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Dinner Party Hosting Manual

Hosting the perfect dinner party requires a bit of planning and preparation, but first time hosts should not be intimidated! Hosting one is well within anyone's reach.

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you create a memorable and enjoyable gathering:

Step One

Choose a date and time

  • A dinner party can happen any night of the week. Fridays and Saturdays are the classic choices, but do not overlook Wednesday and Thursday nights either.

  • Consider the schedules of your intended invitees to maximize attendance. Try to avoid holidays (unless the dinner party’s purpose is to celebrate a holiday).

  • When you set your time, expect that the time you set is when your guests will arrive, and plan to be ready to entertain guests at least 10 minutes before that time.

Step Two

Choose a theme for the dinner

  • Decide on a theme or style for your dinner party, whether it's a formal affair, a casual gathering, or a themed event. The theme can influence everything from the menu to the decor.

  • While planning out the theme consider the following:

    • Will you be hosting inside or outside?

    • Will you be celebrating a special occasion?

    • In which season will the dinner take place?

Step Three

Create a guest list

  • Decide on the number of guests you'd like to invite based on the space available and the atmosphere you want to create.

  • Is this a family affair, a gathering of a specific friend group, or a chance to bring together an unfamiliar group of people?

  • Always be prepared for the unexpected plus one to show up, as well as for the unfortunate last minute cancelation

Step Four

Send out invites

  • While an impromptu dinner party can be a fun idea, it’s usually smart to invite guests 3 weeks in advance of event.

  • Decide on how you want to invite your guests: text, email, e-vite, snail mail, phone call, etc.

  • Be sure to include all essential details, such as date, time, location, dress code (if any), and RSVP instructions in the invite.

  • If you're feeling creative, using free sites like can help you easily build beautiful invites, otherwise sites like partiful and paperless post, are free and simple to use. Partiful is also a great new app for organizing parties and events.

Step Five

Plan out the menu

  • Craft a menu that aligns with your theme and suits your guests' preferences and dietary restrictions. Consider recipes appetizers, entrees, side dishes, and desserts and drinks (both alcoholic and non alcoholic). Offering a variety of options is often appreciated.

  • Think through your repertoire of dishes you have already perfected. A dinner party is not usually the time to whip up creative new recipes.

  • If the idea of cooking is really intimidating, stick to making a few basic dishes by hand, and order in or buy pre-made dishes for the rest of the meal.

Step Six

Audit your space

  • Do you have everything you need for this dinner party? Check to make sure you have enough tables and chairs to fit everyone, as well as plates, cups, and cutlery. Reach out to some friends to borrow a folding chair or two if needed.

Step Seven

Consider the ambiance

  • Create an inviting atmosphere by setting the table with care. Pay attention to table settings, centerpieces, lighting, and music. Adjust the ambiance to match your chosen theme.

  • You might also want to consider the following:

    • Do you want music? Should you make a playlist for the dinner party?

    • Regarding lighting, do you want candles, twinkle lights, full lights?

    • For the tablescape, have you thought about tablecloths, flowers, small decorations for the table

    • Do you have a conversation piece? This (while not mandatory) can be an important part of a good dinner party, and so I like to incorporate things into my meal that can get people talking should there be a lull in the dialogue. For instance, serve something that incorporates an ingredient you picked up while traveling, or serve a dish that has a personal significance to you, or even make up a funny backstory about any regular item on the menu to entertain your guests

    • Tablecloths, flowers, small decorations for the table

Step Eight

Plan out icebreakers to get the conversations started

  • Good conversation is vital to a successful dinner party, and as the host it is your responsibility to keep it flowing.

  • You've spent days preparing and thinking through the details of your dinner party- or you're scrambling to clean your apartment because you have some last minute guests coming over. Regardless of how much (or little) you have prepped for this event, the one thing that will make or break the evening will be how well the conversation flows. To avoid a night of continuous mall talk, listening to that one friend complain about a coworker for hours, or listening to the biggest braggart in the room gloat all night, it's always helpful to be prepared with a few conversation starter topics to keep things interesting, and to ensure that everyone at the table has a chance to contribute to the conversation.

  • Here are a few Dinner Party Conversation Topic Starters that can get your party moving in the right direction:

    • If you could move to any country you’d never visited before, which one would it be?

    • If you had the opportunity to meet one person you haven’t met who would it be, why and what would you talk about?

    • What was the worst job you ever held and why?

    • If you were to win the mega lottery, what's the first thing you would buy for yourself?

    • Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

    • What new skill would you like to learn this year?

Step Nine

Create a seating arrangement for guests

  • If you're inviting guests who are not all familiar with one another, planning out a seating arrangement is always a good idea. This way everyone (literally) feels that they have a seat at the table upon arrival.

Step Ten

Greet your guests

  • Make everyone feel welcome the second they arrive at your door.

  • If you have anyone who arrives a little early, find small tasks for them to help with (ie. pouring water into peoples glasses to help set the table) so they feel useful if you're still finishing getting ready. To guests why may be visiting your home for the first time, help them find their seats at the table so they feel comfortable.

Step Eleven

Keep the party flowing

  • Will you be plating everyone's dish individually or having everything set on the table passed around?

  • Space out the timing between serving different courses so that people have time to get hungry again for more food, and have time to both eat and converse. No need to rush into dessert straight after the meal. Don’t be shy to bring out a game should there be a need to get the conversation moving again.

Step Twelve


  • If the party is running later than you anticipated, find a way to graciously wind down the evening

  • I also love sending guests home with leftovers, like a goody bag from the evening, and I usually keep cheap Tupperware on hand or large ziploc bags that I don't mind sending people home with.

  • The day after the dinner party, send out a quick thank you message to your guests via text or email to let them know that you enjoyed their presence at your party

Remember that the perfect dinner party is not necessarily about perfection but about creating a welcoming and enjoyable experience for your guests. Flexibility, good company, and a warm atmosphere are often key ingredients in making your gathering memorable



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