Th idea of hosting a dinner party is enough to strike panic through the hearts of many, but it doesn’t have to be.
When I was single, I fantasized about being a socialite who could entertain her husband’s important clients or host fancy dinner parties at a moment’s notice. Something about gathering people in a well-decorated dining room with flickering candles and fancy food seemed so appealing, so romantic.
Eventually, I learned that’s not what hosting is about. No one cares what your house looks like, or what you serve, and the host isn’t supposed to be the center of attention. Once that reality sinks in, the better you’ll be at hosting.
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Fail Proof Tips for Hosting a Casual Dinner Party
The best way to make a dinner party special is to focus on your guests. One way to do that is to know yourself. For example, If you’re an introvert, you may want to stick to hosting just a few friends rather than entertaining a big crowd.
Taking your needs (and limitations) into consideration will help you relax which is important for making your guests feel welcome.
Personally, I like to keep the party small with no more than six guests. Eight if I’m feeling extroverted.
Creating the Guest List
One of the simplest ways to put make your guests feel comfortable is to create a guest list of people who would enjoy each other’s company.
It’s also a good idea for the guests to know at least one other person at the party.
Dinner Party Prep
Do as much before the day of the party as possible so you can be relaxed enough to focus on your guests. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself.
- Delegate to other members of your household
- Have groceries delivered
- Hire someone to clean the house or mow the yard if it needs it
The goal is to be ready, mentally and emotionally, so you can be fully present for your guests.
Sometimes your guests will ask if they can bring anything. I usually answer one of four ways:
- I reply, “just yourselves” if it’s a simple menu
- Suggest they BYOB if our budget is running tight
- Ask them to bring dessert since I don’t have many dessert recipes in my repertoire
- Ask them to bring appetizers if I know they’re usually first to arrive which allows me to focus my efforts on the main entrée.
Setting the Table
The most important (and beautiful) part of any table setting is the guests. So, use what you have, even if that means mixing and matching plates, placemats or napkins, to make sure they have what they need to enjoy the meal.
Be sure to keep your centerpiece low so guests can see each other and easily engage in conversation.
5 Ways to Keep the Dinner Party Menu Simple
- Take your guests dietary needs into account when planning a meal.
- Stick to just a few beverage options and make drinks self serve
- Serve store-bought appetizers you can set out on a serving dish. This will save you time in the kitchen while providing something for your guests to nibble on until dinner.
- Avoid trying a new recipe. Instead, serve one of your tried and true dishes.
- Set out appetizers for when your guests arrive, especially if dinner won’t be served right away.
4 Casual Dinner Party Menu Ideas
- appetizer ideas – egg rolls, pot stickers, Asian salad
- main entree ideas – a meat and noodle dish, stir fry
- appetizer ideas – meatballs, caprese salad, proscuitto and cheese, pizza bites, bruschetta
- main entree ideas – spaghetti with bolognese sauce, pasta e fagioli, lasagna, pasta bar with alfredo sauce, marinara sauce, and pesto
- appetizer ideas – meat and cheese tray, cream cheese topped with raspberry chipotle sauce and crackers
- main entree ideas – any type of chili, cornbread, white rice
- chili toppings – Fritos, cheese, sour cream, jalapenos
Mexican Food Menu
- appetizer ideas – chips and salsa, guacamole, seven layer dip, chips and queso
- main entree ideas – enchiladas, King Ranch casserole, tamales, fajitas. Serve any of these dishes with burracho beans and spanish rice.
A good rule of thumb is to serve dinner about thirty minutes after guests arrive. This gives everyone time to arrive, mix and mingle, and whet their appetites.
Add an extra touch by adding printable menus to each place setting.
What time should a dinner party start?
If you’re hosting on a week night, give guests plenty of time to go home and change before the party. Seven o’clock should work well. It still falls into a typical dinner time window and allows for everyone to be home at a reasonable time.
If your hosting a dinner party on the weekend, you can start earlier or later depending on everyone’s schedule that day.
The party can last as long as you want it to. If you need it to end by a certain time, communicate that to guests ahead of time.
The Benefits of Hosting a Dinner Party
Dinner parties are such a great way to connect with friends, get to know neighbors and foster community.
The more you host, the more comfortable you’ll be with it. Not only that, but you’ll grow to really appreciate a life of hospitality.
For more dinner party tips, read:
- Holiday Entertaining Tips: How to Throw a Good Holiday Party (good tips for any time of year)
- 5 Things Every Good Hostess Knows