Hosting a dinner party might feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef or a party planning pro to host a dinner party that you and your guests will love. The key to any successful dinner party is thoughtful planning, from the guest list to the menu. Incorporating unique elements to your event through decor, music, or even food allows you to personalize your dinner party so that it’s well suited for your guests.
Before you book your party date and send out invitations, follow this dinner party planning checklist so that you design a dinner party that will delight your guests.
1. Create a Guest List
Dinner parties are typically more intimate gatherings, in part, because there are only so many people you can seat around the dining table. So, let the number of guests you can accommodate be a guiding factor as you plan your guest list. Other factors to consider when drafting your guest list include the following:
- Familiarity – Decide what vibe you want for your dinner party. Inviting couples who you’re close friends with and who are friends with each other creates a more intimate, comfortable vibe. Welcoming your colleagues will create a more formal feel. Mixing and matching friends from different groups will call for a bit more time for guests to warm up.
- Relationship status – Avoid inviting all couples and one single friend, which may lead to some awkwardness. It’s best to balance guests with different relationship statuses so no one feels left out.
Planning tip: Send out electronic save the dates before issuing a formal invitation so that your guests can mark their calendars for your dinner party invites are delivered.
2. Design Your Menu
When you’re hosting a dinner party, the focus is, of course, the food. So, the bulk of your planning will focus on designing a menu that you’re proud to serve and, just as importantly, comfortable serving. If you’re stumped on where to start, here are some ideas to inspire your dinner party menu:
Go With a Theme
A themed dinner party doesn’t require themed decorations or costumes. Instead, it just helps you create a cohesive menu. Your options are limitless when it comes to a theme, so choose one that represents the level of formality of your dinner party. For example, a more casual gathering can feature a shrimp boil, taco bar, or barbecue and all the fixin’s. More formal events can feature your favorite Italian main dish paired with salad and garlic bread or a classic meat and potatoes dish paired with your favorite sides.
Planning tip: Don’t be afraid to outsource some of the food. Cooking for a crowd can be overwhelming, especially if this is your first dinner party. There’s no shame in catering part of your dinner party, whether you want to pick up dessert or fresh bread at a bakery or a couple of side dishes from your favorite local restaurant.
Choose Recipes Carefully
If you have a few recipes that your family raves about, consider making them for your dinner party. It’s a safer choice to opt for recipes you’ve cooked before than to try a complicated recipe for the big event. But, if you’re a skilled cook who can tackle any recipe, be sure to give any new recipe a try before the dinner party. That way, you can work out any kinks or even add your special touch to the dish so that it’s just right for your dinner party.
Planning tip: Make sure you’re aware of any dietary restrictions when you’re designing the menu. You want to make sure you have food for every guest.
Design a Drink Menu
Keep your guests in mind when you’re planning your drink menu. If you know your guests well, you probably also know their favorite drink. If you don’t, stock the bar with some popular selections so that everyone has something they’ll enjoy. Your drink menu should include:
- Beer and wine offerings
- Mixed drinks or liquor served on the rocks
- Nonalcoholic beverages like sparkling water, soda, or sweet tea
- Coffee or a dessert coffee for after-dinner conversation
3. Add Decorative Accents to Set the Mood
Decorative accents create a festive space where you and your guests can dine and enjoy each other’s company. For a dinner party, your decorative focus should be on the dining table. After all, that’s where you’ll spend the bulk of your time.
Create a chic tablescape starting with your dinnerware. Crisp white porcelain dinnerware is always in style, as is any more formal china you may have on hand. A dinner party is the perfect excuse to break out your best dinnerware, so don’t shy away from dressing up your table a bit. Pair it with timeless flatware for an elegant touch.
Then, select your table linens, which help to define your decor. A classic white tablecloth adds a formal touch, but your options extend far beyond this look. Add color to your table with a table runner, placemats, or napkins. Choose a patterned style or textured for even more flair. Napkin rings add further decorative depth to your table. You can opt for solid wood styles for a rustic look or metal or even gem-encrusted styles for a pop of glam. Complete each place setting with a place card that will direct your guest to their perfectly styled seat.
Once you’ve designed each place setting, focus on the centerpiece, which serves as the decorative focal point of your dining table. Consider these ideas:
- Go for a monochromatic look by choosing a hue that complements your linens. Incorporate fresh or faux flowers, vases, and candles in that color, running them down the center of the table for dramatic effect.
- Use nature as your inspiration, incorporating branches, fresh or faux stems of leaves, wood slices, or wooden bowls into your tablescape. This neutrally hued design works well with any shade of linens.
- Incorporate a variety of candles running down the table’s center for a dramatic look that adds ambiance to your dinner party. Hurricane candleholders paired with pillar candles, small glass votives, and even tealights work, and mixing and matching them adds more interest to your table setting.
Thoughtful planning makes your dinner party a success. With the right guests, good food, and good conversation, you’re sure to host an event that everyone enjoys.