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20 Dinner Party Ideas + Free Customizable Menus

Have you been thinking of getting your friends together? Whether there is a birthday, anniversary, engagement or just a much needed reunion, there is always a reason to celebrate.

Throwing a dinner party can seem overwhelming, especially if you have never thrown one before. But with these simple tips and dinner party ideas, you’ll be well on your way to being a great hostess. We’ve included customizable dinner menus to make your life a little easier. Remember, the most important part is to have fun!

Tips for Hosting a Dinner Party

1. Choose a theme or occasion. When thinking of what kind of decor you want to purchase, consider a theme for your dinner party. Not all parties must have one, but it certainly makes the planning more fun. For example, if you are celebrating an anniversary, perhaps the theme could have something to do with the location in which the couple got married. Or if it’s a holiday party, pick appropriate holiday table settings like these holiday placemats.

2. Prepare the guest list. This is one of the most important parts of party planning and will mainly be determined by how much space you have to accommodate.. For a more intimate dinner, the guest list should be no more than six people but for a larger party, it can go up to as many as 15-20 people.

3. Decide where your dinner will be. Will you be hosting your dinner inside or outside? Will there only be only one table to set or several? Are you considering a more casual buffet-style dinner or will it be formal? This is important because you’ll need to start thinking about where to set things up and what decor and accompanying pieces you’ll need such as outdoor lights, lamps or even a tent for unexpected weather.

4. Order and send invites. It’s necessary for guests to know all the important party information. Sending out invitations beforehand allows them to plan ahead and also get a sense for what kind of theme the dinner will have. Make sure to include time, place, occasion and any special instructions such as RSVP or specific attire.  

5. Get your kitchen space ready. Make sure to have enough space in your kitchen for prepping the food, last-minute changes or even for some pre-dinner mingling. Ideally, your guests will stay in the dining table area but some may offer to help. You’ll want to have extra dishes, silverware and cups handy.

6. Dietary restrictions. It’s always best to ask ahead of time if there are any dietary restrictions and have them reply on their RSVP. Don’t go overboard with trying to set an individualized menu for each guest.  

Although it can get tricky, once you’ve gathered your responses, find a menu suitable for everyone on your list. It can be as simple as including two side dishes instead of one or omitting/replacing a sauce from the main dish. Include seasonal veggies and fruits whenever possible.

7. Prepare food ahead of time. Once you’ve decided on a menu, keep in mind some things can be made the night before such as salads (without the dressing), marinades and appetizers. The main dish should be the perfect temperature so make sure you are only focusing on one dish at a time.

Consider a variety of cooking methods such as roasting, pressure cooking or broiling for hands-off or overnight dinner execution. If you are having food catered give yourself at least two weeks to research and plan it out.

8. Decide on centerpieces. Once you have your set theme, you can choose from a variety of DIY or store bought centerpieces. Candles, flowers, greenery and table runners work beautifully for any occasion.  

9. Use cloth napkins. Cloth napkins are great for both formal and casual dinner parties. Not only are they better for the environment and more reliable than paper napkins but they are also decorative and complete the look of the table as well.

10. Set the mood/ambiance. Light some candles and throw on some music while guests are getting comfortable. Clear some space in your closet for people’s coats and handbags to make them feel at home.

11. Set the table. You may or may not choose to have prepared seating arrangements. For smaller dinner parties, this is not necessary. Make sure to have all the linens, plates and table settings arranged before your guests arrive.

12. Include a menu. This isn’t necessarily a requirement but it adds extra personalization to your party, which guests will appreciate. If you decided to change the menu last minute, don’t fret! Simply let your guests know while serving. Don’t forget to download and personalize our menu templates. There are three different themes to choose from.   

13. Welcome each guest. Always take time to welcome each guest through the door and introduce those that may not know each other. This allows your guests to mingle and get to know each other while you take care of coordinating dinner needs.

14. Prepare a timeline. Initially, you’ll need a timeline to plan your dinner party such as when to send the invite or order catering. But, once the day has arrived, it’s helpful to also have a timeline in mind for when to serve cocktails, appetizers, dinner and dessert.

15. Ask for help, if needed. While it depends on the situation, it’s usually perfectly fine to ask for help with carrying drinks, serving dinner or even cleaning up. Certain situations may not allow for this such as a business dinner or a party for your boss. If that’s the case, we suggest holding off on cleaning until after your guests leave so that it doesn’t put anyone on the spot.  

16. Set up a wine/cocktail station. Wine and cocktails don’t always have to be so formally served. You can allow guests to choose what they prefer and give them several options. However, do choose cocktails and wine that go well with dinner. It’s best to chill all drinks and pour wine into an elegant decanter before guests arrive. If you want to tie in your theme and make your party more personal, use pretty place cards with the names of each guest. For a unique take, consider different types of glasses.

17. Distribute appetizers. Your guests will want something to nibble on before dinner. Consider serving something light and easy to serve. We suggest crackers with brie and fig, building a charcuterie board or mini caprese bites.

18. Provide entertainment/playlist. Play some music while guests are getting comfortable. This will help break the ice and provide a comfortable setting. It’s best to create a playlist that goes with the theme of the party. If you know songs that your friends like, include those as well.

19. Don’t forget after dinner drinks and dessert. Have a variety of options for after dinner. These include beverages like coffee, tea and liqueur. For your guest’s sweet tooth, provide desserts such as sorbet or cookies.

20. Have fun! The most important part of a dinner party is to have fun. Yes, there are many things to think about as the night progresses, but allow yourself to enjoy the party as much as you can. After all, a dinner party is a celebration and a time to get together with loved ones.   

As you can see, planning a dinner party requires time but it’s well worth the effort. It doesn’t get better than chatting over a delicious meal and drinks with your closest friends. Whether you are looking for easy cocktail party ideas or thinking of throwing a summer soireé, following these tips will allow for more relaxed planning.