I love throwing dinner parties! There’s just something really special about setting the table, making it look pretty and preparing a nice dinner for your friends and family. If you’re new to the dinner party scene, it can get a bit stressful, but with a little planning you can make sure everything goes off without a hitch.
Whether you’re hosting or attending at dinner party, having a few tricks up your sleeve to ‘wow’ guests always leaves a pleasant lasting impression. Here are some of the tricks I’ve learned from my experiences cooking and eating with my favorite people.
Dinner Party Hosting Tips
Have a plan. When I’m hosting people for dinner, I like to make the preparation process as simple as possible so I can spend lots of time hanging out with my guests. Attempting to prepare a fancy recipe you’ve never made before can be disastrous. A good trick is to prepare a crowd-pleasing dish you’ve made many times before. It will be easy to make and you know it will impress (provided you haven’t made it before for the friends you have coming over).
You can also look for recipes that have elements you can prepare in advance, and doing a test run before the party is never a bad idea. Eating family-style with lots of big dishes for sharing is another great way to remove the stresses of fancy plating techniques, and everyone can take as little or as much as they like.
Be sensitive to your guests’ dining preferences. In this world of vegetarian, vegan, GF, paleo, flexitarian and other dietary restrictions, cooking for a group can get complicated. Be sure to ask your guests if they have any dietary preferences, and try to prepare a few different options they can enjoy.
Another idea is to have a theme night, where you could do all vegan or all paleo recipes. Even though these ways of eating might seem restrictive to people who don’t identify with that particular way of eating, there are plenty of delicious options out there that everyone can enjoy.
Make a playlist. I love making iTunes playlist almost as much as I used to love painstakingly taping my favorite songs off the radio or burning CDs for friends (remember that?!). Thankfully, we don’t have to go through that much trouble anymore to put a custom soundtrack together. Whether your friends are into a particular type of music, you have a theme for your dinner party, or you just want to show everyone how cool your musical tastes are, you can build your own custom dinner party playlist or simply search for an appropriate one on Songza or Spotify or one of the many streaming sites and apps popping up around the web. Just be sure whatever playlist you make or choose has a few hours of tunes on it so you don’t have to keep pressing play, and don’t just hit shuffle on your iTunes lest that expletive-filled hip hop track from your high school days blasts through the speakers mid-meal.
Set the table. Pull out all the stops when it comes to making your table pretty for your guests. Get out the real napkins, use the good silverware, avoid that chipped glass, set out some matchy-matchy plates and put something eye-catching in the middle of the table (it doesn’t always have to be flowers – try these ideas). A few tea lights placed strategically around the table make for a nice dreamy glow.
Dress up your bathroom. Your guests will most likely need to use your bathroom at some point throughout the evening, and probably at great frequency if the wine is flowing liberally. Make sure it’s stocked with plenty of TP, clean hand towels and goop-free soap options. A scented candle is also highly recommended.
Welcome guests with a tasty beverage. Having a signature cocktail for the evening is always a nice touch. You can either play bartender, set up a station for guests to make their own cocktails, or make a big pitcher ahead of time. Be sure to have equally delicious non-alcoholic options on hand for the designated drivers and non-drinkers, and it’s always a good idea to keep guests hydrated with water in between so they can avoid that post-dinner-party hangover. You can even make the water fancy with various additions like these.
Facilitate great conversations. This is especially important when you have people attending who might not know each other. Be sure to introduce everyone by saying something interesting about them such as: “This is my friend Jessica. She’s a great knitter.” Or try to link strangers with things they might have in common.
Give them something to take home. Am I the only one who misses getting goodie bags from birthday parties?! Grown-ups like them just as much. Little treats like homemade cookies, gourmet popcorn or other snacky items are fun to give guests as they leave, especially if their tummies start rumbling again on the way home.
How to Be an Excellent Dinner Party Guest
Make your dining preferences known. Sometime the host will forget to ask. If you have allergies or other restrictions to your diet, you can help your host avoid embarrassment of leaving you with an empty stomach by notifying them of your dietary preferences. You can also offer to bring a dish to contribute to help pick up the slack.
Arrive on time. If it’s a sit-down dinner and not a casual cocktail and appy party, this one is incredibly important! No one made any new friends by setting everyone’s tummies rumbling or messing up a perfectly timed dinner service. Be considerate of everyone’s time and you’ll likely get more dinner party invites in the future.
Make recipe cards. My friend Bridget of The Vegan Project once made an incredible Rosemary Olive Pate to bring to a vegan potluck. She included a stack of recipe cards alongside the dish at the party for two reasons: so people knew the ingredients in case of any allergies, and so they could take the recipe home if they liked the dish and wanted to try making it themselves. Needless to say both the pate and the recipe cards were a huge hit. So thoughtful!
Bring something for the host. Arriving at a dinner party empty handed is a big no-no. If it’s BYOB, be sure to bring something for yourself and also a little something for the host, whether that’s a nice bottle of wine or something non-alcoholic like treats from your favorite specialty baker. Other ideas: a jar of homemade preserves, a pretty bouquet of flowers, or any of these unique gifts from Uncommon Goods.
Do you have any next-level dinner party secrets? Share them in the comments or over on Twitter at @luvoinc. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, Plated, to unlock a $2 coupon to use on your next Luvo purchase.