13 Dinner Party Essential Must-Haves

Elaborate dinner parties that take weeks to prepare and cost an arm and a leg, are a thing of the past. They’re not practical and nor do they make a dinner party better.

Quit worrying about fancy table decor, matching cutlery, and expensive ingredients. And, instead, focus on making your guests feel welcome and entertained, to help create a memorable experience for both you and your guests.

These dinner party essentials are practical things you can do, items to make hosting easier, and activities you can plan for your next dinner party. Plus, they won’t break your budget or be too time-consuming.

Spend less and get more out your next dinner party with these 13 dinner party essentials.

Planning a dinner party in a notebook
Making a list a few days before so you’re not running around like a mad man.

Prep Essentials

Get ahead of the game to ensure your dinner party goes as planned and with as little work as possible.

1. Good Music

Having appropriate music planned out is a crucial dinner party essential because without, you’ll either have a crappy playlist playing in the background. Or, you’ll be fiddling with your Spotify all night changing the playlist every few songs.

To avoid this, pick a few of your favorite Spotify or YouTube playlists in advance and have them cued up to play all evening. And, don’t forget to charge your speakers while you’re at it.

My go-to playlists are all in this dinner party playlists post.

Tip: Invest in a good portable speaker. My favorite is the UE Boom. Not only can you move it around your dinner party depending on where your guests are, it’s handy for outdoor workouts, road trips, picnics, etc., and is compact enough to throw in your bag.

2. An Easy and Considerate Menu

I mentioned in my introduction that it doesn’t matter how fancy your food is. But, it doesn’t give you free-reign to cook anything. Ask your friends (and their plus-ones) if they have any allergies or preferences before settling on what you’re going to prepare.

I like to ask about these when I invite them so I don’t waste time planning a menu they won’t be able to enjoy.

If your guests say they don’t like cilantro or spicy food, simply put it on the side so the rest of your guests with less fussy palates can still enjoy the meal.

Make a meal that’s simple, make-ahead, and ideally something that can be made in one big pot for minimal clean-up and ease.

French dinner party menu cover image of beef bourguignon

Tip: Don’t make something you’ve never made before to avoid unnecessary stress.

Rose blind taste test event group photo
Engaging in fun conversations while sipping wine during a rose wine blind taste test.

Activity Essentials

A successful dinner party is like a blind date. The food is one thing, but if the conversation sucks, your party’s a dud. Steer clear from awkward silences and embarrassing conversations by using some of these activity dinner party essentials.

3. Conversation Starters

Use a conversation starter to help generate better dinner party conversations. You don’t necessary need to pull them out at the beginning of the night but they often create more interesting discussions and minimize small talk.

An easy way to introduce a conversation starter at the beginning of your party, could be something I learned at a Shabbat dinner a couple years ago.

You could start off your dinner by saying something like this:

Hey guys! Thanks for coming this evening on such short notice. Let’s go around the table and share one thing you’re grateful for! It can be literally anything. I’ll go first. I’m grateful nobody had any dietary restrictions so I had free-reign to cook whatever I wanted tonight.

Or if, you’re looking for something more fun, try one of these fun dinner party conversation starters.

If you’re not sure you want to “lead” this sort of conversation, use a game like Table Topics instead. Each Table Topics card offers a stimulating question to spice up the dinner table conversation.

Blind taste test with beer
A beer blind taste test is a fun and super easy activity to play at a dinner party.

4. Blind Taste Tests

See if your wine snob friends really know what they’re talking about when it comes to wine. Or, if your snobby French friend can tell the difference between American and French cheese.

Taste tests are one of my favorite dinner party activities because everyone gets involved, you get to ask people for something to contribute without appearing cheap, and because it often reveals that people really can’t tell the difference between expensive and cheap.

Not sure how to do a blind taste test? Read this post.

Cover image for blind taste test ideas

5. Snake Drafts

You’re probably thinking, “aren’t snake drafts for fantasy football?” Yes, technically they are. But snake drafts can be turned into the perfect activity to play with your friends (which is why I’ve included them in this dinner party essentials post).

A snake draft game takes a little bit of preparation. But, it will guarantee a couple of hours of genuine and honest discussions (most likely hilarious). Plus, it can be played with family, friends, in a car, or just about anywhere.

Learn more about this game and how to play it with your friends in this post.

About Kim and Feed My Friends

Kitchen Essentials

Save your precious time while happily stuffing your friends with my favorite kitchen dinner party essentials.

6. A Cast Iron Pan

This lifesaver piece of kitchen equipment is a dinner party essential for a few reasons:

  1. You can prepare dishes in advance (even days!) and hide it in the oven when guests arrive for a big reveal.
  2. Your slow-cooked meat will be fall-off-the-bone tender.
  3. It looks impressive set in the middle of a table (and looks like you slaved in the kitchen all day).

I picked up the one I was using in Cape Town from a flea market. You can buy them new for around $30-$100 online depending on the type and make. Just make sure you properly care for it cleaning it without soap and seasoning it after each use. This guide to caring for your cast-iron pans is super handy.

Tip: For cast iron slow-cooked recipe ideas, check out this post.

7. A Good Knife

Having a dull knife sucks. It squashes food when you don’t want it to and makes prep work more difficult and lengthy. I swear by my Wustof knife because of how comfortable it feels in my hand and how it cuts through everything.

Yes, this might be a bit of an investment but it will save you time and energy and make your life in the kitchen so much better. Trust me.

8. Long Lasting Candles

Candles are one of my dinner party essentials because they can easily transform a drab table into a romantic one. We all know harsh light is a mood killer. That’s why I always invest in high-quality, long-burning candles like these that add natural light that people feel good and good-looking in.

Tip: If it’s not dark when you’re hosting, replace candles with recycled small jars of flowers. Pick-up a cheap bouquet ($5-10), cut the stems short, and place them in little jars over your table. Simple and beautiful.

9. Sea Salt

High-quality sea salt is one of those underrated dinner party essentials that should be should be more popular. It brings the flavor out in bland soups and stews, makes pasta take like you were in Italy, and adds an umami taste to desserts. And no, table salt is not a substitute. Get that garbage off your dinner table and restrict its use to salting your pasta water or sprinkling on sidewalks to keep them from freezing.

Tip: Bring a box of high-quality sea salt for the host the next time you’re invited to a dinner party. More ideas on what to bring in this post.

Emptying the dishwasher is one my dinner party essentials.

Proactive Cleaning Essentials

10. Proactivity

Nobody wants to wake up the next morning to a messy house and a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes. Be proactive about cleaning before, during, and while people are around and your party will be much more enjoyable.

Other things to remember to do:

  • ensure your dishwasher is empty before guests arrive
  • dirty pots and pans have been cleaned and put away
  • clean as you cook
  • don’t be afraid to step away after dinner and before dessert to do a bit of tidying up

11. Tupperware Containers

Tupperware are one of my all-time favorite dinner party essentials (and general life essentials) because they make prep and tidying up a breeze.

Invest in high-quality containers made from plastic or glass. They last forever and prevent annoying spillage when you take your leftovers to work or on a hike the next day. The glass bottoms containers are particularly handy for reheating food in the microwave or oven.

Tip: If you’re looking for a more affordable option, clean, sterilize and reuse glass jars.

12. Beeswax Covers

I’ve always hated plastic wrap, so I banished it. In its place, I’ve got something I love: beeswax covers. I use them all the time when cleaning up leftovers to wrap cheese, halved fruit and veggies, or to cover bowls of salad or dishes I’m too lazy to put into a container.

They are 100% natural, easy to clean, last about a year, and are so much better for the environment than plastic wrap. They also make an excellent gift!

Try the Abeego brand I use, available on Amazon or Abeego.com. Or, try making them yourself!

13. A Cleaning Buddy

Cleaning up solo after all your dinner party guests have left is a bummer. Instead, ask a friend to stay for a nightcap and recap the night with some tunes to make your morning that much more enjoyable. With the two of you, it’ll go twice as fast and it will be ten times better than doing it by yourself in the morning.

Dinner party guests eating appetizers outside

The Most Essential Dinner Party Essential

Keep It Simple

A dinner party of grilled cheese sandwiches full of fun times, great conversation, and good friends beats an elaborate fine-dining dinner you’re too stressed to enjoy and play host at. The dinner party essentials I shared in this post help me make that happen. Hopefully, they can do the same for you!

What are your favorite dinner party essentials? Share a dish, cleaning trick, or secret game you always play with your friends in the comments below.

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