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Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion, reuniting with old friends or just looking for an excuse to have good food and conversation, a dinner party is the answer. Small and intimate or large and boisterous, hosting a dinner party allows you to gather around delicious food and enjoy the company of your favorite people.
But it can be a bit imitating to plan one if you’ve never hosted before. Rest assured, your dinner party can go on without a hitch with a little proper preparation. Here’s how to throw the perfect party, step by step.
Curate the guest list
There’s a lot to consider when you’re inviting guests over for dinner, and it starts with your budget. Hosting an event even as simple as a dinner party will cost money. From the invites to decor to the meal ingredients and beverages, you’ll have to budget for how many people you’re willing to spend money on.
Once you’ve decided the number of guests you’re inviting, it’s time to send out the invitation. Etiquette consultant Jodi RR Smith says there are some standard things to include on the invite. Important details like your name, the date, time and location of the party are obviously crucial. You should also disclose whether the dinner party is to commemorate a birthday, anniversary or other life event worth celebrating.
“If there’s something special happening, include that as well,” says Smith. And nobody wants to feel over or underdressed at a party, so make sure to mention whether the dinner will be themed, casual or more on the formal side. “A line regarding the expected attire helps to guide your guests.”
Design your menu
You’ll be able to plan exactly what – and how much – food will be served at the party once the RSVPs start to roll in. First and foremost, make sure to ask guests whether they have any allergies or dietary restrictions to avoid any problems.
A dinner party might not be the best time to experiment in the kitchen with unfamiliar recipes. Instead, go with food items that you’re comfortable with. Brian Nagele, the CEO of Restaurant Clicks, says the best meals to serve at a dinner party are your favorite ones because it creates a homey feel for your guests.
“Whether it’s a beef stew, potato casserole or good ole barbeque, cook what makes you happy,” says Nagele. You’ll hopefully feel less stressed on the big day by preparing something you’ve made a hundred times before. Better yet, opt for meals and desserts that can be prepped ahead of time so there’s less work to do on the day of your party.
Don’t feel pressure to serve a fancy eight-course meal. Nagele says an appetizer, main dish and dessert will do just fine. Adding a signature drink option, like a favorite wine or homemade cocktail, is an easy way to elevate your dinner party and complement your chosen meal. Just make sure to have some non-alcoholic beverages to offer guests as well.
Set the vibe
Once the menu is settled, you can set the scene for your party. This is especially important if you’re celebrating a special occasion or you’ve chosen a theme. What good is a Great Gatsby themed dinner party if there isn’t any decoration to show for it?
There are simple things you can do to make your dinner table presentable. Bring out the fine dinner plates, set a name card at each seat and use one of your nicer table cloths. You can decorate with a show-stopping centerpiece related to the party theme.
Aside from the table, you can enhance the party ambiance with some additional details. Avoid awkward silences with some low-volume background music. Light some candles for soft extra lighting (and to fill the room with your favorite scent). Bottom line: Have fun with it! You can design your available space to be as extra or relaxed as you desire.
Entertain your guests
Although you’ll know everyone you’re inviting, some people sitting at the dinner table may just be acquaintances or complete strangers to one another. This can create awkward silences and lags in conversation – if you’re not on top of it, that is. A good party host knows how to keep the night flowing with good socializing and fun.
Those who need icebreakers could benefit from conversation cards; you can make some yourself or purchase a set. It’s easy to turn these cards into a game or read them off during dinner. They can reveal topic starters such as “Share your favorite place to travel” or “Reveal who you’d love to switch places with for a day”. Having these types of prompts handy allows guests to move past small talk and into something more engaging. It also helps steer the conversation to remain lighthearted and fun.
Hosts who want to switch up the night’s events can also have some dinner party games on hand. It provides a break from talking and can renew the energy among guests. Choose games that are easy to learn and don’t take forever to set up.
Finish off the night
After hours of cooking and keeping guests entertained, there will come a time when you’re ready for everyone to leave. Hosting is a lot of work, and it’s totally understandable that you’re ready to curl up on the couch with no one else around. That being said, you can’t just kick everyone out when you’re ready for them to leave.
Luckily, Smith has some tips that’ll help you gradually wrap up the dinner party. “Most people know to arrive at the appointed time for a dinner party. Not everyone knows when to leave.” That’s why it’s up to the host to drop some subtle clues that it’s time to say goodbye.
If you’re playing music, turn it off. Make the room a little brighter by turning on the lights and loosening the party ambiance. Clear the table of food and stop bringing out more for people to munch on. “Your behavior alerts guests that things are winding down to begin their thank yous and goodbyes,” says Smith.
Now that you’ve mastered the art of hosting a dinner party, try these guest- and crowd-pleasing recipes: