As we welcome cooler weather, hosting season is upon us. It surprises me a little that I like to entertain so much, as I tend to be a socially anxious person. I know from talking with others that sometimes people can be nervous to host because there are so many things that could go “wrong.” If you find yourself nervous about hosting a dinner party in your space, I encourage you to reframe your approach. Consider hosting an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and be with people you love.
Having hosted so often over the years, I’ve developed my own checklist of things that take any occasion up a notch.
I’m sharing my tips and tricks for hosting a dinner party—one everyone at the table will enjoy—whether you’re a seasoned host or simply testing the waters.
The 7 Things I Do Every Time I’m Hosting a Dinner Party
1. Consider the guest list.
In many cases, the guest list—and the way I want to connect with any given group—dictates the kind of party I’ll have. When I have a group of close friends over, I tend to keep the evening casual, possibly assembling a few dishes together and splitting up responsibilities. If I were hosting in-laws for the first time, I might make the menu more formal and have a festive drink like champagne at the ready.
When setting the timing for the occasion, I also find it helpful to think about what will work best for the people I’m inviting. For example, people who have children may want to meet later in the evening (or earlier—it depends!). I think about the life phases everyone’s in so they’re better able to enjoy the time they’re spending in my home.
2. Set the menu.
The menu I set varies greatly depending on the guest list and overall vibe of the evening, but I do have a few guidelines I follow.
- I don’t usually cook new things (unless it’s cookbook club).
- I try to choose unfussy dishes that, if needed, could sit in the oven without overcooking or come to the table a little cold without sacrificing quality.
- On most occasions, I try to reduce the number of dishes I’m making. A pot of soup, a salad, and a good loaf of bread is more than enough of a reason to have people over.
- I determine the order of drinks beforehand, which is generally a few varieties of wine and possibly a specialty cocktail. If I need help deciding on pairings, I ask the staff at Thomas Liquors for their suggestions!
3. Prep beforehand.
I think through how I’d like the evening to flow and start prepping a few days beforehand. I write a list of everything that needs to get done, planned out by day and time (e.g., what needs to happen two days before, the day before, the day of, the hour before). The list includes shopping at various stores, cleaning, setting the table, prepping ingredients, cooking dishes, etc. This kind of forethought is the only way for me to juggle (and delegate as needed) all of the hosting tasks while also keeping up with everyday life.
4. Play around with the table setting.
I often set the table the day before I host. This gives me a chance to play around with different placemats, table linens, dishes, and serveware until I land on the combination that feels right.
5. Set the mood with sensory elements.
Sensory elements are key to making a dinner party feel special. These are a few touches I always implement:
- I only turn on dimmable pendant lights or lamps (this lamp from Schoolhouse is a favorite)—never bright overhead lights.
- I have a candle set out in the entryway to greet people when they come inside—ideally something that lingers well with the scent of food. My go-to is the Maison Louis Marie No.04 candle.
- I refresh the nearest bathroom with fresh towels, a flower in a bud vase, and a candle.
- I create a playlist! Music is a must.
6. Give (some) guests jobs.
I like to think beforehand about a few tasks I might want help with once guests arrive (e.g. finish setting the table, put toppings on a dish, mix cocktails). Inevitably, there will be at least one person who prefers to help with the finishing touches rather than being idle. It’s easy to busy them with something if I already have a list in mind.
7. Lead the flow of the evening.
I generally like to host a progressive party, flowing between a few rooms over the course of the evening. People look to the host for cues at dinner parties, and I’ll let everyone know when it’s time to make a move. We’ll usually start with a cocktail in the kitchen while I make the finishing touches to the food, although sometimes the night will begin with a drink in a more formal space. We’ll move to the dining table for dinner, then have coffee and dessert sitting around the coffee table in the peach room.
Editor’s Note: This article contains affiliate links. Wit & Delight uses affiliate links as a source of revenue to fund the operations of the business. Have a question or want to learn more about how we use affiliate links? Shoot us an email.