There’s nothing quite like a good dinner party. Friends, family, a good meal, and lots of long-lasting memories. Here are 10 tips to wow your dinner party guests.
1. Decide a Theme for the Dinner Party
Before your planning gets into high gear and you send the invitations to your guests, decide on a theme. What are you celebrating? What’s the occasion? Can you incorporate a holiday or the current season?
The theme of the party can be anything from simple to elaborate. But naming your dinner party’s theme will help you create a cohesive environment for yourself and your guests. You might choose to share this theme with your guests or just keep it to yourself for planning purposes. Either way, understanding the overall feel of your dinner party will help you plan everything moving forward.
2. Plan the Menu
Oh, the dreaded dinner party menu. As the host, you might feel extreme responsibility in choosing the menu for your guests, but fear not: the food often isn’t as important as the company. As long as no one gets ill or has a severe allergic reaction, you’ll be fine.
The key is to plan the menu long ahead of time. First, consider your guests’ eating preferences and restrictions (don’t make shrimp scampi if your friend is allergic to shellfish, or serve meat-only options to a vegetarian!). Next, consider the time and effort required to make the meal. Is it something you can prep ahead of time, so you won’t be frantically trying to finish everything at the last minute?
Finally, don’t try something new and grand on the day of the dinner party. While it might be tempting to try a recipe filled with technical cooking skills, this will likely only lead to stress and/or disaster. Instead, choose a meal you’ve made before. If you do want to try something new, consider making a smaller batch a week or two before the party to work out all the cooking kinks.
3. Serve Appetizers and Dessert
A great dinner party starts with great conversation and mingling. To keep your guests happy while they’re socializing (and while you are finishing the main meal), always serve appetizers. These don’t need to be anything complex or fancy – just some quick and easy starters to keep hunger at bay.
Snacking on appetizers keeps those guests from getting hangry, and it encourages conversation. Plus, serving food at the onset reduces the pressure on you (the host) to get the main meal out right away.
Need some appetizer inspiration to get you started? Here are a few ideas to consider!
And finally, what’s a good dinner party without dessert? It’s the final flare to an incredible night: the moment your guests indulge in the delicious delicacy. If you’re not adept at cakes and cookies (or you just don’t have the time to create desserts after all the other dinner party prep), there are plenty of wonderful store-bought options. Dessert signals to your guests that the party is winding down – and it allows everyone to go home delightfully full.
4. Set the Ambiance
Before your guests arrive, think about the atmosphere you want to create. Will it be bright and cheerful? Laid back and relaxing? Classy and elegant?
Your dinner party should reflect your style and personality – and the ambiance will follow that lead.
Start by looking at your common areas (the dining room, living room, and outdoor entertainment area if you’ll be using it). Is there anything you can do to liven up these spaces? Maybe a few easy updates, some decluttering, or additions to make your home feel cozier and more welcoming?
You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to create the atmosphere you want for your dinner party. A few DIY centerpieces, some candles, and the proper lighting will go a long way towards making your party a night to remember.
5. Consider Seating and Conversation
Your dinner party is a chance for the important people in your life to meet one another for the first time, or get to know one another at a deeper level. With that in mind, think about where people will sit and how they will chat before, during, and after the main meal.
You might consider assigned seating, though this doesn’t always feel comfortable and natural. It’s likely your guests will mingle before dinner, so they will naturally gravitate towards the guests they want to chat with. Leave the seating arrangements up to them for the most organic conversation.
As far as conversation is concerned, think about how people will talk before and after dinner. Do you have enough seating in common areas? Can all your guests be together in one area, or will you need to spread them out to allow for conversation among smaller groups?
Finally, think about how conversation will take place at the dinner table. Ensure centerpieces and serving dishes do not block the field of view, allowing your guests to chat with people across the table.
6. Make a Dinner Party Playlist
Music (or lack thereof) can make a world of difference in the overall atmosphere of your dinner party. Before your guests arrive, consider creating or downloaded a playlist. Of course, the music shouldn’t be overly heavy or aggressive – your guests still need to hear each other talk – but soft, soothing background noise is always appreciated.
Consider your guests and their preferences when creating a playlist, too.
7. Accept Some Help
While you certainly don’t want your guests laboring away to help you finish the meal, DO accept some help adding the finishing touches.
Most dinner party guests will lend a hand to make sure everything goes off as planned. It’s perfectly acceptable to let your guests help you finish the dinner, set the table, or refill the appetizer tray as needed. Not only will this assistance keep you from running ragged, but it will also give you a chance to enjoy the conversation and companionship.
Your guests want to help – so let them!
8. Save Major Cleanup for Later
We’re not going to mince words: dinner parties are messy. There will be dishes – lots of them. And while it might be tempting to clean up every last one while your dinner party guests continue to enjoy themselves, remind yourself that the cleaning can wait.
It’s fine to pick up after yourself and pile those dishes on the counter, but leave the major cleaning for after your guests have left. Instead, enjoy the fruits of your hard-earned labor and relax with those around you!
9. Use Your Long-Lost Apron
Perhaps you (like me) have an apron gathering dust in some back closet. Now is the time to shake it off and tie it on! Aprons are the perfect addition to your dinner party because they keep your perfectly-planned outfit from getting an unexpected stain.
Aprons were made for entertaining. Even though you’re frantically stirring the pots before the guests arrive, you can simply hang the apron on its hook and welcome your guests, making it all look (deceivingly) effortless.
10. Remember: It’s About Quality Time
If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: your dinner party is about quality. And no, we’re not talking about the quality of your meal. It’s all about quality time. So instead of driving yourself crazy overthinking every detail, remind yourself why you hosted a dinner party in the first place: to foster connection between people you love.
The meal, the appetizers, the décor – those things will be forgotten over time. What you won’t forget are the memories you make around the dinner table. So take the time to enjoy your guests – because THAT’S what really matters.