It’s a big deal to host a dinner party for the first time. You may have had rowdy house parties before, or invited friends for a round of cocktails; however, that pales in comparison to a full scale evening meal. It can be a challenge to think of ways to make your party enjoyable. Obviously, it is always nice to sit around eating and chatting with friends, but, you wish to go the extra mile to leave a lasting impression on your guests. Dinner parties may appear quite daunting initially, but they don’t have to be. The following ten tips will show you how to be a better hostess at home.
1. Have a Manageable Guest List
Make sure that the total number of guests, including yourself, does not exceed eight. Hosting a smaller gathering is far less taxing, and it is kinder to your wallet too (preparing meals for large crowds is a costly affair). Although you don’t have to confine yourself to a single group of friends – dinner parties are, naturally, an excellent way of introducing mutual acquaintances – it is typically better not to draw up a guest list consisting mainly of strangers.
2. Send Invites at Least a Week Before
People lead busy lives and often find it difficult to schedule leisure time. This is why you should send your invitations out at least one week in advance. Mass emails work well if everyone on your guest list is a close friend. If this is not the case, then send an individual text or email everyone. Paperless Post invites are another sophisticated option you could explore. Just make sure you ask about dietary requirements, so you can avoid any menu faux pas.
3. Have all the Entertaining Essentials
Although it’s unnecessary to have matching crockery, glassware, napkins and silverware, you will need a sufficient quantity of these items for the whole group. Some of my favorite stores I like to shop for table settings are West Elm, Ikea and CB2. In fact, CB2 stocks some nice stemless wine glasses and water glasses that won’t break the bank, so if one inevitably gets dropped, it won’t be the end of the world. Remember napkins as well. You don’t have to spend too much on these, but you need something more than paper towels. Use striped napkins to create the atmosphere of a French bistro, or you could use tear off napkins if you prefer convenience over style.
4. Plan a Seasonal Menu
Most dinner party guests love it when the menus are seasonally arranged, and incorporate appropriate cooking methods and ingredients. Seasonal menus like roasted salmon and heirloom tomato salad are good for summer while soups and other comfort foods are perfect for fall. Include local, fresh ingredients to make your menu fashionable, and try to include a surprise element. Stick to the current season, and you are bound to succeed.
5. Keep the Bar Stocked
Guests of all ages will appreciate it if you offer retro coctail favorites, like Manhattans, Martinis, and Cosmopolitans. You will want all the usual spirits that proper bartenders display prominently, namely rum, gin, scotch, vodka and rye. A standard bottle of 1.14 liters of each should be sufficient, unless all of your guests want to drink spirits.
In addition, you should have a ‘house drink’ to hand, which is the beverage you offer to guests by default. It is wise to stock roughly double the amount of this drink compared to the others. For beer, try to include a selection of imported, light and domestic labels.
Don’t forget about offering some nonalcoholic drinks. Some of your guests might be non-drinkers or pregnant, so cater for them too. Mocktails are simple to make and allow guests to enjoy a soft beverage. If you are pushed for time and prefer a ready made option, purchase some Izze or San Pellegrino drinks. These drinks contain seltzer water and fruit juice, which is always a treat. Unless you are a non-drinker yourself, have a glass of beer or wine while you make the final arrangements for your party. This will get you in the right mood and relax you (if you are uptight, your guests will sense this and struggle to relax themselves).
For more great tips on stocking a home bar, read my “how to” post.
6. Prep the Night Before
Unless you have hosted several dinner parties previously, don’t bother with dishes that require last minute preparation, such as pan fried fish or delicate salads. Rather, include foods that are intended to be served at room temperature or chilled on your menu. For your main course, a soup or braise could work well, because these just need reheating and usually improve overnight. Days before your party, get as much cooking done as possible. Also, take out the rubbish, do the washing up, tidy up high traffic areas like the living room, and wipe the dining table down the evening before.
7. Make Guests Feel Right at Home
Everyone in attendance should enjoy your dinner party. It is meant to be fun, remember. No one should feel awkward, and your guests should be the focal point of the event. The best way to ensure that everyone can be themselves is to give your guests lots of entertaining things to do (see the suggestions below). This enables you to reap the rewards of your efforts and enjoy yourself as well, instead of spending the entire evening in the kitchen.
The ambiance you create will determine the success of your party. Try different types of lighting and play some music. Your lighting should make your house glisten. Stay away from bright overhead lights, and use a mixture of lamps and candles to produce soft light pools across each room. Every space should have a different lighting style – for instance, put tall taper candles on your buffet, smaller pillars on your drinks table and votive tealights in the sitting area. Also, you could substitute your normal light bulbs for lower wattage bulbs, or hang rope lights from your ceiling to produce a welcoming glow.
8. Serve Meal Family-Style
If your table is big enough, dishes can be passed around. If not, a buffet can be laid out on a coffee table or in the kitchen. Dishing up the food can be a chore for both the host and guests alike, and it is an extra thing to consider. Irrespective of how hungry they are, your guests will want to eat all the food on their plates.
9. Entertaining Ideas
Have a Movie Themed Dinner
Giving your dinner a theme from a movie is an excellent way of keeping your guests entertained. Classic films are a good starting point. Whether you opt for a romantic flick like Casablanca, or a sci fi hit like Star Wars, this idea can make your evening a lot of fun. To incorporate the theme into your party, you could have something on your menu from the movie, or food that is from the relevant era.
Also, you could begin this process a few days before your party. Ask people to vote on the movie they want to have as the theme, or you could pick one from a hat. Get your friends into the habit of doing this, so guests can take turns in choosing a movie. This makes people feel more involved and emotionally invested in the occasion, so they will look forward to it more.
Dinner Party Games
Needless to say, lots of the fun at dinner parties you hear about centers on particular games. Selecting a dinner party game for guests to play can give them something to do while you are preparing the food. This is another way of making your party standout by giving it a theme. Perhaps you could base an entire menu on your chosen game.
Conventional Board Games
Whether you solve a murder in Cluedo or become a rich property millionaire in Monopoly, after dinner board games have stood the test of time and are a really enjoyable thing to include at your party. Don’t make the mistake of thinking these types of games are boring. Good board games or charades will entertain your guests to no end, because they are all unique and stimulating in their own way.
Games With Playing Cards
Card games have long been a regular feature at dinner parties, with something to suit all tastes. There’s nothing to stop you turning your party into a poker evening. There’s no need to over complicate this. If you like the idea of a poker themed dinner party, but have no poker chips, use wrapped sweets instead. Butterscotch, blue peppermint and red cinnamon sweets are ideal for poker chips. If poker is not your forte, try other popular card games.
Games Designed for Children
One popular approach is to turn back the clock and play games that you used to play as a child, such as Twister or Snakes and Ladders. Old games are a blast because they awaken the child within you and take you back to a time when fun and laughter were the most important things. Also, the utter simplicity of these activities will make your party more lighthearted, so everyone loosens up while they play. To compliment these games, you can get every guest to select a favorite childhood dish. Alternatively, you could offer a gourmet spread of classic children’s favorites. An entire evening of celebrating the good old days will make a big impression on all of your guests.
Cooking and Food Games
While this requires a bit more effort – both for your guests and you – than the aforementioned activities, setting up a cooking competition is a great way of making your dinner party more interesting. There are many types of cooking and food games that are suitable for dinner parties. Ask everyone to bring their favorite dish, then get the other guests to vote anonymously on their favorite. Alternatively, you can give out prizes for the ‘Most Original’ or the ‘Most Tasty’.
To inject even more fun, you could choose an ingredient or theme, and ask everyone to bring a dish along that reflects this. Then, the guests will vote to decide which one is best. Whether you ask people to use spinach in an innovative way, create a dish that looks different to what it is, or produce their own version of a classic dish from the 1920’s, the results are sure to be great fun – delicious to eat, wonderfully entertaining and excellent to chat about. This is the essence of what a good dinner party should be about.
Tip: Regardless of what games you decide to play, don’t forget to offer some finger food for your guests.
10. Have a small space?
If so, you should use simple table décor. Big, ornate arrangements look out of place on small tables. Just use a few key pieces of décor for your table, such as flowers, then occupy the space with some smaller things like votive tealights. Alternatively, you can enhance each place setting by using bud vases instead of place card holders. Then, you can create visual interest by placing candlesticks at various heights in the middle of the table.
In smaller houses, all surface areas are important. You need as much worktop space in the kitchen as possible, so get rid of any appliances you don’t use. Make the most of those free surfaces by arranging a buffet on them, with eye catching platters and dishes.
If you live in a small apartment or house and don’t have a dining room table big enough to seat all of your guests, invest in a couch for informal seating, or improvise and locate some alternatives around the home. If you have a vanity stool in the bedroom or bathroom, use that. Or, if there is a spare piano bench somewhere in the house, bring this into use as well. You could use your sofa for seating at the dining table, and put another table adjacent to it.
I hope these tips help you improve on you dinner hosting skills. Be brave and go for it!
Like this post? Then read: 4 Simple Tips for Hosting Happy Hour at Home