How To Host A Successful Dinner Party
10 Tips For Hosting A Dinner Party
My husband and I enjoy having friends and family visit and even stay with us, but one of our favorite ways to entertain is to invite our loved ones to a dinner party.
We prefer having people over to our place rather than taking them out because a) it saves money as restaurants, especially in NYC where we live, can be expensive b) when eating at a restaurant, people feel obliged to leave when the meal is over, but they can stay for as long as they like at someone's home and c) it gives us an excuse to clean our home!
Seriously, though, while hosting a dinner party can be a lot of work, it's also a lot of fun if you put the proper planning into it. It's your time to be creative in setting a menu and in making your party one to remember. We've had great successes with our dinner parties, so here are a few of my tips for hosting one.
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Planning A Dinner Party
Before I launch into my dinner party tips, my most useful advice is to not plan a huge party at the last minute. Last minute is fine if you're having two or four people over, but if you're going to be hosting a birthday bash with 30 guests, do not wait until the day before to go shopping, etc. Trust me; I've made the mistake of doing this and it's not fun, just STRESSFUL. That said, here are my tips for hosting a dinner party.
1. Decide what your party's theme is going to be. By "theme," I don't necessarily mean "baseball" or "Paris in spring" or "Hawaiian luau." But it is important to decide if it's going to be casual or fancy, or if it's honoring a particular celebration, like a birthday. It's easier to plan a menu when you have a holiday or state of dress in mind. For instance, a casual dinner party might involve you serving a lot of finger foods, while at a holiday party, you might serve something related to that celebration -- like Christmas cookies. In other words, the more organized you are, the better.
2. Take time to plan a menu. It doesn't have to be fancy or contain a million food items, but you should make note of the items you wish to serve. This way, you can make sure that you have all of your ingredients on hand or get a hold of the recipes if you don't know how to make something (or hire a caterer, if you so desire). I also make a point to take people's food preferences into account. I have several friends who are vegetarian and one who has a serious glucose intolerance so I always include at least on vegetarian dish and one dish that's glucose free. However, I choose dishes that my carnivore friends will like as well (like a meatless baked ziti) so that I can cater to friends with special food needs, but still make their food work for everyone else.
3. Put out some appetizers/finger foods and at least three main dishes. My rule of thumb is you can never have enough food. I've been to other people's parties where they've run out, but my guests say that we always keep them full and happy. This may sound like a lot to make, but I get most things ready made. Cheese and crackers works for fancy and casual parties. Packaged cold cuts or spreads, such as tuna salad or hummus are great for a buffet table. For main dishes, my general plan of attack is a meat dish, a meatless pasta and a salad. I add more if we're having a lot of guests or if my husband feels like cooking (I'm fortunate in that he's much more skilled in the kitchen than I am).
4. If you're not having a fancy dinner party, get plastic plates, utensils and cups. Why spend time washing dishes? Nowadays, you can get fancy-looking plastic plates and plastic utensils that look like silverware. Save yourself a lot of time by buying these items.
5. Send out some kind of formal invite. Don't just text your friends the date because I've found that people are bad at remembering stuff that isn't written down. Send a group e-mail or a written invite, if you have the patience. I like to use Evite because you can make a cute looking online invitation and it'll send reminders for you. It's a way of being formal, but in a casual manner. Send the invite well in advance so guests can save the date.
6. Be prepared for extra guests. Though I ask people to RSVP, many don't and we inevitably end up with about three unexpected visitors. I've tried stressing the RSVP, but don't want to alienate frends by nagging them. That said, the best way to deal is to just be prepared; I keep a few extra chairs on hand and usually have too much food, anyway, so it works out.
7. Make as much food as you can in advance. If you're cooking yourself, do things a day ahead. I chop the fruit for the fruit salad and keep it in containers; prepare the lasagna and wrap it up in the fridge so it just has to be baked, etc. This way, I can actually relax and spend time with my guests. I want to be with my friends, not stuck in the kitchen all night.
8. Arrange the chairs/seating area in a way that promotes conversations. I always put the chairs in a circle so my guests can chat with one another. I also encourage people to hang out in the living room. This way, everyone is in the same place and all of my guests can mingle.
9. Help your dinner party guests get to know each other. If you have different groups of friends attending, do what you can to get those groups interacting. I always introduce friends whom I think will hit it off and tell them about stuff they have in common. For instance, I introduced my cousin who'd just visited Costa Rica to a friend who'd lived in Costa Rica. By doing this, I gave them a conversation starter and something interesting to talk about. It's a way to make people feel at ease and help your guests fit in.
10. Make sure to mingle and spend time with all of your guests. This can be a little hectic if you're having a large party, but take a few minutes to catch up with everyone there. After all, they're coming to spend time with YOU. Make them feel as if their trip was worth it!