1. Choose your theme
What kind of party do you want to have or envision hosting? Before I do anything else, I plan some sort of theme to build my party around. I love hosting unique or seasonally appropriate or festive parties and soirees, and there is such a vast array of types of dinner parties you can throw. Do you want to embrace the elements or the season? You can throw a any type of dinner party focusing on nature or a beach-front dinner party or a rustic dinner party. Is it for a specific purpose, like a wedding shower or birthday? Think of the person you’re throwing a dinner party for and go from there! You can choose a tea party or a “favorite things” dinner party or base it around something personal and festive! If there’s something in entertainment that you love, consider hosting a Mad Men dinner party or a Downton Abbey (my next party!) soiree. There is an endless array of themes and ideas to choose from, and all it takes is a little creativity and a little inspiration to get your party on the right track!
2. Choose your guests or audience
For a sit-down dinner party, inviting six to eight guests is an ideal number. Of course, more or less is always fun – but ensure that it’s a somewhat-cohesive group of people. It’s fun for guests to mix and mingle, and choose your group of friends with your theme in mind, too! Dinner parties are a wonderful way to get to know others with similar interests, to expand friend groups, and to enjoy one another’s company in this particular setting. I love dinner parties, in particular, because it’s nice to see the whole group at once, and having six to eight people around a table is ideal for ensuring that you get to speak with everyone – and that everyone can be heard!
3. Find a date that works best for everyone
Finding a date that works best for everyone on your guest list can often be the toughest part of planning your dinner party! Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to find an evening when all guests are free, but persevere! There are many online sites that make scheduling/seeing other people’s availability easy. You can either check beforehand to find a date and time that works for all of your guests, or you can send out invitations (verbal, electronic, or paper – my favorite option!) ahead of time & hope that your guests aren’t already booked that far out.
4. Set a budget for your dinner party
If needed, don’t forget to set a budget for your dinner party. Think about how much you want to spend, and try to keep all costs (food, drinks, decor, etc) in mind as you make purchases and decide what you do and don’t need. It can, of course, add up quickly to serve a sit-down dinner (if that’s what you’re doing) for your guests. But there are many ways to be frugal when hostessing! Selecting a menu that’s meant to be both delicious and inexpensive is a great place to begin. You may just want to have a great main dish that doesn’t require a lot of side dishes or might require some easy and inexpensive side dishes. If you’re serving alcohol, you could make one signature cocktail for the evening or serve wines from Trader Joe’s (which often run between $4-6 per bottle!). Think creatively when it comes to decor and table settings, as there are numerous frugal ways in which you can design beautiful place setting or tablescapes without breaking the bank. You can buy grocery store flowers, take the bouquets apart, and arrange them in new vases to spread out the flowers. Or you can even throw a potluck dinner party to cut costs but increase the amount of great, unique food! There are endless ways to entertain and host on a budget, thankfully!
5. Dinner table
Oh this is one of my favorite parts of throwing a dinner party – setting the table and creating a fabulous tablescape! You want to ensure you have a long enough table for all of your guests to sit comfortably around, so bring in extra tables if needed! You can also get creative with seating – bring in chairs from around your house (mismatched is totally acceptable and even trendy!) or even use a bench to account for plenty of seating. I love to assign seats for a dinner party (not seating couples next to one another, pairing people with similar interests together, ensuring that each end of the table is balanced with louder and quieter folks, etc). And, of course, you need a creative place setting/place card for each guest! You can get creative with place cards, and the table setting is such a fun way to broaden your creativity and really think about your evening as a whole. Next, ensure you have all of the glasses, utensils, plates, bowls, etc for your dinner party! And then scatter candles, flowers, decor, vases, and anything else that complements your theme throughout the table. I seriously adore coming up with unique, fun, festive, and fabulous decor ideas for the dinner table, and you can look to anything for inspiration! Fresh flowers and candles are key, though.
6. Setting the mood/atmosphere
This step is directly related to the one above, and setting the mood or atmosphere of your dinner party is one of the crucial elements of a successful event. Think about lighting (dimmer lights, candles, string lights, chandeliers) so that your dinner party evokes the effect you’re going for – no one wants fluorescent lighting at a nice dinner! Soft lighting (again, string lights or candles) offer a great and inexpensive option to really set the mood. Fresh flowers are also a key element of setting the atmosphere of your party – I always have plenty to scatter around in various vases or bottles. Background music (make a playlist, crank up Spotify or Pandora, or find the best channel) is also an excellent way to set the mood.
7. Have one memorable or unique element to remember the party by
Give your guests something to talk about! You want to ensure your dinner party or soiree is memorable, so be creative in creating a unique element or memorable event that will be talked about and admired.
Live jazz trio? A really special venue instead of your dining room? A huge balloon to set the scene? A fun activity or event after dinner is over? A fabulous party favor for each guest? Hire a catering team? Have fun with this!
8. Choose the food, make a fun menu, begin shopping, and lay out your schedule for getting it all done
Planning ahead and making lists are key! Stick to your theme, find the easiest (but still the best!) menu items, and then get started with the shopping and setting your schedule for getting it all finished without a frantic day-of shopping trip.
9. Have at least one fabulous dessert
This one speaks for itself, but make sure you have a a delicious, showstopping dessert on hand to serve to your guests (homemade or store-bought – totally your call!). I love a beautiful presentation, too; it makes your guests feel special and well taken care of.
10. Signature cocktail
Oftentimes, it’s easier just to serve one or two signature cocktails instead of a plethora of drinks. You can also just serve one or two types of wine, but I think signature cocktails have such pizzazz and really liven things up. Plus, you can get creative with what you make (keeping the theme in mind!), thinking of a great name for your drinks, making signage or pretty decor, and then serving it in a beautiful presentation.
11. Other drinks
Of course, be sure to provide other (non-alcoholic) drinks, too! I always serve water with lemons in my favorite drink dispenser, and it’s not hard to have a pretty presentation for your drinks. Mint lemonade, mint water, lemon (or any fresh fruit) water, or sparkling water are all great accompaniments to provide during any dinner party.
12. Imagine the flow of the evening to see what’s missing… or if you need to allow more time for mingling and socializing.
I firmly believe that your dinner party should not be stressful – your guests will feel your stress, nerves, or anxiety and if you’re not having a wonderful time, then they can tell! Dinner parties should truly be able bringing together people who matter to you to celebrate life together! Don’t stress over the little details, as you’re likely the only one who will notice if something little is amiss or if you forget a detail. Think through the evening in your mind, anticipate what will happen, and try to prepare for the evening from every aspect. But enjoy it, mostly! Allow ample time for socializing and mixing & mingling in a relaxed, comfortable, joyful atmosphere – this is key to a successful, memorable soiree!
13. Day-of preparations
Make that list and check it twice! Try to get as much finished before the day of your dinner party so that you feel less frazzled and frantic. Then make an hour-by-hour game plan for getting everything done. Pick up fresh flowers, run to get any last-minute grocery items, prep & prepare your food and drinks, ensure your home is clean, finish setting the table and decorating, and begin getting ready for the main event! By planning ahead, you can cut out a lot of stress and day-of prep time so that you are able to enjoy the process and the dinner party even more. Enlist some help, if you need it – and if something seems too overwhelming or daunting, then forget about it! You really just need fun company + a good bottle of wine, anyway – right?!
14. Throw on your perfect dinner party dress or outfit & awesome shoes!
Be sure you’re ready at least thirty minutes before guests are slated to arrive so that you’re not running around like crazy at the last minute. And have some fun dressing up!
Really – one of the most critical components of successful dinner party is for the host or hostess to enjoy the party, which, in turn, allows the guests to feel relaxed, welcomed, and to better enjoy themselves! Have FUN and savor a special time with great friends.