Dinner parties can be more than just a bunch of folks gathered at your table. They’re cultural moments, precious memories, and a place to truly connect as we take part in the ritual of eating. There’s no need to be fussy, but a few tried-and-true rules can turn a meal into a masterpiece. Follow our pro tips below and be sure to share your favorite practices in the comments.
1. Create a space and set the mood.
Enjoying a meal indulges all your senses, and your dinner party can create a full sensory experience for your guests. Make sure the vibe is right with lighting, music, and location so that every aspect enhances your meal. Don’t forget the basics either, and make sure your home is a clean and welcoming space when your guests arrive. Bonus: Candles, centerpieces, and flowers can be purchased cheaply and elevate the feel.
2. Expect the early bird.
If you called for your dinner party to begin at 7 PM, have everything ready by 6:30. There’s always that one person (or couple) who shows up early. You don’t want to have them awkwardly sitting on the side while you finish setting up. If you think you’ll run behind, set out some small bites that guests can whet their appetite with while you put the finishing touches on the meal. Folks always congregate around the kitchen anyway (it’s the heart of the home, right?) so anticipate company while you’re bustling around.
'I'm actually not eating _______right now."
3. Feed everyone without fuss
One friend loves meat, one friend is a vegan, and one doesn’t eat anything that’s actually been cooked. You don’t have to make a million different dishes, but you do need to keep everyone in mind. Divide and conquer by turning your hearty side dishes into the entree for friends with restrictions while the rest of your guests dive into the main course. You can also leave any divisive ingredients in a pinch bowl off to the side so guests can add things like cheeses, meats, or bread if they want. Everyone will have something for their palate and you spend less time in the kitchen.
4. Plan your portions.
Keep this in mind in two facets—you want to have enough food to serve each guest comfortably and you also want to have enough of a variety, to make sure everyone finds their dish. Make sure your guests have a few different options for appetizers and sides, and desserts, if you can swing it. (I like to keep a fancy chocolate bar around, just in case). We like these portion suggestions from The Spruce.
5. Be mindful of conversation.
Playing host is more than setting the table and refilling drinks. Your group of guests want to eat and engage, and sometimes that requires direction to the conversation, especially if folks don't know each other. Give a nudge in the right direction and have thought-provoking, but not fight-inducing, topics to explore while they dine and imbibe. Let things flow naturally, but steer clear of the controversial stuff like politics, religion, sex, and finances. These don’t always pair well with dinner parties unless you’re intentional about creating a space to have those discussions. But don’t worry, more to come on how to hold dinner parties around the good stuff! Bonus: Have a few upbeat stories and topics you can segue to if the conversation heads toward choppy waters.
Above all, enjoy yourself
6. Be prepared...
While hosting a dinner party is tons of fun, it can also be stressful. There’s lots to do! Make it a more enjoyable experience for yourself by doing as much as you can the day before. Things like setting the table, arranging the décor, and doing last-minute grocery shopping can be done ahead of time.
7. Because anything can happen.
You can create the menu, and curate the guest list, but there’s no way to know what will happen when a diverse group of people come together. Sometimes it’s too much wine and sometimes it’s too much politics, but there’s always a chance your dinner can hit a rough spot. Don’t stress, it happens! Just offer more mashed potatoes and remember why these fine folks are around the table in the first place. Set an intention early in the night to enjoy yourself, to be flexible and accommodating, and always congratulate yourself for orchestrating a great meal.
Have any best practices you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments.