How to host a dinner party

And when I say dinner party, I really just mean a dinner for friends. Sometimes it can be a little fancy, but most of the time you just need to think of it as an extension of your family dinner. I’ve hosted a few in my time mostly because there is nothing I love more than cooking for friends and family maybe except eating good food and drinking wine…which I can do when hosting people over for dinner!

Table

Now there is nothing to get intimidated about when hosting dinner. Remember, that this is the same as cooking for your family any night of the week. Except maybe with a few extra bits thrown in. You need to eat something. Drink something. Sit around something. And that’s it! Planning makes things easier – even if it just gives you some direction and areas to focus on. Here’s how I do it.

Theme

Not every dinner needs to have a theme but I like to come up with a ‘rough’ theme. Something like “casual BBQ” or even to a “Spring garden party” or “Retro dinner” or “Mexican”. Once you have a theme this will help you work out the food and drink that you will serve and how you will decorate. Remember: Something to eat, drink, and something to sit at. Here are a few tables that I have set with a rough “theme”. A Spring garden party that meant LOADS of spring flowers, colour and a light menu that we hosted for Fathers Day. A retro 70’s dinner party that I hosted for Mrs Woog’s 40th birthday party in winter last year – I went retro with the food AND decorations and then a simple classic white table for dinner – simple white flowers and napkins and a simple classic dinner menu like beef bourginon and red wine. A basic theme will help you work out the other bits and make the whole thing not seem so overwhelming.

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Drinks

While most dinners will include wine, wine and more wine (well the kind of dinners that I host at least) it can be a nice idea to start the party off with something else. Champagne/Prosecco/any kind of bubbles are ALWAYS called for when people first arrive, as is a signature cocktail if you are going to be REALLY fancy and make an effort. A mojito will set the tone for a casual mexican BBQ or a bellini for a lunch time gathering. There are endless choices for you – but a cocktail or champagne to start with, followed by wine for entrees/main and even a dessert wine are a nice touch and will always make your guests feel like you have gone to trouble. For non alcoholic drinks make sure you have plenty of mineral water/soda water on hand. A jug of water on the table is a must have so that people keep their water in take up and also for the designated driver. Throw in some mint leaves and limes/lemon and you’ll be considered fancy (when in fact it took you 3.4 seconds to do). As the person hosting the soiree/party/lunch you have to make sure that you keep an eye on everyone’s drinks and ensure that they are filled (water/wine/champagne) whatever it may be….try and be one step ahead and make sure no one is ever waiting for a drink. Boring yes, but it shows that you CARE. And you do right? Why else would you ask people over for dinner?

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Food

Your choice of food will determine the kind of effort you need to go to. A casual BBQ will mean that it’s an all in the middle of the table help yourself type scenario. A 3 course number might mean that you plate up in the kitchen and bring them in (always make sure that you wait until everyone is finished eating and then swoop that shit away before people can even think about it). Whatever it is you decide to do, just have a crack. One thing I have learnt through the years is that people are so grateful to be asked somewhere, and have someone else cook for them that they really won’t care less what you serve them (especially any chefs/cooks that you may have as a guest). Any kind of meal cooked in your home, made with love will be delicious. It just will. Get people to bring a plate if you like…whack it all on the table and help themselves…any which way will be appreciated…promise! If I have made something like a lasagne or a big bowl of pasta that goes on the table I make sure as the host that I serve everyone up (you will have a good idea of how much everyone needs to get) and it will make it easier for everyone else. It can be your Martha Stewart moment to shine! Make sure you have something (anything) to nibble on the start (with drinks). Cheese (always a good choice as you can  bring it back out for round two post dessert), crackers, nuts, packet of chips tipped into a bowl…anything to sate hunger before the main game.

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Other stuff

There are some other things to think about. Are you going to clean as you go or dump in the kitchen and deal with it all later? The dump/later method always seems to happen to me when I am hosting a fancier type thing and it’s never recommended. Clean as you go is far better – even a mid party dishy run for the glasses & dishes with the bigger washing up items left until everyone leaves. No one wants you to spend too much time cleaning (it makes people feel bad) but a quick stack of the dishy and pile/rinse of the bigger stuff will help at the end.

Make sure before people get there you are as cleaned up as you can be. Any prep stuff should be washed and away (you don’t need any extra stuff to do, you’ll have enough). Have that dishy unpacked and empty (no one can help stack if they need to unpack clean stuff that they don’t know where to put away to). And make sure that kitchen bin is empty…you don’t need to do a bin run, or have guests helping stack and rinse if they have to scrape leftovers into an overflowing bin.

Steer clear of politics & religion – an age old saying that exists because it’s true! Or don’t…go for it and watch the shit hit the fan – that’s always fun too.

Make sure you have music playing in the background all night long – mix it up during the evening, just make sure that it keeps on running.

Fancy dinner party = linen napkins. Anything other than that paper is OK but if you have linen, use them. As with your fancy dinnerware/glasses. Get that shit out of the cupboard…that’s why you got it/were given it in the first place. A name card can be fun too – sorts out the problem of people asking where they should sit. And candles are a MUST. Throw as many onto the table as you can – makes the food/setting/guests look better than they actually do!

I know there are a million things I have forgotten but this is a good start. I cannot recommend enough the joy of having people that you love over around your dinner table for a meal. Fancy or casual, showing people that you care is as simple as filling their glass and plate and giving them somewhere to sit and talk. And laugh. ALL of my very best memories as an adult are around our dining table or at others. If home is where the heart is, then the kitchen/dining table is where my soul is.

Are you a host of dinner parties at home?
Got any good tips you’d like to share with us?

Comments

  1. I love dinner parties! Unfortunately I only live in a tiny apartment and can fit about 4-5 people, and I am too young to have accumulated enough fancy dinner accessories, but it’s still so fun to have a theme! We have done lebanese, Spanish tapas and Ethiopian!

  2. Emma Steendam says

    Oh, dinner parties…sigh. I dream of holding dinner parties. Just the other day I was rummaging about in the kitchen cupboards and found a box of very nice cutlery we got for our wedding, still unopened (we also got another set, also very nice, which we use, firm believer in using things!) Matt said we’ll use them for when we have dinner parties…I looked around our crumbling kitchen with seating for four, at best, on very wonky chairs, a leaky chimney on the old aga stove, electric stove that doesn’t work, in our home hundreds of kilometres from family or friends….uh, yeah, sure. I also dream of hosting Christmas one day – imagine! I’m saving these tips.

  3. My aim this year is to have one every 4/6 weeks.. to keep in touch, just simple food and the best of company.. can’t wait and have just saved your tips to my phone for that first one 🙂

    • BabyMacBlogBeth says

      They really are such a great way to keep in touch with friends…better than going out and having to pay for a babysitter I reckon! They are a must around here – as there is nowhere TO go out to!

  4. Lisa Mckenzie says

    I think you have it covered Beth ,such great tips! Sometimes the most impromptu meal can turn into something special.I am a clean as you go person as well and I do as much prep wok as I can before,so I can talk to my peeps.Thanks Beth for the reminder to have family and friends over for a meal xx

  5. fauxfuschia says

    I have people over for dinner a lot, usually a lunch during the week, a mid week dinner and then we go All Out on Saturday night. I love it. So relaxing and comforting during life’s challenging times.

    • BabyMacBlogBeth says

      So true FF and you do it VERY well. I particularly love your planning – table setting days in advance!

  6. Sounds fantastic! I’d love to have dinner at your place… oh, wait! 😉

    One thing I would add is, don’t spend too much time in the kitchen making food while your guests are there. Have as much prepped as possible. We have friends who go to sooooo much effort with a lot of fiddly stuff and spend the whole time in the kitchen, their kitchen is to small for us to go into to watch or help so we spend half the night sitting on our own chatting to each other. It makes us feel really bad plus we don’t really get to see the people we have come to spend time with. I’d much rather they do something less fiddly and spend more time out of the kitchen. Same with drinks – I’d rather have a full glass of wine than be left waiting for a fancy cocktail to be made.

  7. TheMorleyReport says

    You know this the one thing that really freaks me out and that I wish I did better. My house is really set up well for entertaining but I just don’t relax AT ALL! Thanks my dear for your blog, great sound advice 🙂 xxx

  8. Nerida Child Dimasi says

    One of the things I miss the most about living in the Highlands is the dinner parties we used to have, oh the dinner parties and the wine and the over eating of food and the laughter of all my good friends. This is such a great post, for me its not just about hosting a dinner party but more because it has reminded me (and also made me a bit sad) of my beautiful garden and friends who are still there and who I miss dearly. I so miss hosting a great dinner party where the food, wine and conversation flows until the wee hours of the morning, as the children slowly fall asleep as they run out of energy from playing with their friends.

    • BabyMacBlogBeth says

      It’s a great thing about being down here indeed! Growing up we spent almost every weekend at someone’s parents place having a dinner party!

  9. Amanda Garven says

    You make it look and sound soooo easy. I find it quite stressful sometimes. But I adore living vicariously through you, and i love the table settings. Always.

  10. So, when should I come over?

  11. Our place seems to be the hot spot for our friends, which is totally fine by us. It means we can drink as much as we like and we have the most comfortable bed in the house. Once the pool is finished, I’m pretty sure we’ll never have a shortage of friends ever again.
    If you want great dinner party background music, get onto the Ku De Ta compilations. We have all 4 volumes and they are brilliant.

    • BabyMacBlogBeth says

      I agree about Ku De Ta – I have downloaded a few of their free podcasts that go for hours and hours and they are brilliant!

  12. Kylie Gardner says

    Thanks for this post, I’m hosting hubby’s 40th birthday in April, an intimate dinner for ten closest friends. Awesome tips here lady, thanks muchly.

  13. They say that hot right now is people wanting an experience so food at home is where it’s happening out of the city. I like to cook with my friends if I can so we often fire up the wood oven and get something happening in that. However I have learned that new recipes on the fly are often disappointing when tried out on dinner guests so sticking to a recipe or 2 that you are really good at is a good and safe place to be especially if you are embracing the social and wine. Love your food ❤️ need to remember to get the music on before arrivals, have been a great one for putting it on loop!

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