Your dinner party should be just as much of a celebration for you as it is for your guests. After throwing countless dinner parties over the past 15 years, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Whether you’re an experienced, ultra-confident host or a somewhat reluctant entertainer, these dinner party hosting tips will help you choose what to focus on and what to let go of.
If you want to learn how to prioritize connection, have better conversations, and create better memories, get ready to let go of some of the frills for your next dinner party.
Dinner Party Hosting Tips Outline
Use these tips and start planning your next get together today:
1. Stop Apologizing
One of my top dinner party hosting tips is surprisingly one that I’m actually still working on.
Prioritizing politeness (which included unnecessary apologizing) was something I grew up with. I used to find that even if whatever I was apologizing for didn’t make sense, I couldn’t help myself from saying “sorry.”
With dinner parties and hosting, it’s easy to apologize for your messy home, lack of interesting appetizers, or a slightly burnt main course. However, refraining from apologizing can make you a better and more confident host.
Your guests are at your party to enjoy your company, not to judge your housekeeping or cooking skills. And, refraining from apologizing will help your guests relax (because you’re relaxed) and add positive energy to the room.
So next time you want to apologize for whatever it is you need to apologize for, bite your tongue, smile and accept those compliments.
2. Stimulate Better Conversations
I’ve learned something profound during my hosting journey: to care just as much about conversation as the food.
Focusing very little on the food definitely seems counterintuitive because you’re inviting people to your place for dinner. But, your guests will remember exciting conversations and experiences far longer than they will that spaghetti bolognese dish you made, even if it was your Nonna’s recipe.
Check out this post to learn more about encouraging great conversation at your dinner party table and how you can be a better host. This will help your guests get to know each other and keep the conversation flowing.
3. Let Your Guests Help
When you’re hosting a dinner party, it can feel wrong to let your guests help you plate up the food, chop something up, or clean up. My advice is if they offer to help pack away the leftovers or break down your laid-out table, let them. Letting your guests help will not only make them feel more comfortable, but it will also take some of the stress off you.
Some people enjoy helping because it gives them a break from socializing, and a little quiet moment of washing dishes relieves them from small talk.
4. Make First-Time Guests Feel at Home
If you have a new guest, like maybe someone brought a date or you’ve invited a new colleague from work who doesn’t know anyone, you can:
- Introduce them to a couple of your friends, particularly the outgoing ones that might be keen to engage in a conversation immediately.
- Show them where the washroom is when they arrive so that they don’t need to ask where it is.
- Give them a simple job such as asking them to help you light the candles or bring the appetizers to the coffee table.
- Save them a spot to sit next to you or close by so you can chat with them.
5. Refrain From Cleaning Like Crazy
What guests take away from spending time in your home are the conversations, the laughs, and the feelings of connection.
For this reason, another dinner party hosting tip of mine is to hold back from cleaning when your guests are around. It can be a real mood killer. Clean as much as possible before your guests, and ensure your dishwasher (if you have one) is empty for the evening.
I personally hate seeing people’s dirty plates in front of them, so once everybody’s finished their meal I signal to my husband to help me clear the table and load the dishwasher in a quick and efficient sweep. Spending more time can make your guests feel awkward for not helping or feel they need to leave.
6. Think About the Kids
As a new parent, I host differently now than before having kids.
If you plan a party where kids are invited, have crafts and games set up so the parents can relax and enjoy themselves. If your budget can allow it consider hiring a babysitter to help entertain them.
Another idea for slightly older kids with a more flexible bedtime is to encourage the parents to pack their kids’ pajamas and towels so they can take a bath before bed. You can set up a movie and popcorn station in your bedroom (or wherever) and create a “sleepover” environment so the parents can enjoy an extra hour or two in the evening.
If any of your guests have little kids or babies, consider kicking off your evening earlier (i.e., at 4 pm or 5 pm) and serving an early dinner so that those needing to leave early can. That way, they won’t miss out or feel stressed about their toddler’s meltdown.
Even if you don’t have kids, being mindful of this is an important dinner party hosting tip because it shows you care about your friends and guests.
7. Chill Post Meal
After the meal is over, don’t rush your guests out the door if it’s early and you still want people to hang out. Instead, create a relaxing atmosphere where they can unwind and enjoy themselves.
8. Find Out Dietary Requirements
One of the biggest challenges of hosting a dinner party can be catering to everyone’s dietary needs. Instead of feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, use these requirements as an opportunity to get creative and try new things.
When you invite your guests, ask them what their allergies or preferences are so you know this information from the start. This will make planning a dinner party easier and less stressful.
One of my go-to vegetarian recipes is Ottolenghi’s Black Pepper Tofu (the heat levels can be adjusted). It’s delicious, vegan, and make-ahead.
Other popular dishes for guests with more particular diets include coconut milk Thai curries with tons of vegetables topped with toasted nuts, Mujadara (rice and lentils with warm middle eastern spices and fried onions), and Cacio e Pepe pasta (parmesan and black pepper) with a big salad.
With effort and planning, you can create a meal everyone can enjoy. Plus, your guests with an allergy feel free of burdening you with catering to their needs.
9. You’re Not a Deli, Limit How Many Types of Cheese You Serve
For years, I served a spread of 3-5 different cheeses, among other appetizers. Guests probably enjoyed the first few bites because the boards looked good, but it looked like carnage after that. By picking one or two types of cheese, you can eliminate a board from looking messy and save on costs.
Tip: Pre-slice your cheese to avoid guests from hacking at it.
I love to serve my cheese with grapes, strawberries, or cherries (if in season) or something like olives or capers that hit a salty note. And, of course, crackers or cut-up baguettes (supermarket brand is 100% fine).
10. Cheat on Dessert
Ending the meal on a sweet note is important (at least in my mind). But that doesn’t mean you’ve gotta spend hours whipping up a complicated dessert in the kitchen.
Serve something light that people can eat with their hands. Nobody will complain about supermarket ice cream sandwiches or ice cream bars. They’re affordable and low-maintenance, and guests who want to skip out on dessert won’t feel bad for missing out on something homemade.
11. Keep the Drink Offering Simple
If you decide to serve drinks at your party, keep it simple. There is no need to have a full bar on offer. Pick one or two kinds of drinks and serve endless jugs of water to keep everyone hydrated.
Good combinations include a craft beer with appetizers and wine with dinner. Or, Champagne and a light, not-too-sweet batch cocktail. It’s also totally acceptable to ask your guests to bring their drinks (especially if they ask what to bring) and then have a table laid out with an ice bucket, soda water, and bitters if you want to go that far.
Let your guests serve their own drinks. This is a great way for them to feel at home and save you time and energy.
12. Don’t Run out of Booze
Nothing’s worse than a party that doesn’t have enough alcohol.
Even though dinner party guests usually bring something to drink, I consistently over budget how much people will consume.
For a ~4-hour dinner party, I ensure at least one bottle of wine per person. If you’re not serving wine, ensure you have the equivalent in beer or cocktail mix.
If you’re worried about costs, ask guests to bring wine or beer when you invite them and be specific with quantity.
As a backup, boxed wine is always my go-to. They are quick and easy to fill up a carafe (these are great) when you start to get low and still want to continue imbibing.
13. Appetizers Should Be Easy
If you freak out at the thought of preparing appetizers, here are a couple of tips for making them fuss-free:
- One-bite snacks are ideal. Salted peanuts, potato chips, and spiced nuts are all excellent options.
- Use store-bought items such as hummus, sour cream, and olives to your advantage. Nobody will complain.
- If you want to cook something, prep everything in advance so you’re not rushing to fill your stuffed mushrooms or meticulously placing individual edible flowers on your crostinis as your guests arrive.
14. Stop Trying to Make Everything From Scratch
Don’t be afraid to take shortcuts for your mains.
Buy a rotisserie chicken and use the chicken in a meat dish such as enchiladas or a chicken salad. Or, buy a pre-made lasagne or eggplant parmesan from your favorite Italian restaurant or deli and focus on making a beautiful salad.
Be honest with your friends and let them know you didn’t have time. Or, that your cooking skills are less than subpar. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that your guests will be impressed that you didn’t bend backward for them and feel way more comfortable.
It might even open up the conversation for guests’ favorite place to get takeaway or frozen xyz meals.
15. Make it a Cocktail Party
If you’re not up for preparing a full meal, why not try serving cocktails and appetizers instead?
Try making classic cocktails like martinis or cosmopolitans and pair them with delicious finger foods like deviled eggs, stuffed mushrooms, or bruschetta. You can even make a charcuterie board with meats, cheeses, and crackers. Your guests will love the variety and the chance to try different flavors.
As long as your guests know you’re not serving a full, sit-down dinner, they’ll be pleasantly surprised with the shorter commitment time and more casual party format.
Wrapping It Up
As Lewis Carroll famously quoted, “That which chiefly causes the failure of a dinner party is the running short – not of meat nor of drink, but of conversation.”
So don’t worry too much about the little details, or if the food doesn’t turn out perfectly. The modern-day dinner party is all about quality time, good laughs, and experiences.
I hope this fun and actionable list of tips will help you enjoy the whole party process from start to finish. Let me know in the comments what worked and what didn’t. Happy hosting!