“A party without cake is just a meeting” ~ Julia Child
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One of the questions my husband and I are always asked, “How in the world do you pull off your Spaghetti Saturday dinners? You guys always make it look effortless(!)”
For as long as I can remember, I've loved to entertain. Although, admittedly, when we got married, I was a complete novice. I'd choose recipes by their name or how they looked in the picture, instead of by the degree, difficulty, or total prep and cook time.
(Which is why I'd end up serving coq au vin to dinner guests at 10 pm)
Luckily, with practice, I've gotten better. As we head into the weekend, I thought it might be fun to share a little about our process, along with a few tips and tricks we've picked up along the way
The Guest List
There is a lot of advice out there about creating a great guest list, but for us, only one rule ever applies. We invite people we truly want to see, get to know better, connect with, and love. If everyone came, we'd be cooking for 78(!) Although we average ten to twenty-five people each month.
We also realize that not everything is for everyone. Therefore, I use MailChimp for our monthly invites because it offers an unsubscribe option.
Party Starters and Conversation
A genius tip from Bon Appetit that's proven invaluable time and time again. “Ask some close friends or good conversationalists to come early and be the first guests. This deflects the awkward early phase and allows you to get on with prep” ~ Bon Appetit Editors
Take it from me; you never know when the feeling of social awkwardness will wash over you, so I always have a few conversation starters at the ready. “Have you been anywhere fun this summer?” “What's the thing in your life that you're most excited about?” “Cooked anything delicious lately?”
Stock-up Ahead of Time
Admittedly, there have been Spaghetti Saturdays that wouldn't fall in the category of shining moments. It's nearly always because of the little details. Do we have enough ice? Candles? Parmesan? Chairs? Wine?
Here's what we've learned: If it can be done ahead of time, definitely do it ahead of time. As we're putting things away, we keep a running list of what we're running low on. The next day, while it's still fresh in our minds, we stock up.
Tables and Chairs
We have six DIY tables that we use only for parties. The tops are inexpensive flat-panel closet doors that are easy to paint and re-paint (36″ width for guests and 32″ width for the drink and dessert tables). Their legs are from IKEA and screw on and off. They're a cinch to set up, tear down, and tuck away in the basement
The first few months we rented chairs. After hauling them hither and thither, we decided to invest in our own. After a year or so, we've more than made up the cost.
I'm a huge fan of fresh flowers (usually stems from the garden or farmer's market mixed with blooms from Trader Joe's). A little color on the table goes a long way
There's nothing like a flickering flame to make everything feel a bit more luxurious and special. That being said, I try to avoid scented candles at the dinner table.
Turn on Pandora, Spotify, or iTunes and queue up our favorite songs. We keep the volume low, so it doesn’t drown out conversation, but high enough to set the mood and make the evening more lively. We'll play anything from jazz to French pop, to a something with a low-key vibe like Beach House.
Note to self, if you have an iPad playing watch out for kitty cats that love to sit on it. You never know when they'll change your station to something like AC/DC(!)
Spaghetti Saturday began with spaghetti and meatballs, but often changes with the seasons. For example, in the summer months, it's hard to make comfort food when I'm craving things like heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, zucchini, and fruit.
Sometimes it's not the season, but our mood that drives the theme. A couple of our favorites? Mexican and Mediterranean
We keep the menu simple, three courses max. A one or two pot meal, a green salad, and an easy dessert. Sometimes I'll bake-off some homemade bread, but usually, we didn't need it.
If anyone asks what they should bring our answer is always the same, “Anything that makes you happy.”
Most of the time we end up with a nice blend, although it's still a bit of a crapshoot, and honestly, that's what makes it fun. We've had months were everyone brought salads, others where the dessert table was brimming (can that ever be wrong?)
Note to self about meatballs: The morning of, I always form and bake a few meatballs. It gives me time to fix a blend gone wrong and saves us all from an evening eating meatballs that are falling apart (it's happened).
The morning of, ninety percent of the meal will already be prepped. If it's spaghetti, our meatball mix has been in the fridge since Friday. If we're grilling, the meat has been marinating overnight.
Salad ingredients have been chopped and ready to be thrown together and tossed. Something like cookie dough is made, has rested its mandatory seventy-two hours, and is ready to be formed and baked shortly before guests arrive.
Dress your salad like an Italian
Olive oil, maybe a little sea salt, a splash of balsamic, or a squeeze of lemon. Fresh herbs to liven up the best greens you can find. I love a salad that's nothing but green. But if you insist, a bit of cheese, citrus, and nuts will easily elevate the humblest of greens.
Oven Timing and Keeping Dinner Warm
When determining the menu, how we're going to cook it all is a big factor. We think about time on the grill, can something be made and/or kept warm in the slow-cooker, and oven timing.
We start our cooking from the longest cook time to the shortest. Dessert often-times bakes while we're enjoying dinner
Save a Little Something for the Last Minute
It's nice to be holding a glass of wine when the doorbell rings, ready to shower our guest with undivided attention. But it also creates a fun vibe to make something easy while everyone is mingling
I've found this especially helpful if there is someone new. They're often grateful for a little job to help out with, and it gives them a chance to break the ice while standing in the thick of things.
Some ideas? Salsa or guacamole are perfect as is assembling a plate of snacks and starters.
Keep Drinks Simple
While I love and respect a good mixologist, for simplicity's sake, we're purists. Preferring to serve our guests wine, beer, flavored water, coffee, and tea.
If we're lucky, someone will bring home-brew(!)
Busy, happy, puppy-filled houses are messy.
Crash clean the rooms that count, and order Marie Kondo in the morning
The Beauty of an Empty Dishwasher
Always start the evening with an empty sink and dishwasher. Your post-party self will love and thank-you
Most of All – Enjoy
It sounds sentimental and cliché, but what truly makes a meal special is the heart and soul behind it. We could strip away the music, flowers, the pretty table, and put together a simple homemade meal. Once we sat down with the people we love, everyone would have a great time.
At the end of the day, for us, that's what it's all about. Our small way of staying connected with the group of people we hold dear and are so very thankful to have in our lives
ps: More fun recipes and stories from Spaghetti Saturdays
After getting acquainted with you more this weekend, I can totally feel the vibes that you and Dave must have at your dinner parties. You’re wonderful.
I absolutely am in love with this dinner party idea! It seems like it would be such a fun, easygoing atmosphere. So glad to have met you this past weekend at the blogger conference!
Thank-you so much! It was fun to meet you as well 🙂
I love hosting dinner parties. I haven’t had one in quite a while, but it’s such a fun idea. I like to keep mine to 10 or under because it’s easier to chat that way.
Great planning ahead for a dinner party. It sounds like an easy thing to do as a host but in the end it turns out to be a military operation. 😛
Great tips! I’m not one for hosting social gatherings so I probably won’t ever do this, but I’m happy to attend dinner parties that someone else threw. I do love to eat.
What a helpful post this is, I love all of your tips. I”m going to have to remember to stock up ahead of time because I’m always rushing at the last minute running to the store.
These are some awesome tips, I have to admit we don’t have the room to throw a dinner party here, but perhaps one day we will.
We used to throw dinner parties all the time, but I’m a little rusty so this is a super helpful reminder!
This is a great list. I don’t think we’ve ever had an actual sit down dinner party. Usually we just end up having regular parties where no one ever sits down!
I’ve never actually thrown a fancy dinner party before. I usually only invite a couple of friends over and serve them a meal and drinks. Maybe one day I can invite work couples over!
I absolutely love your Spaghetti Saturday idea! It seems like a great time and your tips will definitely be a great help!
These are wonderful tips for throwing a great party. I would love to use some of these ideas on my next family get together.
Haha these are great tips for hosting a dinner party without getting too stressed out afterwards with cleaning! I would love to use some of these tips at a future dinner party!
Music and candles are my go to choices if I really want to go the extra mile for a party! You sound like you have it all sorted, can I come to your next one? 🙂
I like to pick a theme for my dinner parties. My favorite one was a murder mystery theme. Everyone had so much fun figuring out the clues.
It sounds like you have your entertaining plan down pat. We don’t do formal entertaining but when we do holidays or bbbqs and such I do try to plan ahead.
These are all great tips for throwing a perfect dinner party. It is so important to plan ahead and buy a little extra supplies to ensure you don’t run out. Prepping the food ahead and keeping it warm is indeed a great idea. Thanks for sharing the tips.
We definitely have the same entertaining style. We made a few DIY tables used for entertaining from reclaimed wood. I love mismatching chairs and an eclectic feel when I host a party.
These are great tips! My girlfriends and I have started a monthly girls night in, where one of us hosts the group in their home (and the kids/husband are banished out of the house) it has been a lot of fun to host them and set up a nice dinner party. Love these ideas!
Indeed proper planning is very helpful so that everything will be in place during the event. Budget also is necessary so planning is important so that there will be no food to go on waste. Thanks for the useful tips and ideas! learned about the dress the salad like an Italian and making a Guest List and RSVP.
Great post on your fab dinner parties. You really have it all sussed out when it comes to working with an average sized party or a group of twenty. I love the idea of the home made tables tops with the screw off legs from Ikea. Genius idea. You are so right though at the end of the day regardless of your ability to cook or organise the perfect dinner party the only thing that matters in the end is the you enjoy a night with people you love .
I love this guide! I just love how over organised you are just like me aha. I love having dinner parties etc.. Although my bank account disagrees haha
Besides the food I think that a party starter and conversation is super important to throw a great party. Awesome list!
I wish i could do more dinner parties. Sounds like you have had a considerable amount of practise. I don’t think i could cope with a dinner party for 25. Great suggestions fr dinner party novices.
I love the idea of starting with an empty dishwasher and sink. I usually clear the sink, but the dishwasher not so much….
I always invite only the people I love and want to see. I love all the tips and I always keep things simple and do as much ahead as possible.
Summer is the perfect time for these get togethers with neighbors and good friends. Often these end up as BBQ type functions, but they don’t have to be. Pasta dishes are always easy and budget friendly, but there can be room for other main dishes and also for lots of cold items like side salads, fruits, and dips. I happen to love a fruity light sangria to offer my guests during the summer months and freshly made lemonade for the children or adults who don’t consume alcoholic beverages. If you are sitting outside like on the patio, you might want to switch out tapered candle sticks for those citronella candles to keep the bugs away!
This is great! I haven’t thrown a dinner party in years, we are way overdue and after reading this post I think I will set one up real soon. I never thought to invite others early to help with the conversation before everyone else arrived, great tip! I also like the keeping it simple!
Oh I love this dinner idea!!! I don’t have any special someone to do that with but it would fun to do with a bunch of friends! these are really great tips!
We love doing brunch parties! We get a big bag of bagels from a local bagel shop, then put out spreads, toppings (cucumbers, onions, capers, etc), some hard-boiled eggs, and fruit. We make coffee and put out juice and champagne and the kids can run around in the yard while the adults relax and eat. It’s so easy and really fun!
It has been awhile since I have had a dinner party. This is a great way to be reminded of how to do it!
You know what, I do love left overs after the holidays so I’m sure I’d love dinner party left overs too. I do have to say that you make most of your dishes look so amazing…I wonder if it has taken all day just to make it look and taste as good as I’m sure it does.
Ooo I do love a good party, Cake and flowers are key things to have and make for a fab evening x
These are wonderful tips! I do like the one about asking people to come early to avoid the awkward time when you’re prepping.
I absolutely love the sound of spaghetti saturday! I’m not very good at organising dinner parties and wish I was better so I’m going to take inspiration from this, thank you!
I agree with music – we are smooth jazz house over here 🙂
Loved this post, it really is all in the planning! And I think I enjoy the planning almost as much as the party itself! When I first started hosting parties over 30 years ago, I used to make everything from scratch. But I’ve long realised that you have to be clever about having to cut some subtle corners.
Dinner parties can be great fun. I love a summer garden party, with a BBQ and lots of nice picky bits! Mmmm 🙂
I love parties, may it be hosting it or attending. I agree that you need to save something for the after party as well. All may be tired, drank and probably hungry after the party.
Spaghetti Saturdays sound really fun. I like the idea of a relaxing dinner party with people you really want to invite. I also really love the tip of starting the evening with an empty sink and dishwasher!
This sounds so fun! I had simple dinner parties when I was younger and healthier, I would like to have known your tips then. Oh well I know them know for when I decide to have another. I love the idea of answering guests with “Bring whatever makes you happy.”
That sounds so awesome. Can I come over for Spaghetti dinner? =) I love all of these ideas.
My husband and I love to throw parties! For us, it’s all about having booze and some bites and then we are golden! People come over because they know we will always have some fun activities and lots of lively convo!
I am loving the tips here. I have not hosted a dinner party in years. It would be great to host one soon. It is always a lot of fun.
These are great tips to throwing the perfect dinner parties! We’re planning a dinner party this weekend – and Spaghetti is on the menu
I learned this from food52’s a new way to dinner: oven-roast marshmallows to put atop coffee ice cream. a few minutes under the broiler and you’ve got an impressive dessert! bonus: it requires no prep work AND feels fancy and whimsical. when was the last time you were served a marshmallow at a grown-up dinner party!?
I have never thought I would find a blog post about planning a home party! It is like you took my thoughts and ways of going about before an event at home and put them here! Love it!
Dinner parties are perfect to stay connected with friends and make new connections as well. But normally one does not see the amount of planning and hard work the hosts have put in. This becomes evident in this post where you have mentioned the entire process with details about organizing a dinner party. But at the end of the day, it is all worth it, I am sure.
Great tips Ive had one dinner party ever and although it was great it was lacking. I’d love a redo and actually do a great job this time!
I’m having a dinner party next week at my new house and feeling really anxious about! I’m glad I got your tips just made my life easier!
Great tips – I haven’t hosted a dinner party for ages. I must plan one for the summer. Kaz
i know i always can count on you when i have a food dilemma ! great advises darling and always a great read
I love the idea of this, I often find myself on a Saturday evening cooking for a bunch of guys from our gaming group. I love cooking for more than me and my partner but glad that it is always done a relaxed here is some grub in the game break type of way. Which means I don’t over stress about what I’m making and it tends to be something slow-cooked like chilli or curry.
These are great suggestions. Throwing a dinner party can be so much fun when you get all the details sorted!!
These are wonderful and fabulous tips for throwing an amazing dinner party! It sounds like your guests will have a lovely time.
I was literally glued to this post! Thank you for laying this out for us, so many great tips and step by steps. I know I said this in a previous post when you mentioned your Spaghetti Saturday’s and I’ll say it again, I LOVE this idea! After reading this I’m really inspired to give it a try!
Oh yes! Spaghetti never lets anyone down. What great tips because dinner parties are always so much pressure! You always want it to be nice.
Why have I never thought to invite the conversationalists first, a great way to get rid of some of that awkward tension. I loveeeee spaghetti, my favourite is Pomodoro 🙂
Omg you are a pro at dinner parties.You are so organised and I am sure people love coming to your house as everyting will be so well done, tasty and delicious.
We throw a lot of dinner parties > Something about entertaining makes me happy that and cooking for others. Great suggestions!!
I love these tips! It is definitely a little stressful hosting a dinner party, but if you plan ahead things seem to go much smoother.
You seem to have thought of and listed every single detail. Anyone could throw an amazing party if they follow your suggestions.
You can’t go wrong with a cheese plate, something braised the day before (coq a vin; short ribs, brisket, lamb shanks), salad and a simple dessert like a cake with creme fraiche or whipped cream, pie or even chocolate chip cookies (which I always have frozen and ready to bake).
Also, a simple roast chicken, fresh pasta or risotto and salad with creme brulee for dessert.
We have a 3-month-old but still, want to get together with friends so dinner parties at home are great! We like to make homemade pizzas that we can make and clean up all before guests arrive. Then when we are ready we put them in the oven and keep visiting with our friends. When they are done we all get to eat and enjoy together without anyone stuck in the kitchen. It’s great!
I like roasting kebabs in the oven. They accommodate different diets, I make some veggie and some meat and they are great for the gluten-free crowd:)
I always pop a huge bowl of popcorn (just regular kernels, popped in a big pot with melted coconut oil). I do it for kid’s birthday parties, family get-togethers in the afternoon, or in the wee hours of an adult party when everyone is getting hungry. It always gets devoured almost instantly. It’s so cheap and so easy. And if people are still hungry you can just do it again.
We have our “dinner parties” at 3-4 p.m. The kids run around and the adults have adult conversation and adult beverages. We do something simple (one time we ordered the best pizza in the city and friends brought salads; we barbeque in the summer a lot). Best part? At 7 p.m. the kids are exhausted, and everyone goes home.
I’m really into chicken mole negro in the slow cooker. I buy a pre-made paste from the Mexican market and stir it into tomato sauce with broth. Cook on low for 6 hours and keep warm. Add tortillas and toppings…taco night…SO good!
Two lbs of chicken, one jar of salsa and a half cup of balsamic vinegar. Cook all day, then shred and throw into tacos, fajitas, over brown rice, on sammies. We have guests bring toppings, open a few bottles of wine and relish in your guests instead of sweating in the kitchen!
Thank you for your great ideas! I love spending quality time with my friends and less time in the kitchen. A few years ago I started serving gelato in ice cream cones for dessert – we buy a few flavors of locally made gelato and it always goes down so well! Seconds seem to be very popular too. I always have a lovely bunch of flowers on the table as they help create a great vide and are appreciated by the guests – even a single flower from the garden is so special.
I love, love easy prep dinner ideas! One dessert I do a lot is vanilla ice cream, and a chocolate milk bar which I melt in the stove with some milk and a little coffee – easy peasy ice cream with coffee chocolate topping, always a hit 🙂