Food, friends, laughter, and making memories are what dinner parties are all about, and the setting for a perfect get-together is your house. Spending time with friends and family is important, especially in a post-pandemic world. Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering,” told Epicurious, “We’ve just experienced the biggest reset in a century, on politics, race, and how we gather. The decks have been cleared. Take a breath and think: Why do I want to do this? What is the intention? Who do I want to spend time with?” With those thoughts in mind, there’s not much more to hosting a dinner party than setting out the food.
A dinner party is a chance to connect with the people you care about and have inspiring conversations (via School of Self-Image). If the undying art of this event makes you want to dig out extra dishes and call your friends, then follow along and see how you can set up your home for a memorable dinner party.
Choose a theme
You don’t need a theme for your dinner party, but guests might appreciate the extra effort. A theme is helpful for the host as well. Paperless Post points out that planning for your dinner party is easy with a theme. It gives you a foundation to build on because everything, including decor, music, and even your outfit, can build off it.
A theme also helps set the mood for the evening and lets guests know what to expect. Will the evening be silly or serious? Casual or formal? Your theme can focus on a specific culture, decade, or cuisine. How about a dinner party with games or a scavenger hunt after the meal? Those are both great ways to keep the conversation flowing all night long. You could even go all out and host a black-tie party. Guests can dig out the formal wear they haven’t worn for years. Do a little brainstorming and see what fun ideas come to mind. You know your friends and what makes them tick. Surprise them with a theme that will get everyone smiling and looking forward to your dinner party.
Get the invites out
You can use text, email, or an old-fashioned invitation in the mail to let your friends know it’s dinner party time. What matters is you get the invite out with plenty of notice, usually about three to six weeks ahead of time, according to Stationers. Let your invite be an extension of how you envision the party. If it’s a formal party, the invite should look sophisticated. If you want to have a laid-back bohemian dinner, decorate your invitations with flower petals and other natural elements. Part of setting the tone for the get-together with an invitation is making the theme clear so that everyone knows what to expect, wear, and bring. Have you ever stared at your closet without a clue what to wear to someone’s gathering because they didn’t give you any hints? That can be frustrating. People need to know how to dress and if they should expect to be outside.
Once you set the mood with the invitation style and theme information, you can add the arrival and end time if there is one. Give yourself and your guests a 30-minute window for arrival (via The Event Book). For example, you can tell everyone to arrive at 6:00 p.m. but don’t plan on serving your first course or starting the first event until at least 6:30 p.m. minutes later to allow for latecomers.
Make way for your guests
Even if the party is a week away, preparing ahead of time will make it less stressful. Clearing the entryway five minutes before everyone arrives will guarantee a couple of cranky hosts. Think about the spaces you’ll be using when you have your dinner party and focus on those. You’ll probably need the kitchen, a restroom, a sitting area like the living room, or the deck or porch. The list will be longer if you’re a brave soul and plan on showing guests around your home.
Once you’ve designated the areas, it’s time to declutter. Hawaii Home + Remodeling recommends walking through each room and looking at the places you might not notice daily, such as the entertainment center, coffee table, and kitchen counters. You live in your house, so it’s perfectly normal for things to pile up. However, when you have your dinner party, you need space to set things, and you want everything to look prepared for your guests.
If you find clutter or items living where they don’t belong, put them back in their correct place. Be sure to pay attention to your foyer or wherever guests are first showing up, so you make a positive first impression and your friends don’t feel like they’ve caught you off guard. Is there a rug for shoes and a hall tree for coats and scarves if necessary? How about a place for umbrellas if it’s raining? Watch the weather and prepare your entryway accordingly.
Rearrange the furniture
You don’t need to do anything drastic, but a simple refresh of the living room might allow the conversation to flow better. Since you use your living room daily, the focus may be on the television. However, when you have dinner guests over to your home, the focus is on the conversation. Rather than having your furniture turned toward the TV, face it inward to create a cozy conversation area.
The same is true if the focal point is the fireplace. Check to see if the sofa and chairs can be angled so everyone can see each other and talk together. If you need to invest in a little more seating but don’t want to break the bank, Setting For Four suggests the pouf. The pouf is a timeless classic that will serve you well in your living room long after guests go home. They can act as a seat, an ottoman, or a small table, and they don’t take up a lot of space. A few extra poufs mean you won’t have to drag your dining room chairs out to the living room when it’s time to move the party.
Set up a buffet
If you’ve chosen a buffet-style meal for your dinner party, now is the time to decide where and how you’ll set everything up. You don’t have to keep all the food in the kitchen or at the table. A long folding table in the living room or any room near the dining area is a great option. A buffet gives you a chance to move dishes out of the kitchen, so you have counter space for other things. It also leaves more room at the dining table for place settings and table decor. Plus, it gets people moving and mingling.
As you set up a buffet, think about the order of how things should go. For example, you don’t want the plates at the end of the table. That makes no sense. Set plates at the beginning and silverware and napkins at the end so guests can hold everything while scooping food. Adorn the Table suggests creating different levels on the buffet table to add interest and make it look visually appealing. A table full of items at the same level looks flat. You can spice things up by using tiered stands and tall vases. After creating your levels, ensure the buffet is not against a wall. It’s helpful to give your guests two sides to move around and allows everyone to sit down together. Some people prefer a family-style meal, but a buffet is your solution if you need more space at the table.
Design a bar area
Just like the buffet, preparing a bar ahead of time gives you one less thing to do on the day of the party. Depending on the size of the gathering, you may need a small table or some counter space for your bar. You can also decorate a bar cart for the occasion. This plan allows your guests to make their own drinks and frees you up. Although, you can show off your bartending skills and offer to mix drinks for people.
First, gather all your supplies so you can see what you have, then make a list of what you need to get. It’s fun to give guests a variety, so keep that in mind. Once you know what drinks you’ll serve, your guests need the proper glassware to put them in. You could use disposable glassware, but it’s more fun to break out the pretty stuff. Bevvy recommends stocking your bar with glasses for cocktails, rocks, highballs, wine, and champagne flutes. Each serves a purpose, and your guests will enjoy the extra touch. Make your bar area tempting by placing taller items in the back and pretty glassware out front. It could be fun to have a basket full of printed-out drink recipes. Let your guests have a good time mixing up new drinks.
Clean the house
There’s no way around it. You will need a clean house for your dinner party. You’ve decluttered, but now you should get rid of the dirt. A clean home lets guests know that they matter, and you want them to feel comfortable. A dirty house makes guests wonder if you forgot they were coming over. The good news is you probably don’t need to clean every part of the house. Just like decluttering, you probably only need to clean the main floor, including the powder room, kitchen, dining area, and any place you’ll be hanging out with guests, such as the living room. Focus on floors, counters, and of course, sinks and the toilet. It’s helpful to clean about a week ahead of time and touch up before your guests arrive.
One area to pay close attention to is the powder room or main bathroom the dinner guests will use. Once it’s clean, make sure it’s well-stocked. Your powder room needs a good supply of hand towels and accessible soap. According to Meg Leonard, a nice touch in a powder room is a shelf or tray for people to put their belongings. A phone, purse, or tube of lipstick needs to rest somewhere while a person does their business. Speaking of business, please have extra toilet paper on hand and make it clear where it’s at so guests aren’t left panicking.
Prepare for the overnighters
We don’t judge, but the reality is that some friends might have too much fun at your party. Plan ahead in case someone can’t drive home. You’ll feel bad if you have to run around at the last minute to find a blanket and pillow, and your guests will feel like they’re putting you out.
First things first, where will your friends sleep? You probably have a couch, so that’s a start. You can also use an air mattress or even throw a sleeping bag or two in a carpeted room. The goal is to have somewhere and something ready to go. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can also employ a laundry basket or two and fill them with blankets and pillows so that you aren’t hunting them down when everyone is tired. Let dinner guests know early in the evening where all the sleeping essentials are and that they are welcome to help themselves.
It’s helpful to keep a stock of extra toothbrushes in the bathroom for overnight guests, per Lifehacker. You can buy a large pack of inexpensive ones and not worry if they only get used once. The same goes for washcloths. Your guests may like to wash off their makeup or freshen up in the morning. Keep a pile of them in the bathroom in a visible place when you have guests. Little things like that are appreciated. Do you know what else is appreciated? Coffee. Brew it early in the morning and pour it into a disposable to-go cup for your thankful friend.
Create an ambiance
What do you want the mood to be for the evening? Fun and silly? Quiet and intimate? It’s up to you but make sure the ambiance correlates with what you mentioned in the invite. Ambiance can hardly exist without music, so get working on a playlist. Create a music playlist that flows with the theme or pick tunes everyone can enjoy. GlobeNewswire recommends about 30 to 40 tracks for a party.
Once you’ve got a rocking list, you need a great speaker or two to pump out the tunes all night without worrying about it. A Bluetooth speaker is your best bet. Charge your favorite speaker before guests arrive, so you can have the music on as they come in. If you want to ensure your speaker and tunes sound great, put it on the floor (via Doss). Who knew? Putting your Bluetooth speaker on the ground creates easy-flowing vibrations and unfiltered sound.
Your music is ready, and now you need to consider the lighting for the evening. You can’t go wrong with candles. No matter the theme, candles cozy up your home and make people feel relaxed, so go ahead and light a few for your guests. Candles work well on the dining room table, a side table, a coffee table, or the fireplace mantel in the living room. An area hosts often forget to put candles is the entryway (via Colonial Candle). Give your guests a warm welcome by lighting a few candles in this area.
Plan for entertaining after dinner
You’ll probably want to move the party to your comfy living room or the deck if there’s nice weather. After all, you’ve cleaned and rearranged everything. More importantly, the living room or outdoor seating areas are great for conversation. Nothing makes guests feel more welcome than an invitation to sit on a cozy couch and visit. To prepare these areas for the company, stage them for food and drinks. A party isn’t much fun if you tell everyone that snacks are only allowed in the kitchen. After dinner, there may be dessert, snacks, and drinks. With all of that comes possible spills. Don’t panic or cancel the party. Just prepare the room.
Food is one thing, but drinks need extra support once they leave the table. Per Molly Maid Housekeeping, top-heavy stemmed glassware is a no-go at parties. Instead, use stemless wine glasses with a nice wide bottom to help prevent spills. Your guests will appreciate it as well. You don’t want to worry about setting down a wine glass that can easily spill. What’s worse is having nowhere to set a drink in the first place. Do you have enough tables? If not, there’s no need to run out and spend a lot of money. If you have an ottoman, grab a tray and place it on top for drinks. Trays are fabulous because you can pick them up and bring them to the sink if there is a spill. Another handy item is the classic TV tray. They still exist, and keeping a set on hand during a party is a lifesaver.
Clean as you go
Parties are great, but there’s no avoiding the mess that comes with them. The secret is to start with a clean house and then clean as you go. You certainly don’t want to be cleaning instead of socializing with your guests at the party. However, you can subtly pick up and wipe things down here and there. To help yourself and your guests, start the evening with an empty garbage can and keep an eye on it during the night. Before guests arrive, strategically place the can (and maybe an extra one if the group is large) where it’s visible but not in the way. Leave a few extra bags in the bottom of the can so it’s easy to change. If you’re using disposable dishes, you may want to have a recycling bin on hand. Add labels to the recycling and garbage bins.
Camille Styles suggests having a spill kit ready to go. It should contain towels, rags, paper towels, and some trusted stain removers, such as salt and baking soda. Spills happen, but having a quick spill kit will ease the embarrassment a guest feels when they are the one who spills. Besides spills, there will probably be crumbs and unidentifiable sticky messes throughout the evening. A simple fix is to have a few clean rags at the kitchen sink that you can grab whenever necessary. After dinner, wipe off the counters and table. And on the topic of clearing the table, please let guests help out. As you begin clearing plates, your guests will certainly jump in. Make it a fun event by having great conversation and laughs as you load the dishwasher. If a few pots soak overnight in the sink, but the full dishwasher runs, it’s a win.