Simply Memorable Dinner Parties
Unless you’re loaded, don’t worry about the fancy dining table, matching cutlery, and expensive ingredients. Elaborate dinner parties that take weeks to prepare and cost an arm and a leg are a thing of the past. Make them memorable by focusing on simple things that matter, like good music, fun conversation, and homecooked food.
Here are my favorite dinner party essentials to help you make your next party a memorable one.
In This Dinner Party Essentials Guide
Get ahead of the game to ensure your dinner party goes as planned and with as little work as possible.
Get Your Tunes Right
Pick a few of your favorite Spotify or YouTube playlists in advance. And don’t forget to charge your speakers while you’re at it.
Here are my go-to Spotify playlists:
- Bossa Nova Dinner – a collection of easy-listening Brazilian Jazz
- Sunshowers – indie-electro relaxed and upbeat vibes
- Dinner with Friends – an eclectic mix of uppity funk and mainstream remixes
- Old School Hip-Hop – not for the little ones but these nostalgic 90s hip-hop tunes often put people in a good mood (and drink more)
Tip: Invest in a good portable speaker. My favorite is the UE Boom. Not only does it liven up a dinner party, but it’s handy for outdoor workouts, and road trips when your rental car only has a CD player.
Consider Your Pals’ Palates
While I said in the intro that it doesn’t matter how fancy your food is, that doesn’t mean you can make anything. Ask your friends (and their plus-ones) if they have any allergies and strong preferences before settling on what you’re going to prepare.
Don’t make them feel like they’re a massive pain in the butt to cook for (even if they are). If they don’t like cilantro or spicy food, simply put it on the side so the rest of your guests with proper palates can still thoroughly enjoy it.
Tip: If they’re vegetarian, think about possibly making the entire menu vegetarian and wow them with some recipes from one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks.
Save your precious time while happily stuffing your friends with my favorite kitchen dinner party essentials.
Cast Iron Pan
This lifesaver piece of kitchen equipment is a dinner party essential for a few reasons:
- You can prepare dishes in advance (even days!) and hide it in the oven when guests arrive for a big reveal.
- Your slow-cooked meat will be fall-off-the-bone tender.
- 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.
A Good Chef’s 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.
Unscented & Long Lasting Candles
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.
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.
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.
Over appetizers, take turns sharing one thing you’re grateful for. It helps to bring up an experience or event that happened in the past week and gets the conversation flowing. It was inspired by our friend who told us about his experience at a Shabbat dinner and how it always starts the dinner off on a good foot.
As the host, you can start to get the group warmed up. It can be as simple as, “I’m grateful you all showed up on time to this dinner.”
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
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.
Tip: For more activity ideas, read my Dinner Party Games for Adults post.
Proactive Cleaning Essentials
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
These 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.
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!
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.
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.