How to Host Your First Dinner Party

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

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:

3-Course Menu

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.

Interactive Menu

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.

How to Host Your First Dinner Party

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:

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.

Dinner Party at home

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.

Add Flowers

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.

Create Ambience

To go even further with creating ambiance at your dinner party, think about smells and lighting.

Spritz a room spray, diffuse essential oils, or burn your favorite candle.

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.

Dinner table with salad

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!

Have Fun!

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.

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Hi, I'm Camille! I'm a bi-coastal blogger splitting my time between LA and NYC and sharing elevated, yet relatable ideas so that you can achieve your most stylish life.

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