Planning a Dinner Party (for First Timers)

Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

Just because you can’t cook, you work 60-hour weeks, or live in a shoebox-sized apartment doesn’t mean you can’t plan a dinner party.

It doesn’t need to be expensive, take weeks to prepare, or look like anything you see on Pinterest. Try less to impress and, instead, focus your energy on being a good host by thinking about activities that’ll make your gathering more memorable.

Read this guide for easy-to-follow tips for planning dinner party.

1. Skip the small talk.

Weddings and boring corporate events are for small talk, not your dinner party.

Plan a dinner party game or start the evening with a lighthearted conversation starter to help lighten the mood and for others to get to know each other.

For example, you could start the night off with daily grateful by going around the room during cocktails.

Another idea could be to have your guests bring something to contribute for an organized blind taste test, which will have the conversation focused around the food or drink you’re tasting as a group.

Kim setting the table for a dinner party

2. Ask for help.

Asking for help with your dinner party is like asking for directions. You don’t necessarily need to do it, but it’s so much easier if you do.

Instead of trying to do it all, enlist a partner or a friend to help co-host. I host dinner parties with my husband Chris, and he helps me with selecting guests, cleaning, and making sure everyone has a full drink in hand.

It makes planning a dinner party ten times more manageable (and enjoyable).

what to bring to a dinner party cover image
Planning a dinner party in a notebook

3. Plan it out.

Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than a frazzled host. 

Make a shopping and to-do list at the beginning of the week and space out your prep over a couple of days, so you’re doing this last minute. That means buying most, if not all, of your groceries at least two or three days in advance and only picking up a few things like ice and fresh bread the day of your party.

Tip: Use a notebook or Reminders on your phone and write down everything you might need to pick-up, do, and clean.

4. Choose your guest list wisely.

Don’t screw this up.

You’ll be spending the entire evening with these people, so put some thought into who’s coming, instead of randomly inviting a group of people. An easy way to guarantee your guests are comfortable is if everyone invited knows at least one other person there.

Invite between four and six guests, and make the invitation casual by sending out an email or text message about a week in advance.

Tip: If your guests don’t RSVP within a couple of days, move on to other people that’ll be more grateful for your invite.

French dinner party menu cover image of beef bourguignon
Beef Bourguignon my Unfussy French Dinner Party Menu

5. Make a one-pot meal.

One-pot meals are the way to go if you’re planning a dinner party that’s affordable and stress-free.

Making a big one-pot meal is easy to put together ahead of time (so you can make a Friday dinner party work) and requires far less clean-up than plated dishes.

They also look impressive in the center of the table with some easy garnishes like freshly chopped herbs or microgreens.

6. Don’t be a cleaning Nazi.

Prepare your house as if your parents were visiting, not your in-laws. Unless your parents are clean freaks, but you get the idea.

Focus on the bathroom, living room, and kitchen. Dust if you haven’t in a while, sweep or vacuum, put away unnecessary crap lying around the kitchen or living room (like mail, shoes, toys, coats on the coat rack, etc.) and put out some candles, including a couple in the bathroom.

Tip: If you’re short on space, put unnecessary bulky things like skis or bikes inside your car or ask to store them at a neighbor’s. Just don’t forget to invite them over!

7. Go thrift shopping.

A second-hand store or flea market is your best friend when planning a dinner party.

You might only own two wine glasses or four plates, and that’s okay. But, unless you want your guests to sip wine out of plastic cups, do yourself (and them) a favor and get yourself some second-hand dinner partyware.

In Cape Town, I picked up a large cast-iron pan, baking tins, chairs, and other kitchen essentials from the local flea market. It’s a great pan, and I used it at almost every dinner party we hosted there.

Facebook Marketplace has also been a great place to find gems if you put in the time to dig a little.

8. Play good music.

Find some good playlists on Spotify or Youtube that you can play and forget about for the rest of the evening. And remember to charge your speaker(s), the day before your dinner.

If you’re not sure what to play, find some great playlists in this post.

Tip: If you’re in the market for new speakers, I know at least ten people who own the reliable and high-quality UE Boom speakers (including myself).

Kim using what she has in her fridge to plan her dinner party.

9. Use what your pantry gives you.

Before you blow your budget out of the water, see what spices and sauces are tucked away in your pantry, and what you can do with them.

This can help reduce stress while planning a dinner party, and use up ingredients you otherwise might not ever use.

Google recipes with that za’atar spice your friend brought back from Egypt, or the mole paste you picked up in Mexico. You’ll have a story to tell, fewer things in your cupboard, and a delicious meal that’s likely more interesting than what you were previously planning.

Chris with a hangover

10. Prevent hangovers.

Gone are the days when we could slam back multiple tequila shots, a couple of muff-divers, and wake up with no hangover.

When planning a dinner party, make sure you take care of your guests by keeping them hydrated.

Save old wine bottles, fill them up with water, chill them in the fridge, and have one or two of them on the tables at all times. It’ll save you from having to top everybody up, and will ensure your friends stay hydrated throughout the night.

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