How to Throw a Dinner Party 101 – the complete guide for both newbies and experienced hostesses. Find out all the tips and tricks to a stress-free event that promises to make your guest impressed without leaving you completely exhausted.
I am a huge fan of hosting so, I know how hectic and nerve-wracking it can be especially if you are a beginner. The idea of planning an event at your own home can easily leave you intimidated and nervous but that should not stop you from enjoying the pleasure of hosting. So, to help any hosting newbies or just to refresh the mind of more experienced ones, I’ve come up with a complete guide on how to throw the best dinner party. Discover all my personal tips plus some secrets I found after extensive research.
Two Weeks Before
- The Guests
We start with what is probably the most important question: who are you going to invite? More than anything else, the Guest List sets the tone for the evening and most likely determines its level of success. When making it, it’s important to take into consideration two things:
1. How big do you want this party to be?
Or, even better, how much space you actually have? This will for sure regulate how many people will make it to the guest list;
2. What’s the dinner party mood?
Establish the type of event you want to throw.
a) casual get-together;
b) an intimate dinner party;
c) a more elegant soiree;
d) an after-hours professional mingle.
As soon as you finish your Guest List, it’s time to send out those Invitations. Doing it with two weeks in advance will give enough time to ensure everyone is available and receive confirmations. This is also a great time to check for any Dietary Restrictions and get a feeling of your guest’s preferences.
- The Ambiance
Once you’ve defined who your guests are, define the kind of evening you want to provide for them. This includes thinking about the Dinner Format. On one side, decide if you want to have a proper sit-down dinner or a buffet-style evening where people can roam around the room. Moreover, choose between a classic several-course meal or opt for serving different tapas.
To help create a cohesive ambiance that really wows my guests, I always like to define a Theme for the evening. You can go all out on this one or make it really subtle. It can be as simple as opting for an Italian-inspired soiree or as flashy as throwing a Harry Potter party with costumes included. You make the call but picking a theme, even if just a color, can guide you through the organization process.
Although often times forgotten, Décor can help make your theme shine. This does not mean that you have to spend your entire month’s salary on things you will never use again. The secret is in repurposing stuff you already have and focusing on details. Maybe relocate that beautiful vase from your bedroom to the dining room. Then, choose an appropriate table and matching flowers.
One Week Before
- The Menu
Defining the Menu
If it was my dinner party, all that nonsense about the guests being the most important part would not matter. The food will definitely be the star of the show, I wouldn’t even care about who showed up. However, not everyone thinks like this. When it comes to the Menu, you have to be, above anything else, strategic and make it fit your needs. If this is your first dinner party or you don’t really like to cook, opt for dishes you can make ahead of time and where you can incorporate store-bought shortcuts. An example is to buy those dips you love so much, put them in a beautiful serving dish and garnish them with some fresh herbs. Three last things, don’t forget to keep your theme in mind, have some appetizers ready as soon as guests arrive and Pinterest is your best friend regarding food presentation.
This is also a great time to make your Shopping List and start to strategize your cooking timing: what can you make on the day before, what can you make on the morning of, and what needs to be made just before serving?
- The Drinks
To define the type of Drinks you will be serving you need to take into consideration two things: your guests’ preferences and the food. You can stick to the classic wine and beer or, to zhuzh things up, think about a signature cocktail to serve when guests arrive. If you are a competent barista let your imagination run free, but if not, you can simply mix some bubbly with grapefruit juice. Add everything to your shopping list and don’t forget to have pitchers of water always at hand during the evening.
The amount of drinks you need to buy is always a headache, especially if you are not the most experienced hostess. Here is a little cheat code that you can use:
- The Music
Music helps to avoid awkward silent moments and it can help to bring out the party’s theme. This is something that you can easily delegate to a friend. Just make sure you have a playlist (or several) that will last the whole night so it does not become a problem for you to solve during the party.
One to Two Days Before
- The Shopping
I don’t know about you but grocery shopping can get quite stressful and tiring for me. Here are the three tips that make a huge difference, in my experience:
1. Organize your shopping list according to the supermarket sections. Group everything you need to buy in order of the supermarket aisles and just grab what you need as you go. You won’t be getting lost on your own grocery list or having to run back to get something you’ve missed;
2. Include the total quantity you need of each ingredient. You’ll probably need one ingredient for more than one dish, so make that math during pre-production;
3. Get Home Delivery. For fresh ingredients is definitely important that you pick them out yourself at the store, but when it comes to heavy stuff that you don’t need to check for quality, order them online. Things like wine, mineral water or anything canned.
- The Prepping
Let’s help our future selves the best we can, shall we? The motto is: reduce the workload of the following day to the maximum. Some tips for prepping for a dinner party include making ahead anything possible: desserts, cutting ingredients, casseroles, marinades, and others. You can also take care of any special decorations you’ve established and get fresh flower arrangements ready.
This is an obvious step that sometimes we forget to add to our to-do list in the middle of all the prepping chaos. Make time to clean your place, especially the common areas where guests will be hanging out. Yet, if this is the first time some of the guests are visiting your home, make sure everything is presentable for a house tour. Do not forget to empty the trash and the dishwasher for the next day.
The Day Of
- The Table
Start by setting the table to get that out of the way. Once again, Pinterest is a great tool to get some visual inspiration.
- The Cooking
First, organize your kitchen and ingredients. A good mise en place will make your life much easier, trust me. Then, focus on making any of the remaining dishes. Cleaning up as you go is fundamental, not only for your future-self but also for your present-self’s sanity.
- The Makeover
Your dinner party is also for you to enjoy. Therefore, make sure you take some time before guests arrive to wind down and get in a mental space that allows you to have fun. Get ready, relax and maybe get a head start with a glass of wine.
- The Last Touches
Light some candles, open those wine bottles and fluff the couch cushions. This is the time to take one last look around the house and make sure that everything is (realistically) perfect.
- The Clean-Up
I don’t believe in spending too much time cleaning up during the party, but I do believe in taking little actions that will help the following day clean up.
- If you don’t have a dishwasher, make sure you soak the dishes as soon they enter the kitchen. No one likes scrubbing;
- Have some takeaway containers ready to share any leftovers. No one likes food waist.