Hosting a dinner party isn’t easy. It’s stressful and there’s so many different things that can go wrong.
I’ve hosted a plethora of casual, impromptu dinner parties. They’re pretty stress-free in comparison to a more formal, planned dinner party. But, on the off occasion that I host a dinner party that I’ve planned more than a couple days in advance, it’s been incredibly stressful.
However, that doesn’t change the fact I feel like I’m a functioning adult (it’s like look at me, I’m adulting successfully) when I host a more planned out dinner party.
Actually, hosting dinner parties is probably what I’m going to miss most about my apartment when I move into my new one, as there won’t be as much room for hosting dinners.
Perfect your guest list.
Make sure you get a good crowd. Choose friends who get along, have similar interests or something else in common. If you’re going to insert a wild card, make sure that they have at least one thing in common with the rest of your guests and won’t make others feel uncomfortable.
You can easily invite people via text, call, or email depending on your relationship with them. If you want to be super fancy, send out hand-written invitations by mail.
Once you have the guest list finalized make sure you know about diet restrictions. Be it allergies (I had a roommate allergic to latex, which meant she couldn’t eat most fruits – true story), religious observances, or personal choices.
I’m sure they’ll tell you, or you already know most of eating habits if you’re already friends. Maybe not, I’ve heard people don’t usually pay attention to it most of the time. I do, does that make me a creep? Make sure there’s at least one thing (besides green salad without dressing) that everyone at the table can enjoy.
Make sure your menu works.
Now, I know you want to impress when you host a dinner party. But… Do not try to whip up something you haven’t made before for a planned dinner party, even Bon Appetit agrees. If you’re determined to impress with a fancy new dish give it a trial run a little ahead of time.
Make sure that you cook smart, though. Don’t plan to make food that does to-order cooking or involves constant stirring, flipping, or checking. It wastes time and just adds more stress.
Plan your menu strategically. It’s okay to have one crazy centerpiece dish, but don’t drive yourself crazy with dishes requiring exotic ingredients, last-minute prep, long prep times, or need a long amount of time in the oven or fridge.
Make sure all your stuff is ready to use.
Before you actually host your dinner party, make sure you have all the necessary accouterments: plates, silverware, serving dishes, et cetera. Lay everything out the morning of to make sure it’s all present and accounted for (and clean).
Do the same with your recipe ingredients a day or two before the party. Make sure to stock up on extra ice.
Try to get as much prep work as possible out of the way ahead of time and to start early. Think of how precious those moments are before the doorbell rings. You can pour yourself a glass of wine, remember to tell your roommate not to mention that thing to that guest, et cetera.
And, while it may seem like a pain, be sure to clean as you go. That way you won’t have a monstrous amount of dirty dishes waiting for you at the end of the night.
#SpoonTip: Start with an empty dishwasher.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Remember that this isn’t a Pinterest display, but a dinner party. As a college student, it won’t be as fancy as if I was a chef or a professional in my late twenties.
Don’t sweat taking easy shortcuts like buying appetizers from the supermarket, setting up a mix-it-yourself bar (a personal favorite of mine and generally a hit), and heading to the local bakery for bread and sweet treats. But, make sure to go easy on it so everyone will enjoy the fancy meal you’ve made.
Another way to reduce stress is to ask reliable friends to contribute to the meal by bringing desserts, drinks, or side dishes. And if anyone asks if they can help, do not be afraid to put them to work.
I personally like to set the apartment so that the bar is the first thing that guests have access to, allowing me to scurry back into the kitchen if necessary.
But, don’t let the food and the drinks be the only entertainment. Make sure to have a playlist that isn’t overpowering on or save yourself the trouble and use Pandora or Spotify.
When it comes to the actual meal, make the spread look fancy. An easy ooh factor is white plates and one accent color on the table.
Setting a sideboard by turning a console into a convenient, arm’s reach refilling station makes life so much easier. Load it with wine, carafes (who am I kidding, it’ll probably be a pitcher or bottle) of water, and spare utensils to eliminate supply runs.
After the meal, you can clear the table or adjourn to a different seating area for dessert or coffee. Don’t forget to use anything that your guests brought for dessert when this occurs.
To really spoil guests, set out a warm-up to the dessert course — fancy chocolates or salted caramels — while you ready the baked goods. If you want to be really generous, grab some sparkling wine (there’s a decent amount for under $10 at your local grocery store) and serve it with dessert.
Fend off “just a bit” requests with small desserts — cupcakes, brownies, or cookies — that guests can serve themselves. Sweet cheeses and nuts with a dessert wine are also an option for the sugar-averse.
Post-dinner etiquette and handling the unexpected.
Do not let your guests do dishes, you might be calling their bluff on an empty offer. Only agree if they’re related to you, or insistent.
Don’t forget to be flexible. While a RSVP is worth its weight in gold, unexpected drop-ins aren’t the end of the world. Make sure your menu and plan for the evening won’t fall to pieces if somebody can’t make it or brings an extra friend.
Use this drinks calculator to figure out how many beverages to buy. The general rule of thumb in terms of food is to make enough to serve an extra two or three guests, but you can check out this guide for more specific suggestions.