The guests have RSVPd, the menu is planned, and the table is set. Your thoughtfully planned dinner party is about to begin, and you want to make sure it goes off without a hitch. Remember, you aren’t just the host––you’re also the facilitator of the dinner party, the person who ensures that your guests stay engaged, entertained, and, of course, well fed. As a result, you need to play different roles during the dinner party. While you certainly want to enjoy time with your guests, you also want to ensure your party flows seamlessly from drinks and appetizers to dinner and dessert. Plan for success by following this helpful guide for hosting the ultimate dinner party.
1. Greet Your Guests and Set the Tone
The doorbell rings, and your first dinner party guest has arrived. Greet them warmly, and welcome them into your home. Make sure you have a system set up where you can safely store guests’ belongings out of sight. You don’t want a pile of jackets or handbags in your entryway, so offer to take guests’ belongings to a separate room so that they don’t have to tote them around.
Next, guide your guests to the room where you want them to get comfortable. The living room or family room is a space where guests can instantly get comfortable. If the weather is favorable, you can even let them enjoy your outdoor space, such as a patio or deck. Comfortable seating, soft music, and layered lighting can create an inviting ambiance for the first stage of your dinner party.
2. Enjoy Drinks and Hors d’Oeuvres
Diving right into dinner doesn’t give guests a chance to get comfortable and get to know each other. By giving guests a chance to warm up to each other and relax, you can create a livelier dinner party. Kick your event off with dinner and drinks. Once your guests are seated, offer them a drink. If you have a fully stocked bar, you can leave the offer open-ended and mix their cocktail. In the more likely case that you have limited offerings, let guests know what you have, whether you’re serving beer, wine, or mixed drinks.
Manage this pre-dinner socialization with these key tips:
- Display a drink menu in your gathering space. That way, you won’t find yourself repeating your drink choices to every guest, and they’ll be able to more thoughtfully choose their selection from a list. A chalkboard or a large piece of cardstock displayed on an easel work well as a drink menu.
- Set up your bar in the same room where guests will gather. If you don’t, you’ll spend more time mixing drinks in another room than enjoying your company. This way, you can refill a glass of wine or mix a cocktail without missing out on conversation.
- Set up a buffet adjacent to the bar to serve appetizers. Letting guests choose their own appetizers relieves you of a host duty that could, again, take time away from your guests. Plus, you’ll avoid any awkward interactions where you offer guests an appetizer they may not like, and they have to politely decline.
3. Serve Dinner Like a Pro
Keep an eye on the clock to make sure that you don’t get carried away and serve dinner too late. It’s your job as the host to stick to a timeline so that the party moves effortlessly from one Once all guests have arrived, wait no longer than about an hour before serving dinner.
Design a game plan for serving dinner so that you can execute it flawlessly. Step away from the drinks and appetizers a few minutes before you plan to serve dinner to ensure the food and setup is ready. Serving food buffet style is going to be less stressful. You can keep food warm on warming trays or in chafing dishes, and guests can serve themselves the food and portions they prefer. If you opt for a plated dinner, recruit someone to help you serve––ideally, your partner or co-host. That way, dinner is served promptly for every guest.
4. Avoid Seating Blunders
Consider your crowd when you enter the dining room. If your group is all couples, chances are they’ll sit next to their partner and naturally fill the table without any awkwardness. On the other hand, if not all of your guests know each other, you can avoid potential awkwardness by guiding each guest to an appropriate seat. Place guests who know each other nearby so that they’re comfortable. You may even consider place cards for a larger crowd so that everyone is seated by someone they know and like.
5. Guide the Conversation
Depending on who is seated around the dinner table, you might find that you have some lulls in conversation during dinner. Or, if you have a lively crowd, a tense debate might break out. Keep things light by guiding the conversation during dinner with these tips:
- Mention commonalities between guests. Perhaps some guests work in a similar field, share hobbies, or have children the same age. Noting these similarities can spark some lighthearted conversation.
- Ask engaging questions. Use your knowledge of the guests to ask thoughtful questions about their travels, family, or hobbies, focusing on topics that other guests will find interesting.
- Don’t dominate the conversation. Sure, you’re the host, but that doesn’t mean all of your guests want to hear your stories. Think of yourself as the facilitator of the conversation, not the storyteller. Fill in lulls of conversation with thoughtful questions, not long-winded tales.
6. Make Dessert Diverse
Dessert is a must for any dinner party, whether it’s a homemade creation, store-bought baked good, or simple fruit platter. Mix things up by having guests return to a more comfortable location like your family room or patio for dessert, after-dinner drinks, or coffee. A change of location will be welcomed after dinner in the dining room and will create a more relaxed vibe after the more formal meal.
7. Know When to Say Goodnight
Keep an eye on the clock, and don’t let your party go on too long. If guests are checking their watches, pulling out their smartphone, or yawning, it’s time to wrap it up. Remember, your guests are looking to you to guide them all the way to the goodbyes.
With these practical, easy-to-implement tips as your guide, you can host a successful dinner party for friends. You’ll enjoy your guests and good food while being proud of the party you threw.