A Beginner's Guide to Hosting a Stress-Free Dinner Party
Hosting a dinner party can be an overwhelming task, especially for first timers, but do it right and you'll be the toast of the town for months—if not years—to come. More importantly, dinner parties are a great way to spend quality time with friends and have wholesome, cost-effective fun at home.
Depending on where you are in the world, and what the restrictions are around group gatherings, you may only be able to host a few close friends at your dinner party. Don't let this stop you from making it special—in fact, there's never been a more appropriate time for getting a bit fancy at home. The presence of masks, sanitiser and physical distance needn't hold you back.
So whether you're planning a relaxed dinner with a few close friends or a more formal affair (think: place settings, multiple courses etc.), with proper planning and a can-do attitude there's nothing stopping you from hosting a stress-free dinner party that you and your friends will be talking about for years to come. From guest list to menu and your dining room décor, there are certain elements to plan for in the lead-up to any successful dinner party.
Follow our beginner's guide to hosting a stress-free dinner party and in no time you'll be the go-to for memorable at-home soirées.
Create the guest list
Before you even choose a date or plan your menu, you need to decide who you want to invite to your dinner party. Think about who you haven't seen in a while and who is good value to have at a party. Consider the mix of people—all great dinner parties not only allow long-term BFFS to come together for quality bonding time in a fancier than usual setting, but also allow new bonds to be forged. Of course you want to avoid any explosive combinations that will end in tears, but don't underestimate the benefits of mixing big personalities for entertainment purposes.
Pick a date
When are you available? When will likely work for your guests? Are there any public holidays, birthdays, weddings, engagement parties or baby showers in the pipeline that will conflict with your dinner party? It's always a bit of a puzzle finding the one day that works for everyone, but if you put in the groundwork it will pay off in the end. Just know that you can't accommodate everyone, and there will be plenty more dinner parties to come.
Or, as is more likely these days, a group text. Give your guests ample time to block out time in their calendars by sending your invites out at least three weeks in advance. You never know if someone else in your social circle is planning a dinner party at the same time as you, so it's important to lock in your date early and stick to it. Decide whether you'd like guests to bring a plate or something to drink, and let everyone know you'll check in again the week of to confirm their RSVPs.
Now you have a rough guest list, ensure everyone will have somewhere to sit and ample table space to enjoy their food. Not enough chairs? Borrow from a friend or use it as an excuse to scour social media for some new secondhand finds. To be safe, make sure you have a couple of extra chairs for drop-ins or tag-alongs. Now is also the time for fancy napkins and tablecloths, so add these to your shopping list. Do a check on plates, bowls, knives and forks et al., and make any necessary purchases. These are items you'll keep forever, so consider investing in quality options.
Plan the menu
A couple of weeks in advance, map out each course you'll be serving at your dinner party. Unless you're a seasoned home cook, now is not the time to be experimenting with anything too complicated. Go with something simple—like Jessica Nguyen's tomato and garlic linguine. Make a note of any dietary requirements (allergies, vegans, vegetarians) and plan your menu accordingly, providing non-meat, non-dairy and non-gluten options where necessary. As you map out each dish, keep in mind the cost of ingredients and the time it will take to prepare and manage each course on the day—avoid getting carried away or you'll end up overspending and spending too much time in the kitchen instead of quality time with your guests.
The week of your dinner party, check in with your guests to confirm RSVPs. Tell everyone you can't wait to see them and confirm who's bringing what. You're not running a restaurant, so go ahead and ask each guest to bring a salad or a dessert or a bottle of natty wine. By having guests contribute to the spread, you'll create a more festive atmosphere.
Time to go shopping. Whether you're ordering online or braving brick-and-mortar food stores, make your list and check it at least twice. Start by writing out each dish and the ingredients required, and then write a final grocery list. Tick everything off a day or two before the big day to make sure you haven't forgotten anything. And check your pantry in case you already have anything on the list—avoiding waste and saving money. Win win!
A stitch in time saves nine, as the the saying goes. It means it's better to solve a small problem right away before it becomes a big problem, and it's a helpful mantra when planning any big event—and these days we absolutely consider dinner parties big events. Write (pen on paper, or in your phone) a rough timeline for yourself to follow the day before and day of the event. Future you will be grateful. Do any of your meals needs advance planning—thawing, marinating, resting in the fridge overnight? Check each of your recipes to make sure you don't leave anything too late.
On the day
Check the weather and readjust any outdoor plans if it looks like rain. Let your friends know you can't wait to see them at whatever time you've specified—it's good for guests to know the host is excited to see them and it's also good to remind guests of the kickoff time. Put on a playlist and get started on your cooking and meal prep. Take breaks when you need it, but avoid procrastinating. You'll be seeing everyone later, so you can afford to be off social media for the day. Queue some party-friendly Spotify playlists and if any of your guests are music nerds consider designating them as dinner party DJ for the night.
Dinner is served. Enjoy your meal and don't even think about washing up until your guests leave. Better yet, just do a quick rinse before you head to bed and deal with the clean-up tomorrow.