what goes into hosting a dinner party

Dana and I love hosting dinner parties, but for me, it wasn’t always that way.  She, on the other hand, is a born party thrower and hostess.  I fretted over absolutely everything, but mostly that people would cancel at the last minute.  After the first few, however, when people actually did show up and seemingly had a good time, I started to relax and even enjoy my own parties…

taking the scary out of hosting a dinner party

After a while, you get your routine down pat, your prep time gets down to a minimum, and you always keep certain items on hand in your house.  It also becomes fun trying to come up with different pairings of guests and menus.  It will be up to you if you want it to be more informal, like a taco bar or a formal sit down event.  There’s a lot of room in between, too.  So, here are some tips for…


Guest List

Your guest list can certainly make or break your party.  While you may not know how everyone will get along, if you’re having a more intimate party, it does help if you put mostly like-minded people together.  You want everyone to have a good time and not be arguing say politics.  Most people I know just what to come and relax and laugh at a party and not fight.  If it’s a large gathering, this is not as much of an issue as there will be plenty of people to converse with.

who to invite when hosting a dinner party

You may want to start small with your guest list and work your way up.  I started with just one other couple and have worked my way up to a catered event for over 50 people.  My latest was a sit down dinner for 10.  As I’ve gotten a few under my belt, I have been a bit more adventurous with the guest pairings, but always keep in mind potential mismatches.  I like to look at what people do for careers or hobbies and see how they can match together with other friends, say an architect with a textile manufacturer or a triathlete with an orthopedic surgeon.

I will also invite single friends and a plus one or make sure they feel comfortable to come alone.  The same is true if I know one half of a couple is gone and the other will be alone.  We’re at a stage in our lives where we really want to share our free time with friends and family as much as possible and these parties allow us to do just that.


For me, how you invite people to your dinner party pretty much depends on sheer numbers.  For my party of 10, I sent individual emails, but for the 50, I sent a paperless post evite.  It’s not free to use this service, but if it’s a nice party, it’s worth the additional minimal expense.  You can also easily keep track of who is coming and who isn’t and who has opened the invite and who hasn’t.  I have also been known to actually pick up a phone and call people to invite them over – go figure!


There are several considerations with the menu:

  • Number of guests
  • Are you having a sit down dinner or a buffet?
  • Do you have a theme for your party?

    what to serve when hosting a dinner party

    A Spanish theme with Paella and Sangria.

  • Are there any likes/dislikes/allergies among your guests?
  • Time of the year – always good to have a seasonal and what’s fresh menu.
  • Do you want to cook all night or enjoy your party and your guests?
  • And of course, how much you want to spend?

You have to take all these considerations into account and make your own menu decisions.  I love theme parties, because then I can tie a specialty cocktail in with the food, like my Paella and Sangria.  My go to menu is to throw a piece of fish like halibut and a steak on the grill; fix a tricolore salad; and add a couple of sides – whether homemade or store bought.  I’ll often ask someone to bring a dessert or buy a fresh fruit tart and serve with ice cream.

If I’m pressed for time or just want to make it easier on myself, a trick I do is to buy items like mango salsa for the fish and then add some fresh mango or red onions myself or mashed potatoes and add sour cream and chives.


Depending on the size of the group, you may want to consider having part or all of the event catered, because it’s really nice to have time to get in on the conversation and fun.  If under 10 people, I usually do the cooking myself and may ask a close friend to bring a dish or dessert.  I have a great business in town that will either cater the entire party or you can just order from a selection of appetizers, salads, entrees, sides, and dessert and pick up or have it delivered.

menu for hosting a dinner party

An amazing appetizer platter. Photo credit Plum Pure Foods.

For my last party of 10, I did a combination and had some hors d’oeuvres and a Paella catered, but I made a salad and had my husband throw a steak on the grill for those not into Paella.  It turned out to be a smart move, because one person was allergic to shellfish, which I didn’t know beforehand.  Ask friends for recommendations if you don’t know any caterers.


I like to have a special drink prepared that might go with what I’m serving, such as Margarita’s with a taco bar and Manhattan’s with steak, potatoes, and a wedge salad.  There’s also always a wide variety of other beverages available, however, for those guests that either don’t drink or don’t like my choices.

I will ask what they want for their first drink and then they are pretty much on their own from there.  Of course, I’ll ask if I can get people anything during the night or if I know they don’t know how to make the dirty martini themselves.

If it’s a small party, I usually know what my guests like and make sure I have that on hand, because I think that shows your guests you’re paying attention to make them happy.  I had one friend who asked for cranberry juice one time, which I didn’t have, but you can be sure I did when she was invited back!

what drinks to serve hosting a dinner party

For larger groups, I’ll either have a bartender or just put out the basics – beer, wine (red and white), proseco, gin, vodka, tequila, tonic, club soda, etc.  And of course, have wedges of lemon and lime available.  The one thing I don’t serve is soda and no one has ever asked for a Coke.

Table Settings

You’ll either be doing complete place settings for a sit down dinner or putting everything out buffet style.  Even it we’re sitting outside, I don’t use paper plates and napkins.  I like to do it up and make my guests feel special.  Hey, we certainly don’t eat like that at home, which is why I want my guests to at a dinner party and let’s face it, linen napkins are a nice touch.

I’ve used place cards on one occasion, but otherwise, just let people sit where they want.  I may say, “Sit next to someone you don’t know”.  Or, “Don’t sit next to your spouse.”   I assume that during the cocktail hour my guests may have started conversations that they’d like to continue during dinner or have made a new friend.

So, we hope these tips give you the courage to host a dinner party soon.  Life’s too short not to share it with good friends…

Do you love hosting a dinner party or run away?