Breaking bread. It’s one of the oldest signs of friendship and community. We’re pretty sure throwing a party is somewhere on that list, too. What could be better than bringing them both together? Celebrate the incredible friends in your life by throwing them a fantastic dinner party.
It doesn’t need to be fancy and it doesn’t need to be perfect. The biggest secret to throwing a great dinner party is to focus on why people are there. No, it’s not to eat your food. It’s to enjoy good company, enrich relationships, and create lasting memories with some pretty incredible people.
Here are some handy tips that you can use to throw a memorable and meaningful dinner party.
We know, you want all your friends to be friends. But there’s only so much small talk to go around before things get uncomfortable. To avoid introducing strangers to strangers all night, invite friends that have either met before or have common interests. Conversation will flow much easier, and your guests won’t have to worry about feeling like the night is just one long job interview. You also want to avoid inviting too many people – groups of 6 to 8 are generally the least stressful to host.
As far as letting your guests help with preparation or cleanup, a good rule of thumb is if they offer it, accept it. If your bestie from work offers to bring her grandmother’s famous bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, don’t rob her of that opportunity. However, if the kitchen is your space, don’t be afraid to stake that claim. Try to have as much done before your guests arrive, that way they don’t keep wandering into the kitchen looking for your company.
Set the mood for the evening by dimming the lights. It adds a more sophisticated feel and makes the room cozier for your guests. If you have a fireplace, light it up for the night to provide your guests someplace warm to gather around and socialize. If you’re hosting and eating outside, hang string lights over the table to create a warm glow. Create a special playlist that fits the mood and theme of the night, but keep the volume at background noise level. You can even ask your guests to send a song request with their RSVP.
It should go without saying, but make sure your house is clean before your guests arrive. That doesn’t mean every little thing needs to be picked up – you still want your home to look lived in, so that your guests will also feel at home. Stick to washing the dishes, wiping down any surfaces you and your guests will be using, and making sure all the trash is taken out before anyone arrives.
No need to break out (or buy) the fine china for your dinner party. Simple white plates, like these from Target, will work just fine and provide a clean and classic look. Instead, amp up your table decor with colorful placemats and cloth (yes, cloth) napkins. Gold placemats are a good option for an elegant table setting. But don’t feel restricted to the classic looks – if bright and quirky prints are more your style, go for it. Your friends will notice if your dinner party looks like you’re trying to be someone you’re not. Whatever your personality is, choose the dinner party decor looks that match.
As far as centerpieces go, try not to use anything that’s too tall or wide. Your guests shouldn’t have to duck around a giant vase to make conversation with someone across the table. Flowers are always a good idea, but an assortment of candles is just as aesthetically pleasing. Check HGTV for more simple centerpiece ideas.
Depending on how fancy you want your dinner party to be, you may want to consider a specific seating arrangement for your guests. Typically if your dinner party includes less than 8 guests, let them seat themselves. Any more than 8 people and you may want to give some direction. Handwriting name cards adds a nice personal touch and provides your guests with something to take home to remember the night.
It’s inevitable – no matter what time your dinner party is supposed to start, your guests will arrive in some state of hunger. So whether or not the main dish is ready upon their arrival, you’ll want to have a few light snacks for everyone to munch on while they socialize and wait to sit down at the table. A simple cheese plate is always a good idea, and pairs well with the wine you’ll definitely have. Don’t feel the need to put too much out – you want your guests to still have room for dinner!
You may be tempted to try cooking an extravagant and complicated dish to impress your guests. We say maybe not. Sticking to a dish that you’re familiar with and comfortable cooking leaves less room for mistakes, and less room for stress. And if you’re anything like us, having extra people in your house will cause enough stress on its own. You’ll be better able to talk to your guests about the delicious food you’ve prepared if you’ve made the dishes before. It’s also better to cook meals you’re passionate about, rather than trying to create something new that leaves you filled with disdain after the dish proves difficult to make.
Do you do dessert? Is that even a question? Yes, you do dessert. Whether you want to whip up another fantastic dish from scratch or grab something pre-made from a local bakery or grocery store (we won’t tell), keep it simple. We recommend getting up from the table and relocating to enjoy your sweet treats, so keep the dessert light.
Lead your guests to the promise land (AKA the beverage station) as soon as they walk through the door. Keep the drinks and glasses in plain sight, such as on a bar cart, so your guests feel free to help themselves. To appeal to the masses, be sure you have a variety of liquors and both red and white wines. If you’re feeling up to it, you could even make a delicious punch for your guests. Whatever your taste, be sure the drink station is accessible and appealing, and most importantly, stocked with whatever your guests may need. Bottle openers, corkscrews, and plenty of ice will definitely be necessary.
Remember that all your guests may not want to imbibe at your dinner party. Someone has to drive home, right? Provide plenty of non-alcoholic options so that your guests don’t all feel the need to drink. Tea, lemonade and sodas should suffice, but feel free to ask your guests if they have any special requests. As with the food, if your guests have a beverage they want to bring, let them! Lastly, don’t forget to have water glasses waiting for everyone at the table when you sit down to eat.
There’s more to do at a dinner party than just eat and drink! Plan some fun and games for you and your guests, but try not to schedule every minute of the night. Provide options for fun things to do, but don’t make your guests feel like they have to participate.
Leave some open floor space so people can dance to that incredible playlist you made. Fun games like Cards Against Humanity or Heads Up are good ways to pass the time while eating dessert. If you want to go above and beyond the casual dinner party, you may even want to consider establishing a theme for the night. You and your guests could dress to the nines for a Hollywood-themed event, or play a real-life version of Clue at a murder-mystery dinner party.
Whether you have a theme or not, you and your friends will want to take pictures to remember the night. Create an easy photo backdrop for your guests to pose in front of, or provide fun props for a photo booth. No matter what fun events you plan, capturing photos of you and your friends to celebrate and remember the night is a must.
Believe it or not, the most important factor determining if your dinner party is a hit or a flop is, in fact, you. (No pressure or anything.) Remember that no matter how much you plan ahead of time, there will always be things you can’t predict. Stay flexible and you’ll be ready for whatever the night throws your way. It’s likely that your guests will feed off your energy (pun intended), so maintaining a fun and positive attitude is essential to ensure that your guests have a good time.
At the end of the day, what matters is that you and your friends shared a night you’ll all remember as good, quality time together. They might not remember what food you served, so don’t worry about apologizing if anything goes wrong there. If a drink spills or candles burn out, the night will still go on. The memories that will truly stick are of quality time, good conversation, and even better friendship.