyone can get to know each other.
Hopefully, they’ll get on, after all, you like both of them enough to invite them to dinner so they should have something in common.
Resist the urge to sit your guests next to two people they already know, this way it will force them to interact with someone new.
If everyone is already familiar, you can probably skip this part and allow everyone to seat themselves.
Employ the games in the middle of dinner to avoid any awkward silences while you’re busy in the kitchen, think Charades or Pictionary – nobody wants to be getting into a 4-hour Monopoly battle while they wait for the next course.
If you have two single guests and are trying to play matchmaker don’t make it so obvious that they feel uncomfortable, likewise, if you have two guests who have previously fallen out consider how close they will want to be to one another (or use logic and don’t invite them both).
The main event! Even if your party is an informal affair, the food is something all your guests will remember. The tone of the evening is set by the food you serve so make sure you plan your menu well in advance.
If you’re having a low key get together, you could opt for Mexican Food or Spanish Tapas, that way you can share starters and dip in and out of a range of different dishes.
You might think this would be harder to cook, but it’s a bunch of easy dishes instead of one super hard one, the more you make, the more likely your guests will find a recipe they love.
If the dinner is a little more sophisticated, then you can plan accordingly.
Follow the traditional starter, main and dessert trend and keep it simple by sticking to a theme. If you fancy Italian then you could do Bruschetta, Pasta, and Pavlova or if it’s a British roast you fancy, start and end with something light to prevent too much stodge.
Remember to ask your guests ahead of time if they have any dietary requirements as you don’t want to find out you have a vegan in the group when all you have to offer is beef bourguignon.
The devil is in the detail, so try to think of ways to enhance the experience for your diners, what they eat and drink out of is, and we’ll cover that in the decor segment.
Drinks are the best way to loosen your guests up and help them enjoy their evening! Make sure to have plenty to offer; it might be worthwhile asking what they like beforehand so you can be stocked up.
If one guest doesn’t drink alcohol don’t force them to, make sure you have there preferred soft drink and try not to make a habit of shaming their choices.
An excellent way to break the ice at the start of the evening is to have everyone create a cocktail – if you have space and time. It’s a fun activity which will get everyone bonding, and all you need is a few different spirits and some fruity mixers!
The guests may bring wine with them, and it’s polite to open that during the evening for everyone to enjoy.
Remember different wines go with different dishes so take a look here for the best pairing for your meal.
When thinking about how to plan a dinner party the timing of your evening is all in the preparation. It makes sense to write a brief plan of what time your guests are scheduled to arrive. Leave some time for arrival drinks and nibbles (and any last minute prep from you) and then an aim for a time for each course.
Timings don’t have to be rigid, but it means you have something to refer to so you can plan your cooking times in accordance.
Adopt a mise en place approach to your cooking and get all your ingredients out beforehand, chopped and ready to cook. That way, you aren’t spending all evening in the kitchen blending and cutting and can be present to attend to your guests.
Timings are only relevant until after the dessert is served, once the food is out of the way you can relax and let things flow – or urge everyone to get a taxi home so you can have some peace.
If you know the main course is going to take two hours to cook, it makes sense to start it before your guests arrive or find something to keep them busy while they wait.
The Dress Code
Not all dinner parties need to have a dress code, but if you want to enforce one keep it simple.
Does anyone really know what smart casual means? Is that trainers? Is it jeans? Make sure it’s easy for your guests to grasp as you don’t want them to be scared of arriving in the wrong outfit.
Ideally, if you are having a formal event make it black tie/cocktail dress, and if it’s informal don’t impose a dress code at all.
The decor can be split into two categories, interior decoration and tableware – both equally important.
As much as you might not fancy washing all the plates and would prefer to chuck some paper ones in the bin – this isn’t the buffet at your nephew’s christening. Make sure the dishwasher is empty when your guests arrive, and you’ll be able to throw everything in after they’ve eaten!
A few special items on the table like this serving board or this vase will be the touches that make your evening stand out. It helps to have some snacking platters like these to separate your treats and allow for plenty of options.
These candles will set a relaxed mood for your evening and keep your house smelling lovely even if you burn the main course. There are plenty of little extras you can use to enhance the dining experience like these oil drizzlers or a hefty spice rack to make any dish tasty.
The perfect playlist can make or break the evening so be sure to curate something that sets the mood. It makes sense to have an arrival/dinner playlist and then an after dinner one for when things get a little rowdier.
Remember to keep the volume at a moderate level while arrival drinks and dinner are going on; you don’t want everyone shouting over each other. Try to choose something reasonably easy listening; you can always put Eminem’s greatest hits on when dinner is over.
These Spotify playlists might work in your favour:
If you decide to go all out and organise some entertainment for your dinner party, there are a few things you can choose from. Take a look at this list to give you some ideas:
Buy your own machine or get a microphone to plug into your TV! This is a great after dinner party starter and will create some brilliant memories for you and your guests.
Okay, so we don’t mean whip out the scrabble board some board games are the perfect addition to a party.
Think about something like Speak Out where guests put plastic guards in their mouths and try to pronounce words. Then there is Cards Against Humanity, the hilarious, strictly adult card game. This blog will help you find the right game to spruce up your party!
Another way to liven up the party is to host an after dinner murder mystery! A classic game of whodunnit is sure to get everyone involved, and you can get game templates for free online here.
Make Your Own Dessert
Save yourself some cooking time by creating a dessert table where people can craft their own sundae.
All you have to do is fill some bowls with toppings and then get out the ice cream and let everyone loose! That way they can have or as little as they like and you could even do a prize for the best one.
Now it’s down to you…
The key to the perfect dinner party is not something you can learn from reading a blog; you need to relax! If you feel too stressed, your guests will sense it, and it might make for an uncomfortable evening.
Make sure you prepare as much as you can, and most of all be present and enjoy it! They didn’t just come for your food, but they also came for your company, so don’t slave away all evening and miss all the fun.