We don’t know about you, but we think dinner parties are the best kind of gathering. They incorporate two of the greatest things in life — time spent with friends and time spent with food. Is there anything better? But if you’re brand-new to the art of hosting a meal for a crowd, pulling together a dinner party might feel overwhelming or even downright daunting. Luckily, we’ve got some essential dos and don’ts to help you orchestrate a shared feast like a Michelin-starred chef.
Do: Set a Pinterest-Worthy Table
Your tablescape is quite literally the centrepiece of the soiree, so you want it to command attention. For an inviting, abundant look, focus on layering your tableware. Start from the bottom up — tablecloth, table runners, dinner plates, salad plates, silverware, décor. Stacking plates and flatware gives the table a luxurious look. Fresh flowers and greens are a must at the centre of the table!
Don’t: Worry About Making It Too Cohesive
Whether you want to buy all-new bakeware or use what you own, there are plenty low-maintenance ways to make your table look put together. The best table settings are the ones which are designed using a mix of things you already own and things you made or bought specifically for the occasion. There’s something quite charming about an eclectic table with settings and décor made up of thrifted, vintage, DIY and hand-me-down tableware collected over the years.
Tip: If you want to buy something brand-new, invest in serveware that doubles as bakeware. Gorgeous enameled cast iron goes from oven or stovetop to table with ease and adds a classy, rustic look to the table without dirtying extra dishes.
Do: Adopt a Theme
Giving your get-together a bit of a motif will help you silo your ideas and zero-in on the menu, table settings and décor. Some excellent themes to consider include tacos, fondue night, a clambake, brunch or a motif surrounding a specific cuisine, holiday or even TV show. Game of Thrones or Mad Men-inspired feast, anyone? The key is to pick a theme that inspires you and makes you want to go all-out.
Don’t: Go Overboard with It
We all get excited for our guests to see our setup, edit your arrangement like a pro! Incorporate small touches here and there rather than going top-to-bottom themed. Add dashes of your theme to the menu and centrepieces and keep everything else theme-neutral.
Do: Focus on Convenience
Just because you’re hosting a dinner party doesn’t mean you have to break out your fussiest china and silverware. It’s perfectly acceptable — and even preferable — to make a few concessions to simplify clean-up after everyone has gone home. Stick to disposable napkins and don’t be afraid to use exclusively dishwasher-safe tableware.
Tip: Empty the dishwasher before guests come and hand-wash kitchenware and dishes as you go during prep. An empty dishwasher will make cleanup quick and simple when dinner is over.
Don’t: Set the Table with Paper Plates
You deserve to enjoy the post-dinner portion of the gathering with your friends rather than hunched over the sink hand-scrubbing your nice dishes. But that doesn’t mean you should set out flimsy paper plates or wasteful plastic cups. If your gathering is outdoors or relaxed, opt for eco-friendly single-use bamboo or palm leaf plates that look beautiful but won’t take centuries to break down in the landfill.
Do: Inquire About Dietary Restrictions
The last thing you’d want to do is expose a guest to something that could make them sick. Inquire about dietary restrictions before you plan the menu. Got several constraints to contend with? Take a page out of the book of the Queen of Hosting herself — Martha Stewart, of course — and set up stations with cute labels so your guests know what’s to offer.
Don’t: Ignore Food Allergies
When sending out your invitations, make sure you explicitly ask about dietary restrictions and allergies. Ignoring food allergies can be serious and even deadly. Be sure to eliminate allergens from all foods or keep them completely separate from the rest of the menu. If you are labeling a food station or buffet, call out common allergens, such as tree nuts or shellfish.
Tip: Let your guests know what courses will be served. If you’re only planning on appetizers or heavy snacks, make sure that’s clear so guests can plan their own dinner.
Do: Expect the Guestlist to Change
As with any get-together, you’re sure to get a few “maybes” when you send out invitations. Of course, it’s better to have more food than not enough, so make sure you’re prepared to accommodate a couple of extra guests. Things happen and plans change!
Don’t: Be Afraid to Require RSVPs
While you should be prepared to squeeze in or take out a table setting or two, remember that it’s completely reasonable for you to ask for a commitment from your guests. If a dozen people put themselves down as “maybe,” there’s no way you’ll be able to accurately gauge how much food you’ll need. RSVPs ensure that you don’t waste food or send guests home hungry.
Do: Accept People’s Help
Make sure you’re open to offers from guests who want to help. Whether it be bringing a dish to share or helping you load the dishwasher after dinner, it’s perfectly acceptable to accept a little help along the way.
Don’t: Expect a Potluck Without Specifying It’s a Potluck
Accepting help from your guests is crucial, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook entirely. As the host, you’re expected to prepare and plan the bulk of the meal. If it’s a potluck, the host should always prepare the biggest, most expensive item — typically the main dish — and several sides. If you expect guests to contribute more than just a bottle of wine, make sure that’s clear in the invitation.
Practice Makes Perfect
Hosting a dinner party is like anything else in life in that it gets easier and more natural to you the more you do it. Over time, you’ll develop your own way of doing things that makes sense for you and your group of friends. In the meantime, we hope these guidelines will help you throw a five-star dinner party with minimal stress!