Last updated: May 1, 2023
Dinner parties take a lot of planning. You have to set a menu, invite your friends, serve the food, and then manage the conversation.
In this article, I’ll help show you how to host a dinner party and how to make it easy. You’ll see some non-traditional advice, like ordering take-out instead of cooking at home, as well as typical tips from experienced party planners.
Warning: Experienced Hosts Only! If this is your first party ever, read this article first. Why? You should not have a dinner party as your first hosting experience. Dinner parties are stressful, complicated, and require advanced hosting skills. Make your first party a success by keeping it simple and host a cocktail party instead.
If you are an experienced host and you’re ready to plan your dinner party, or at least get ideas for how to plan a dinner party, read on.
Basic Dinner Party Tips
Dinner parties are great if you already know how to have parties. They take some work, but they can be a lot of fun. Your guests will get to eat delicious food while having private and in-depth conversations.
Do: decrease party stress by planning ahead
Do: invite people you find interesting
Don’t: invite them before you’ve prepared the party runway
Who to Invite
First, start by building a guest list. Who should you invite to a dinner party? I suggest starting with a list of your close friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
Any time you host an event, you should always invite members of your core group first.
Don’t have a core group, or new to town and want to make friends? Click here for tips.
How Many People at a Dinner Party
The best size for a dinner party is six people. If you have more than six people, then the conversation will split between smaller subgroups at the table.
Start with a goal of getting six people to attend. You’ll probably have to invite several more people, since not everyone will be available to attend.
After you invite reliable and supportive friends who already know and like you, choose a few additional guests based on shared interests and prior connections. Select guests who you know will have things in common. It’s always a win to invite friends who have great stories or who just generally tend to get along well with everyone.
Dinner Party Invitations
Inviting someone to your dinner party doesn’t have to be hard. I’ll show you exactly what to text or email someone to invite them to your dinner party.
How to Send an Online Invitation
The invitation to your dinner party can be sent by email using a free online invitation platform like Paperless Post. The two most important things to do here are to invite people at least 2 weeks in advance (I call this the party runway), and then to collect their RSVPs (to create a commitment and social proof).
Follow the instructions from my book, The 2-Hour Cocktail Party, and use the scripts inside Chapter 7 for invitations to your dinner party.
Make a Timeline
Two weeks before
Now is when you want to make your catering order, if you’re going to have someone else do the cooking. If you’re not, think about which parts of the meal you can have someone else do! Maybe you want to outsource dessert, or have decor delivered.
It’s the company that counts! Give yourself less to do so that you can really enjoy yourself.
One week before
Build your playlist! Get a good mix of chill classics that will make for good background music. Nothing too loud.
Map out your food prep plan. There isn’t a whole lot of food that lets you cook this far in advance, but if you can write out your plan for the next few days, it should make the day of the party much breezier.
Two days before
Go shopping! Get all your food and beverages.
Make sure you have all the ingredients you need for cocktails and snacks.
The day before
- Pick up your flowers today and arrange them the way you want them.
- Do whatever food prep you can possibly do. Make the dessert and carefully seal and refrigerate it, at the very least.
- Empty the dishwasher.
- Clear the sink.
It’s a great idea to do what you can to make your kitchen as stress-free as possible.
Two hours before
- Put together a “drink and nosh” station for when your guests arrive. (Provide some wine or a pre-mixed cocktail and a small snack like olives, nuts, and cheeses for them to snack on when they arrive)
- Collect any platters you need for serving food.
- Set the table! Put out plates, napkins and glassware.
- If you have a preference for where guests sit, make sure they know their spot. (It’s nice to have couples sit apart. One guest seating rule can be to have everyone sit beside someone they don’t know.)
- Make sure there’s water on the table.
Choose Your Dinner Party Atmosphere
Set the mood by setting these things.
Change the Lighting
Fluorescent lights must go! Any overhead lighting should be swapped out for low-light during the dinner party. Lamp lighting is always more flattering and comfortable. You want your guests to feel comfortable and cozy.
Choose warm, soft lighting for the areas where guests will hang out, and plenty of votive candles for the dinner table. String lights and candles are the way to go. The effect is dazzling.
Set the Table
- Dinnerware and flatware can be the real “center” of the table. Choose fancy higher-end china if you’re going for a more formal affair, and more casual plates and glasses you love to set the tone for a more relaxed gathering.
- Every place setting needs a plate, a glass for wine, and a glass for water.
- A pitcher of water should be placed on the table so guests know where they can refill their glass during the evening.
- Wine is a usual pairing for the meal. Provide guests with at least one glass for wine, or you can place one glass for red and one glass for white wine so you can offer a few options to go with the meal.
- A dinner table isn’t complete without something green!
- Choose a few pretty flowers and cut their stems short, then place them in small vases that don’t intercept guests’ views.
- Foraged greens are also nice if you have a garden or fresh herbs outside.
- Choose greenery and flowers that blend well with your table linens. Natural textures and colors are a no-fail approach.
Creating a Dinner Party Menu
Dinner parties are a great way to also say to someone, “We should get to know each other better! Come to my house and enjoy delicious food.”
That said – Don’t cook! Choose a catering service or better, order a take-out.
Pro Tip: I do not condone the most stressful option here, which is to plan and prep a big menu and cook it all yourself. However, if you are something of a connoisseur in the kitchen, by all means do your thing. Otherwise, let someone else do the work!
Choose Wine and Drinks
If you don’t know wine, source your network. Find the friend who does!
Otherwise, there should be somebody at your local wine shop who can recommend wines based on the menu you’re planning.
Find out what your guests like to drink, and consider starting the evening with a delicious and special cocktail recipe. Maybe design your own cocktail for the night and give it a classy name.
Anybody in the group a non-drinker? Mocktail recipes are easy to find. Give guests options and make sure you provide something for everyone.
Be a Good Host
Discourage Cell Phones
Make sure everyone is included in the conversation. This helps cut down on guests feeling like they need to check their phones.
Also, try to avoid checking your own phone to set the tone.
Cue the Conversation
It never hurts to be ready!
Have a few conversation topics on hand before the evening begins.
- Avoid canned topics, but definitely have some ideas in case the conversation goes off the rails.
- Avoid topics that could make some guests uncomfortable.
Having a perfect question or discussion available can help reel everyone back from an awkward moment.
Having specific conversational topics ready can also prevent one or two guests from dominating the whole evening’s conversation.
These unconventional recommendations will help you get ready, make the arrangements simple, but you’ll have a successful dinner party.
In this article we covered some key steps for how to host a dinner party, including:
- How many people to invite to a Dinner Party
- Making a Timeline
- Creating Dinner Party Menu
Follow these guidelines, and you’ll have a gathering better than most.