Follow the steps in this dinner party guide and you’ll realize you don’t need to turn your kitchen upside down or spend tons of money to make a relaxing dinner party come to fruition.
Dinner Party Guide Outline
Step 1: Pick a Date
Figure out a date about 2-3 weeks from now.
Planning any further in advance and people might forget about it. And, any sooner, most people will already be busy.
I also can highly recommend throwing your party on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Here’s why:
- It’s more efficient. You work during the week so your limited time forces you to be strategic with your shopping and cooking. Less work = less stress.
- You still get your weekend. Instead of spending your entire Saturday running around town and over-prepping for your dinner party, you’re free to do whatever you please. Plus, you’ll still be buzzing (or buzzed?) from your incredible dinner party the night before.
Step 2: Invite People
Your guests can make or break your party. So read through this dinner party guide step carefully.
How Many Should You Invite?
In my opinion, I like to limit my dinner parties to six to eight guests.
Any less and it’s not really a dinner party. Any group larger, you’ll have too much cooking to do and have to compete with too many voices to get a word in at dinner.
Who Should You Invite?
Connect people who don’t already know each other, but could possibly become friends. If you can, invite one “backbone guest” that everyone would get along with and invite others that would get along with him or her. If they’re funny, even better.
Send out invites via text message, phone call, or email. No, formal invites aren’t necessary.
Tip: If you have any wafflers who can’t give you a straight answer, be sure to ask them to confirm a week in advance. If not, take them off the list and invite someone else.
Step 3: Master Your Menu
Keep it Simple
One of the keys to planning a party that’s stress-free, is not making a dish you’ve never made before. As a result, there’s no guessing when something’s done or how long it’ll take and a lower risk of you screwing it up.
Keep It Affordable
The expense of cooking for a big group can add to the overall stress of planning a dinner party. To cut on cost (but not taste), slow cook cheap cuts of meat, make one-pot dishes or make it a vegetarian affair.
Not sure what to make? Try this:
Make The Menu Fun
Some of the best dinner party menus are ones where your guests get to participate.
Plan a menu that requires your guests to pass plates around a do a bit of the dirty work. You’ll feel less stressed about perfect plating and having everything ready to go at once.
- Taco Night. Slow cook a pork shoulder, make fresh guacamole and salsa and prepare some quick pickled onions to go alongside the usual cheese, beans, and cilantro sides.
- BBQ burgers. If you have a BBQ, you can easily prepare patties and sides in advance. Roast a large tray of potatoes and root vegetables and serve with your favorite burger trimmings.
- Rice Bowls. Cook up some rice or quinoa as the base and serve with grated carrot and beet, diced avocado, fried halloumi cheese, fried onions, spinach, and fresh herbs. I make the dressing from this recipe about once a week.
- Blind Taste Tests. Incorporate a taste test into the menu by asking guests to contribute a type of food or drink for a blind taste test. Read more about how to organize a blind taste test here.
What About Picky Eaters?
Once your guest list is set, ask everyone them for their dietary preferences and allergies they may have. If at least a couple of people are vegetarian, try going for a completely vegetarian menu which will save you the headache of planning multiple dishes.
Step 4: Diligently Delegate
Don’t try and do everything. Delegate!
How to delegate?
- When your friends ask, don’t tell them to not to bring anything.
- Ask your friends to bring their own drinks.
- Buy the dessert from your favorite bakery.
- Get your significant other or a friend to help with non-food related things like taking care of the music, recycling, etc.
- Ask a friend to come an hour early or stay 30 minutes after everyone leaves to help prep/clean.
Step 5: Prep Like a Pro
An important tip in this dinner party guide is to avoid wasting precious time fussing over small details.
Instead, give yourself a strict amount of time to prep and get stuff done. You’ll feel better about putting together a menu that didn’t take you hours and hours to prepare.
1. Prepare an activity.
People remember experiences, not material things, so spend time thinking about how your dinner party will unfold.
Will you have conversation starters? Will you plan a taste test activity for your guests? Will you play a board game after dinner and before dessert?
An activity will generate fun and interesting conversations that will make your dinner party more memorable.
2. Set Reminders
Use your Reminders app on your phone to make lists for shopping, prep, and cooking. Mine usually looks a little something like this:
3. Break Your List Into Sections
For each list, set a time and date, and schedule it into your week and do things as far in advance as possible. For example, make sure you have enough cutlery, wine glasses, and plates when you send out your guest list. This will give you plenty of time to hit up a thrift store or ask a neighbor and help you with planning a stress-free dinner party.
Step 6: Tidy Up
Make a cleaning and tidying checklist. Keep in mind that your guests won’t be going into every room in your home. Instead, focus on the living/dining rooms, bathroom, and kitchen.
Don’t forget to:
- Put away anything you don’t want your guests to see in your bathroom cupboards because people are snoopy.
- Clear the coat and shoe rack.
- Clear clutter like mail off the counters.
- Put away toys if you have kids.
- Charge your speakers and have some playlists ready to go.
- Clean your glasses (wine and water glasses)
- Make space for guests’ jackets and shoes.
- Get some fresh flowers.
- Take out the garbage and recycling.
Step 7: Enjoy Yourself
Remember that planning a stress-free dinner party doesn’t have to be arduous or tiresome.
If you’re too stressed out to enjoy yourself, what’s the point?
Expect Your Guests Early
There are always those guests that arrive 5 or 10 minutes early. As annoying as this is, be ready for them by this time so you’re not surprised when it happens. An hour before your guests are supposed to arrive, get changed, and set up the cold appetizers, plates, and napkins. If it’s getting dark, light the candles. Put on the music and pour yourself a drink.
Tip: Wear something dark or rock an apron for the night. You’ll inevitably spill on yourself in between finishing cooking and washing up and nobody needs to see you stain your new white shirt.
When your guests arrive, offer them a drink and don’t be afraid to sit down with them. If you’re hosting with a friend or partner, ask them to finish up in the kitchen. Or, have them keep them company until you can sit down with them.
Clean As You Go
Nobody likes to wakeup to counters full of crumbs and plates caked on with sauces the morning after a dinner party. After the appetizers, pop the plates into the dishwasher or give them a quick wash and get a friend to help you. Be sure to clean after dinner, before digging into dessert as well.
Have Games Ready
Here’s a recap of my step-to-step dinner party guide in case you scrolled right through to the bottom of this page:
- Pick a Date
- Invite People
- Diligently Delegate
- Master Your Menu
- Prep Like a Pro
- Tidy Up