Hosting your first dinner party can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. It’s a big feat to prepare a meal for the people you care about, and there’s no denying it can be stressful, especially when you’ve never done it before.
There’s a bit of preparation and planning into pulling of a great dinner party, and although it can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be.
A dinner party should be fun for both you and your guests.
Here are 17 simple tips to help you host your first dinner party with ease.
How to Host Your First Dinner Party
Decide The Date
Obviously, the first thing you want to do when hosting a dinner party is pick the date.
It’s a good idea to plan your dinner party 2-3 weeks in advance so that your guests can figure out their schedules, babysitters, etc.
This will also give you time to get everything sorted, including the menu, tidying your home, and purchasing any extraneous dinner party items you may need.
Keep The Guest List Small
Since this is your first dinner party, you may not be used to cooking for a larger group of people. That’s totally okay!
A dinner party doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, for starters, it’s best to stick to 2-4 people on your guest list.
Pick people who may already know each other or who you think would get along. Most importantly, pick people you know well and who you really like!
Dinner parties are for good times, and you don’t want to invite people who stress you out, especially for your first one.
Pick a Theme
Picking a theme for a dinner party is completely optional, but doing so can help guide you if you’re not sure what to serve.
For example, you could choose to a seasonal theme like a summer party and do barbeque, but you can also pick a cuisine as your dinner party theme such as Italian or Mexican.
I like choosing types of cuisines because then you can find recipes and flavors that feel cohesive and taste well together.
For example, if you choose Italian as you theme, you can serve Italian cheeses as an appetizer, then spaghetti and meatballs with wine from Italy, and a fun Italian dessert like sorbet or tiramisu.
Plan The Menu
Now that you have your date, guest list, and theme, it’s time to plan the menu.
Don’t forget to ask about any dietary restrictions from your guests. It’s a simple, thoughtful gesture that goes a long way, and this way you can rest assured your guest can enjoy all food at your get-together.
There are a few basic menus you can serve at a dinner party:
A 3-course meal is great when you want to spread your dinner party out over several hours. It consists of appetizers or hors d’oeuvres, the main dish, and then dessert.
This card deck features step-by-step instructions on how to build and style 50 beautiful cheeseboards.
Buffet Dinner Party
If you’re worried about timing everything perfectly while cooking, a buffet is a stress-free way to serve your food all at once.
Place everything on a single long table or counter, and let your guests line up and grab their selections.
For a fun, casual dinner party, try an interactive menu. This type of party works with foods that typically have a lot of toppings or options.
Some examples of an interactive dinner party include:
- Build your own burgers
- Taco bar
- Make your own pizzas
- Pasta and sauce varieties
You can find a ton of great dinner party ideas in The Dinner Party Project cookbook. It’s also a great guide to help make hosting dinner parties stress-free.
Don’t Stress Over Store-Bought Food
This is your first dinner party; it’s okay if you don’t feel comfortable making everything from scratch. In fact, it’s totally normal even if it’s your 100th time hosting a dinner party, to rely on store-bought food.
Buy the pre-made appetizers if making pigs in a blanket or other hors d’oeuvres stresses you out. If you don’t want to make homemade pasta sauce from scratch and have it simmer all day, you don’t have to!
I’m a big fan of buying store-bought cookies or picking up a dessert from a nearby favorite bakery.
And let’s be honest, sometimes, store-bought does taste better. Know thyself.
Double Check Seating and Dishes
As your dinner party approaches, be sure to double check that you have enough seating for your guests, as well as the proper dishes for whatever you’re serving.
Slim folding chairs are an affordable way to quickly add seating and their small footprint means they’re easy to store, too.
Some essential serving pieces to have on-hand for dinner parties include:
- Cheese knives (they also work great for spreads)
- Serving spoons and forks so your guests don’t have to use their hands
- Appetizer plates
- A variety of simple serving dishes
- A large serving bowl (perfect for salad, pasta, things with sauce, etc)
- A serving board that works for a variety of appetizers, including charcuterie
- Cocktail glasses and/or wine glasses (stemless wine glasses are also great to prevent spills)
- Napkins (paper or cloth both work fine)
It’s probably also a good idea to make sure your everyday dishes aren’t chipped.
The good news is once you invest in these essentials for your first dinner party, you won’t have to do this in the future unless something breaks, or you need a specialty item.
Prep What You Can Ahead of Time
To help minimize stress on the day of your dinner party, prep what you can ahead of time.
Many cookbooks include tips and information about make-ahead preparation, but you can do general things to expedite recipes like washing and chopping produce in advance and storing it in the fridge until needed.
I love this cookbook from Martha Stewart; nearly every single recipe includes notes for prepping ahead of time.
And don’t underestimate the power, yumminess, and simplicity of some great freshly sliced bread and olive oil as an easy, no-cook appetizer.
Plan and Pour the Drinks
If you and your guests drink, pour the drinks when they arrive. This provides an immediate conversation starter or icebreaker, especially between people who don’t know each other.
A batch cocktail that serves multiple people at once is an easy way to serve a signature cocktail without playing bartender all night, but beer, wine, champagne, or cider are super simple and always please a crowd.
Tidy Your Home
Plan to tidy your home before your dinner party. Even if you don’t have time for a deep clean, put away shoes, clear counters, and give surfaces a good spray and wipe-down for added sparkle.
Pick a Playlist
Music can help fill gaps in conversations, but it also creates great ambiance, as if you were at a restaurant.
Stick to easy-listening music that people know. Personal favorites include Ed Sheeran, Frank Sinatra, and classic rock or pop.
Spotify has several dinner party playlists, or have some fun and pick a music theme like 90s rom-com music or acoustic covers.
Make sure the music is loud enough to hear, but low enough so that you don’t have to yell over the lyrics.
Fresh flowers quite literally add a burst of life in your space. You don’t need something extravagant; follow this guide to arrange grocery store flowers like a pro.
To go even further with creating ambiance at your dinner party, think about smells and lighting.
For lighting, utilize dimmers if you have them, turn on table lamps instead of overhead lights, or add unscented candles on various surfaces or near appetizers for a moody vibe.
Prep Your Guest Bathroom
There is nothing worse than needing to ask your host for toilet paper after using the restroom, especially if something didn’t agree with your stomach.
Prep your bathroom for guests. Check that you have an extra roll of toilet paper, make sure the soap is filled, provide room spray, and consider lighting a scented candle – just in case.
Set the Table the Night Before
One of my number one tips when hosting for anything is to set the table the night before your event.
Setting the table may seem like a trivial thing, but it’s one less thing to worry about the day of your party.
Your table should have plates, silverware, glassed for water and wine (if serving), and napkins.
Close Doors to Rooms Where You Don’t Want Guests
You may not want to give your guests access to your full home at your dinner party.
A simple, common practice is to close doors to any rooms where you don’t want guests. Most people get the hint.
Wear an Apron While Cooking
On the day of your dinner party, get ready ahead of time, then give yourself time to finish cooking.
To avoid spills, stains, and splatters, be sure to wear an apron to avoid a stressful last-minute change of clothes. Somehow these always seem to occur right as your first guests arrive.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it! Dinner parties shouldn’t feel overwhelming.
If you need help stirring something, ask! If someone asks if they can bring something and it will help you, tell them what to bring!
Lastly – have fun!
After all, at the end of the day the main purpose of a dinner party is to gather people you like, whose company you enjoy, and to eat good food (even if that comes in a pizza box).
Congrats, you’re about to host your first dinner party! Before you know it, you’ll be ready to host your first Thanksgiving.