8 Easy Tips for Hosting a Dinner Party

Image shows a table set for a dinner party with plates, napkins, flatware, food, drinks, and flowers with a tan banner that reads Easy Dinner Party Ideas.

Here are some easy tips and ideas for hosting a dinner party.

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This post is about easy tips for hosting a dinner party.

A dinner party can be a great way to catch up with family and friends. But when you’re tired and busy, throwing a dinner party can seem like more of a hassle than a good time. But with a little time management and organization, it can be easy to host a dinner party at home.

Whether you are hosting a dinner party for two, with your housemates, or with family and friends, here are some tips on dinner party menu planning and preparation. Many of these tips can also be used for hosting a holiday dinner.

If I had to pick a few key ways to make hosting a dinner party less stressful, it would be to do these things:

1—Make lists for everything.

Write out the names of who is coming and any food preferences or sensitivities that you need to be aware of as you plan a dinner party. Once you have a menu, write down a grocery list that includes the items that you’ll need to make the meal. Don’t forget things like beverages, and disposable plates, cups, napkins, and so on, if you need them.

2—Write down the menu.

Once you’ve confirmed who will attend, it’s time to make a dinner party menu. Keep in mind things like food preferences and sensitivities of your guests as you plan.

3—Go shopping a few days ahead of time.

Shop for groceries for the dishes that you will cook for the dinner party a few days ahead of time, so that there is one less thing to do as you get closer to the day of the party. If you have to pick up a few things last minute—such as a vegetable tray appetizer or a cake for dessert—this is easier to do.

4—Make dishes that you’ve made before.

One of the best tips that I can give when it comes to hosting is that, when possible, include on the menu dishes that you’ve already made before. If you are comfortable or familiar with making a dish, then preparing it becomes that much easier.

Or make something easy, like pasta and marinara sauce with grated Parmesan cheese. Cook a bag of frozen meatballs to go with the pasta, if you’d like. Make some garlic bread and salad, and serve some iced tea and water for beverages, and dinner is done.

5—Relax, and have a good time.

When it comes to attending a dinner party, people are often happy to have something fun to do and someplace interesting to go, and besides, they don’t have to figure out what’s for dinner and they get to spend time with their friends.

In other words, a dinner party is something that many people look forward to attending. So you are probably a hero to someone for going out of your way to be a great dinner party host for a few hours.

Put together a great playlist to play softly in the background, and hit the right notes with soft lighting that helps everyone to relax and enjoy friendly conversations and a good meal.

These are 5 ways that I find help to make dinner parties easier to manage and more likely to be a good time for all.

8 Easy Tips for Hosting a Dinner Party

Here are some ideas on how to throw a dinner party that can help to make hosting a dinner party less stressful.

1–Buy drinks and appetizers at the grocery store.

The day before your dinner party, stop by a supermarket and buy your appetizers at the deli counter. This will save you time and energy, and it can give you plenty of options to choose from.

Great appetizer ideas include marinated olives, smoked almonds, crackers, chips, party dip, cheese, and a vegetable tray. Add some Italian-style cured meat and a jar of jam for a nice charcuterie board spread.

Store perishable appetizers in the refrigerator to keep them fresh. Many types of marinated and pickled foods can last a few days in the fridge if they are fresh when you buy them.

A low key way to handle drinks and appetizers is to put out a few bowls of something savory, something creamy, and something crunchy. You want to give your guest’s something tasty to munch on, but if you’ll be eating dinner shortly, then you don’t want your guests to be too full to enjoy the meal.

An example of a quick and easy spread would include something like a bowl of chips or crackers and some dip (a chip and dip tray is perfect for this), a bowl of nuts, and a bowl of pickles or olives. The dip would be considered to be creamy, but you could also go creamy by adding a bowl of cheese cubes or a round of brie cheese.

As far as party drinks go, the simplest way to make these would be to buy ready made drinks at the grocery store, or to buy ingredients for easy drink recipes that only require two or three ingredients. Iced tea, lemonade, and water make great drinks for parties. Infused water is easy to make by mixing fruit and herbs together with water.

Batch cocktails are another popular drink for dinner parties. Sangria is a classic drink for warm weather parties. Serve drinks in nice drinkware for a special touch. Consider providing sliced fruit, berries, herb sprigs, and mint that can be used by guests to garnish their drinks

While you’re at the store, pick up a bouquet of flowers to put in a vase at the center of the dinner table. If you’re looking for more ideas on what to serve, here is a grocery shopping list of great dinner party menu items to look for at the supermarket, along with seasonal menu ideas.

2–Make a one pot meal or a food bar.

A one-pot main course can make things a lot easier when it comes to deciding what food to serve at a dinner party. Classic dishes like roasted chicken with vegetables, chicken cacciatore, enchiladas, and beef bourguinon are perfect for dinner parties.

A good idea is to make a dish that you’ve already made before, and that you are comfortable with making. This takes some of the stress out of trying a new recipe on the day of the party. Pasta is a popular choice, since it can be cheap, delicious, and an easy way to feed a lot of people.

Lasagna is a classic choice for dinner parties. For an easy option, pick up a tray of lasagna at a nearby deli, or make your own. Classic red lasagna is a popular choice, but you can mix things up by changing up the lasagna fillings. White lasagna made with chicken and alfredo sauce and vegetable lasagna made with sautéed mushrooms, carrots, onions, and spinach are just two examples.

Creamy spinach and mushroom pasta bake is another great pasta dish to make. This recipe can be made vegetarian, or you can add chicken or salmon to the dish before baking it. Both lasagna and spinach and mushroom pasta bake can be made ahead of time, and reheated the day of the party.

Spaghetti is another good choice for dinner parties. Make red sauce with tomatoes, cooked ground beef or sausage, diced vegetables, and herbs, or make chicken spaghetti with grilled chicken, alfredo sauce, peppers, onions, and mushrooms.

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For a super casual dinner party, consider making a food bar. A food bar usually features one main dish or ingredient, plus a selection of toppings for guests to use to create their own version of the dish.

Great ideas for food bars include burger bars, pasta bars, salad bars, sandwich bars, taco bars, and macaroni and cheese bars. Here are some examples of how to make a food bar:

For a Burger Bar: Cook your favorite burger patties—such as beef burgers, turkey burgers, chicken burgers, or veggie burgers, and offer different types of burger toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and condiments. Serve chips, baked French fries, or corn on the cob for a side dish.

For a Pasta Bar: Cook a few pounds of pasta, and set the pasta out with favorite pasta toppings, like cooked meatballs, marinara sauce, pesto sauce, alfredo sauce, and grated Parmesan cheese. Salad and garlic bread make tasty, easy side dishes for pasta.

For a Salad Bar: Put out a bowl of washed, chopped lettuce and plenty of great toppings, like grilled chicken, sliced tomatoes, shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, onion, pitted ripe olives, crispy onions or crispy peppers, cooked crumbled bacon, and salad dressings.

Fresh fruit, like sliced strawberries or blueberries, makes a good topping, too. Serve a choice of chopped lettuce, mixed salad greens, or spinach for guests to choose from to make their salads.

For a Sandwich Bar: Put out sliced sandwich bread, croissants, or sandwich rolls, and toppings for sandwiches, like sliced deli meat, grilled vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, sliced cheese, and condiments. Put out a few bowls of chips and dip for side dishes.

For a Taco Bar: Cook ground beef, chicken, or grilled vegetables to use for taco filling. Slow cooker carne asada and pulled chicken are great options, too. Set out taco shells and tortillas or flatbreads to use for making tacos.

Add tasty taco toppings, like shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, grilled onions, pickled jalapeños, pico de gallo or salsa, rice, black beans, and guacamole. Many of these toppings can be bought at the supermarket, saving time and making it easier to put a taco bar together.

Putting out a food bar spread makes things easy. All you have to do is prepare the main ingredients and a few toppings, and then let your guests take things from there.

When it comes to preparing and serving food for a dinner party, remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot until you and your guests are ready to eat them. Often, guests like to mix and mingle (and snack on appetizers) for a while before eating, so it can be a good idea to cold foods refrigerated and hot foods heated at the proper temperatures until it’s time to eat.

3–Use salad as a side dish.

Salad is one of the easiest side dishes to make for a dinner party, or for almost any type of dinner. You can make a salad to go with anything—from pasta to fajitas to a breakfast-for-dinner meal.

One of the easiest ways to have a salad side dish is to buy a salad kit at the store. Most salad kits come with greens, toppings, and salad dressing in the bag. Salad kits also come in a variety of flavors to fit many types of meal. A Southwest salad kit makes a great side dish for enchilada night, for example.

You can also learn to make a great salad on your own. One of my go-to salads is an easy spinach salad. The idea is simple: mix washed baby spinach leaves with sliced red onion, chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, cooked chopped bacon, feta cheese or Roquefort cheese, and vinaigrette dressing.

4–Buy dinner rolls and dessert at the bakery.

Save some time by purchasing dinner rolls or bread and a dessert from the bakery. Most bakeries carry a variety of rolls, and the price is often not expensive.

Other great bakery bread options include Italian bread loaves (slice to make garlic bread to go with pasta) and French bread loves (slice and toast to make croutons or make French toast pizza). Croissants for a sandwich bar are a great choice, too.

Don’t forget to choose a dessert to buy while you are there. Bundt cakes make a pretty and elegant dessert, while cookies and brownie bites are always fun.

Cheesecake is also favorite dessert for parties, especially those celebrating special occasions. Cheesecake bites are a popular way to enjoy this treat, plus you can often find them in different flavors and varieties.

Ice cream makes a simple and fun dessert. Pick out a few different ice cream flavors for everyone to try. Be sure to have some bowls and spoons ready.

5–Have serveware and dinnerware ready ahead of time.

It’s not fun to scramble to find tongs for serving appetizers or enough spoons or bowls to serve ice cream, just before you are ready to serve these foods. Make a checklist to determine what you’ll need to serve appetizers, dinner, desserts, and drinks.

Wash and dry dishes and set them out before the party, so that you don’t have to worry about setting up later. Check that you have what you need, and that you have enough of what you need. Here are a few lists that can be helpful for determining what you’ll need for a dinner party.

Appetizers

  • Appetizer bowls or trays
  • Charcuterie board and knives
  • Mini tongs and/or appetizer picks
  • Appetizer plates
  • Appetizer forks and spoons
  • Napkins

Beverages

  • Drink dispenser
  • Water pitcher
  • Ice bucket and tongs
  • Drinkware
  • Coasters
  • Cocktail napkins

Main Dish and Side Dish(es)

  • Serving platters or trays
  • Serving bowls
  • Large spoons, forks, and tongs for serving food
  • Dinner plates
  • Flatware and napkin for each place setting
  • Napkins (plus napkin rings for cloth napkins)

Desserts

  • Cake stand or serving platter
  • Cake server or brownie spatula
  • Dessert plates
  • Dessert forks and spoons
  • Napkins

Other Items

  • Tablecloths
  • Place mats
  • Napkins
  • Wine glasses

6–Do a quick tidy up.

The day of a dinner party is generally not the best time to do a deep cleaning of your home. Either plan ahead to do a deep cleaning, or clean up a little each day in the days leading up to the party.

Don’t forget to spot clean other frequently used areas, like the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom. Wipe door handles, sweep or vacuum, and clean the microwave, too.

7–Make sure you have enough seating.

One of the most important things to do when having a dinner is to make sure that everyone has a place to sit while eating a meal. In general, it’s not much fun to stand up at a party while try to balance and eat a plate of cavatappi pasta and garlic bread.

Either limit your number of guests to the number of empty places that you have available at your table, or invest in (or borrow) another table and more chairs.

8—Decorate your space.

A dinner party is the perfect time to take out tablecloths and place mats, if you have them. They look good and help to set a vibe, plus they may help to protect furniture surfaces. Washable table linens can make clean up easier. For fancier linens, use a reputable dry cleaning service.

Place a flower arrangement at the center of the table. Pick up some fresh flowers at the supermarket and place them in a vase or pitcher. Or make a dried flower arrangement. Dried flower arrangements are great, because they are long-lasting, and they don’t wilt before a party.

If you’re having a dinner party to celebrate a special occasion, such as a birthday party, an engagement, getting a new job, or some other big life event, then it’s a great time to decorate to add some pizazz to a party.

Covering tables with tablecloths can make them look like you put a lot of thought into planning, even if you didn’t. White tablecloths are a classic, and they go with everything.

But if you have a favorite color or theme in mind, then it’s fun to decorate to that, too. Colorful table settings are a great way to make a dinner party pop. Even something as subtle as gold-rimmed plates or drinking glasses can make a party feel special.

Summertime dinner parties can be a great time to bring out colorful, patterned dinnerware with coordinating table linens in bright colors. Accent pillows and throw blankets can help to make a space feel cozy.

Use lamps and LED candles or string lights to create soft lighting. Overhead lighting can be harsh, whereas secondary lighting can create a warmer ambiance in the room. Place small side tables near seating and decorate the tables with small lamps or flameless candles to create a soft glow.

Highlight items that show a bit of personality and make your space feel like home. Fewer things are better to make a good dinner party a great dinner party than eating good food in a friendly, comfortable environment.

This post was about tips for hosting a dinner party.

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Credits
  • Top photo by Brooke Lark / Unsplash
  • Featured photos by Brooke Lark / Unsplash, Leigh Skomal / Unsplash, and Toa Heftiba / Unsplash
  • Photos and images are for illustrative purposes only.

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