Welcoming friends and family through your front door and sharing yummy food is quite possibly one of life’s best and simplest pleasures. I love having people over for dinner where we can hear each other chat (unlike noisy restaurants these days!), eat together, and there’s no surcharge on drinks.
But I get that hosting a dinner party in your home can feel a tad stressful and overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time as a host or if the last one you hosted was a disaster! Rest assured, with a few simple tips, it does get easier and you will find little systems that work for you.
To get you started, here are the key things to do – some expected and some a little different – to have a wonderful night with your friends and/or family.
1. Choose the right mix of guests
Ah. I have failed hard at this one before. Having the right mix of guests can either make the night insanely fun or terribly dull. When planning who to invite, think about what personalities in your friend groups will work well together and plan ahead if you think there might be any landmine conversation topics to avoid. Brief your partner/flatmate/bestie on topics to avoid and to subtly steer the conversation in another direction if the guests bring the topic up!
I have hosted more than one dinner party where the friendship mix just didn’t work and keeping up the conversation was like pushing a cart uphill. Still all wonderful people, but sometimes certain personalities just don’t mix well. Since then, I choose guests who I think will get along easily together. If there is a couple or friend who is perhaps quieter or not one to start a conversation, I will try and invite a super talkative friend at the same time. Also, some of our friends LOVE intimate dinner parties, whereas others would prefer a big BBQ with everyone around to mingle with. Choose your battles and go for the guests that enjoy the dinner party format – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s 100% okay!
2. Choose easy-peasy food to serve
This is SO important. I prefer to just “assemble” food than cook labour intensive recipes these days, but unless you roast a chicken on the regular, testing out that Beer Can Chicken recipe you found on Pinterest can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare. Choose recipes you know will work or (with zero shame) just get takeaway and pop it in your own dishes.
When guests arrive, it is nice to have a little something for them to nibble on prior to the main course. I personally don’t bother with entree course anymore as 1. I don’t particularly enjoy cooking and 2. less dishes. However, having a few nibbles at the beginning creates a convivial atmosphere and is usually a great conversation starter. I try to have all the nibbles out and ready before guests arrive so it’s one less thing to do and means I can sit down for a chat with the guests before I crack on with getting main course ready.
Easy-peasy grazing/starter ideas:
Brie or camembert cheese
Blue cheese with quince paste
Dips (hummus, tzatziki, beetroot)
Biscuits (rice crackers are perfect for gluten free guests)
For the main course you can do two things:
1. Make several smaller dishes – for example: sausages, mash, peas, gravy, salad.
2. Make a 1-2 dishes but in larger quantities – for example: Tacos, Pizza, one-pot recipes.
I would recommend the second option of making 1-2 dishes in larger quantities, but be aware that some recipes when doubled or tripled can take much longer to cook – and sometimes just don’t work. Choosing to take a pasta recipe that serves 2 people may not work the same way when you times it out to serve 10 people. Opt for recipes that you know will scale well or have been written to serve the number of guests you have.
Easy-peasy main course ideas:
Lasagne (vegetarian or meat) + green salad
BBQ chickens + Roasted vegetables
A large warm salad of veggies + halloumi or another non-meat option
Tacos or mini falafel wraps (choose your own adventure with fillings)
Order a pizza and toss together a salad
BBQ meats + potato salad + green salad
Easy-peasy dessert ideas:
Box of fancy chocolates
Ice cream or ice blocks (mini magnums are the best!)
Watermelon + chopped mint
Cheese and biscuits (if you choose not to have cheese as a starter)
3. Prep the food in advance so you are not stuck in the kitchen the whole night
This goes back to choosing an easy-peasy food menu, but for every little thing you can prepare in advance, do it. This can be taking dips out of the containers and popping them into cute ceramics, washing a bunch of grapes, cutting up onions and vegetables, pre-heating the oven, putting the salad leaves in a bowl but holding off dressing them. Also, suss out what platters and serving dishes you will put food in so you can have them out and ready once you are ready to serve the main course. Doing all the little things when it comes to food prep will mean you have less to think about when your mind is elsewhere chatting to your friends with a glass of vino in hand.
Hubby and I split the time in the kitchen. I prep and serve the food and then he does the clearing and washing up. This means one of us doesn’t disappear for the whole night. It’s a simple system that works perfectly for us.
4. Count the cutlery, wine glasses, plates and “set” the table
Rest assured that by the time serving main course rolls around, you will have enough to do. Stressing about where the 6th fork or knife ended up is something you can avoid well in advance. Layout your tablewares on the dinner table or somewhere easy to access so you don’t have to rustle through drawers and the dishwasher just before serving food.
Pop out the drinkware (water glasses, wine glasses, a jug of water) out of the kitchen as well so guests aren’t having to wander into the kitchen to get what they need whilst you are getting main course ready.
Sometimes I set the table neatly and other times I just pop out piles of plates, cutlery and napkins – people can figure it out! Double checking that you have enough and getting it out of the kitchen and onto the table is the most important part.
5. Clean areas of the house where guests will go
Doing a clean of the main areas in your home will not only to impress your guests, but also gives you a clean house when they leave! Win-win.
Areas to clean for guests:
Tidy up living areas
Vacuum and mops floors
Areas not to bother with if you are tight for time (just shut the door)
Any other areas guests are likely not to see
I also like to do a quick vacuum the next day after guests have left so the clean house lasts just that teeny bit longer!
6. Play around with the lights to create a cosy feeling
Create a cosy mood by flicking off the big ceiling light and using lamps, fairy lights, candles and soft glowing lights from other rooms. Harsh lighting can make for tired eyes so dimming the lights to create a restaurant/cosy vibe will make your guests feel more at ease. Get creative before your guests arrive and test out the best combination of lights so you can still see your food, but not as bright as you would usually have them. Mood lighting, not workspace lighting.
Once you have tested out a light combination, keep it! Everytime you now host dinner parties, you know the setup. Easy-peasy.
7. Sort out playlists – music will carry any conversation
Choosing to have some decent tunes playing in the background is perfect to gloss over any awkward comments or quiet patches of conversation. Avoid jamming your own personal music tastes down the guests ear holes and go for a crowd-pleasing playlist.
Make sure the playlist goes for a few hours so you don’t have to get up to change the music throughout the night. Pop on Spotify and let it run. I like Spotify “Chill” playlists – no idea what songs are actually on them, but it’s good background music!
You may need to adjust the volume throughout the night as guest conversations get louder, so just keep an eye out so that everyone can have a meaningful conversation and someone (a.k.a the party animal) isn’t sneaking over to push up the volume as the night goes on – that’s usually me!