How to throw the perfect dinner party

Check out these pro tips on how to have a delicious dining get-together.

Food and friends go hand in hand. You gather. You eat. You chat. You reminisce. It’s how memories are made. If you have your guest list ready but aren’t sure about the rest, here are some tips to get you started.

Be accommodating

Of course you’re already being accommodating by inviting guests into your home. But a good rule of thumb might be to ask about any dietary restrictions before you prep your menu. This way you can avoid guests having to pass on a delish dish. A simple text message or request on your invitation is all it takes.

Event director Mariana Leung at Wicked Finch Farm suggests collaborative dishes that get your guests involved. Handcraft your own taco. Build your own bloody mary. Make it more interactive, and let your guests get exactly what they want.

“Think lettuce wraps (or) tacos,” she says. “It cuts down on prep time, and it’s also an easy way to accommodate different dietary restrictions.”

It’s also safe to say that a vegetarian option should always be available. But that doesn’t limit your veggie-friendly options to salads. Do a little research and see what your vegetarian friends are into. Both Indian and Thai cuisines carry a bunch of tasty meatless menu options.

Pick a theme

Take ACME Fine Wine founder Karen Williams’ advice: “Choose a theme and pair each dish with a wine from that region or country. Know the sources, so when people ask you know the origin and a bit of the story.”

Picking a theme doesn’t mean you have to have a Hawaiian-style luau or a black-tie casino night. But do you want it to be casual or fancy? Should your guests dress up or dress down? It’s really all up to you—just be sure guests know well in advance.

Event producer Stephanie Thoma likes to throw dinner parties that people remember. 

“This is an opportunity to get creative and share the fun of planning a gathering,” she says. “You can opt for casual comfort food recipes that are tried and true—like tasty casseroles and fire-grilled favorites like steak and fish.”

Prep ahead

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something new, test a recipe before your party. If it’s going to keep you in the kitchen too long, it probably isn’t worth it.

Blogger for The Welcoming Table and dinner party enthusiast Sandi Haustein keeps it close to home. 

“Choose two to three recipes as your go-tos,” she says. “Maybe it’s your mom’s lasagna or your killer street tacos. Pick recipes you’re known for and know almost by heart. When you know your dish backward and forward, it gives you more mental space to enjoy your guests.”

She also suggests that you clean and set the table a day ahead of time. 

“Make your dessert or salad early so you can focus on more time-consuming dishes right before guests arrive,” she says. Getting as much done ahead of time as you can takes the stress off of you and leaves room for any mishaps that might happen.”

Entertaining expert Jim Norton says getting prep out of the way early is important because dinner parties are about more than the food.

“Your guests are there to enjoy your delicious meal, but they also want to spend time with you.”

Set the mood

If you take steps to set yourself up for culinary success, you should have time left over to create ambiance. Lifestyle blogger Lauren Mochizuki recommends setting the mood based on when your gathering takes place. 

“Set up candles, a centerpiece and dim lighting for a late dinner party,” says the nurse and mother. “If it’s earlier in the afternoon, set a great playlist, an easy game or conversation starter, and some vibrant cocktails.”

Small touches can add to the ambiance, according to Mochizuki. Write place cards by hand and place them on sprigs of rosemary. Or listen to Norton by creating a tablescape that’s an extension of your tastes and styles.

“Go on a treasure hunt around your home, looking for objects that might make for an interesting table,” he says. “Decorative and unexpected objects mixed in with flowers can be a beautiful and unique addition.”

Don’t run out of drinks

If you plan to serve beer and wine with your dishes, don’t run out! 

“If the guest list is six to eight adults or more, use magnums. Not only are they delightfully voluminous and impressive-looking on a table, they also allow everyone a glass from the same bottle without running out midpour,” Williams says.

See if you have any cider fans in your crowd. Call on a sommelier to craft perfect pairings. Or keep it casual and make it BYOB. 

But also keep plenty of nonalcoholic options on hand. And think beyond water. You can easily go from mocktail to cocktail with premade punch that doesn’t include the alcohol.

Do you

Sure, your party is all about making your guests happy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun. When you’re stressed out, your guests are too. So do yourself a favor and do you! 

“Your job should be to entertain your guests, not be stuck in an apron,” says Food Fire + Knives chef and owner Michael Casciello.

At the end of the night, thoughtfulness and preparation are key. It’s all about having a good time, creating memories and enjoying good food. Just treat yourself as well as you treat your guests, and your dinner party will pop off perfectly. 

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