Tips for Throwing a Perfect Dinner Party

August 26, 2016
Tips for Throwing a Perfect Dinner Party

“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?”

Happiness is Dinner Party Leftovers

Photo Credit: DailyHappyQuotes.com

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.

Flowers

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

Candles

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.

Music

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(!)

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Photo Credit: Getty Images – Jackie Kennedy

The Menu

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).

Make-Ahead

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.

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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

It's tricky

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.

Spaghetti Love

Photo Credit: Tumblr.com – Spaghetti Love

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(!)

Crash Clean

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:  For recipes and stories from Spaghetti Saturday .. here

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61 Comments

  • Reply Kelli @ The Sustainable Couple August 28, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    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.

  • Reply Jenni August 29, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    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!

    • Reply sexyveggie September 3, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      Oh Jenni

      Thank-you so much! It was fun to meet you as well 🙂

  • Reply Robin June 1, 2017 at 4:23 am

    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.

  • Reply Danik June 1, 2017 at 5:38 am

    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. 😛

  • Reply Amber Myers June 1, 2017 at 7:30 am

    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.

  • Reply Terri Beavers June 1, 2017 at 7:42 am

    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.

  • Reply Sarah Bailey June 1, 2017 at 7:52 am

    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.

  • Reply Doria June 1, 2017 at 9:34 am

    We used to throw dinner parties all the time, but I’m a little rusty so this is a super helpful reminder!

  • Reply lisa June 1, 2017 at 10:19 am

    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!

  • Reply Katie Kinsley June 1, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    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!

  • Reply HeidiDee June 1, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    I absolutely love your Spaghetti Saturday idea! It seems like a great time and your tips will definitely be a great help!

  • Reply Eden June 1, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    These are wonderful tips for throwing a great party. I would love to use some of these ideas on my next family get together.

  • Reply Betty June 1, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    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!

  • Reply Chloe June 1, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    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? 🙂

  • Reply Claudia Krusch June 1, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    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.

  • Reply Val June 1, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    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.

  • Reply Rebecca Swenor June 2, 2017 at 6:12 am

    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.

  • Reply Chrishelle Ebner June 2, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    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.

  • Reply Emily June 2, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    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!

  • Reply Anosa June 3, 2017 at 1:36 am

    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.

  • Reply Kathryn Maher June 20, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    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 .

  • Reply Iya - Louisa June 4, 2018 at 6:38 am

    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

  • Reply Komal June 4, 2018 at 6:55 am

    Besides the food I think that a party starter and conversation is super important to throw a great party. Awesome list!

  • Reply Melanie June 4, 2018 at 7:34 am

    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.

  • Reply Robin June 4, 2018 at 10:40 am

    I love the idea of starting with an empty dishwasher and sink. I usually clear the sink, but the dishwasher not so much….

  • Reply Alli Smith June 4, 2018 at 10:55 am

    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.

  • Reply Deborah Regen June 4, 2018 at 11:21 am

    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!

  • Reply lisalisa June 4, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    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!

  • Reply Bella June 4, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    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!

  • Reply Kita Bryant June 4, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    It has been awhile since I have had a dinner party. This is a great way to be reminded of how to do it!

  • Reply Heather June 4, 2018 at 11:33 pm

    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.

  • Reply Melanie June 5, 2018 at 4:48 am

    Ooo I do love a good party, Cake and flowers are key things to have and make for a fab evening x

  • Reply Stephanie Pass June 5, 2018 at 4:50 am

    These are wonderful tips! I do like the one about asking people to come early to avoid the awkward time when you’re prepping.

  • Reply Nichola June 5, 2018 at 6:01 am

    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!

  • Reply Danielle Fox June 5, 2018 at 7:48 am

    I agree with music – we are smooth jazz house over here 🙂

  • Reply Azlin Bloor June 5, 2018 at 9:18 am

    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.

  • Reply Kacie Morgan June 5, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Dinner parties can be great fun. I love a summer garden party, with a BBQ and lots of nice picky bits! Mmmm 🙂

  • Reply Anosa Malanga June 5, 2018 at 10:35 am

    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.

  • Reply Elizabeth O June 5, 2018 at 10:38 am

    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!

  • Reply Gladys Parker June 5, 2018 at 10:48 am

    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.”

  • Reply Bonnie June 5, 2018 at 11:17 am

    That sounds so awesome. Can I come over for Spaghetti dinner? =) I love all of these ideas.

  • Reply GiGi June 5, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    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!

  • Reply Jocelyn June 5, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    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.

  • Reply Amy June 5, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    These are great tips to throwing the perfect dinner parties! We’re planning a dinner party this weekend – and Spaghetti is on the menu

  • Reply Cristina June 5, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    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!

  • Reply Vyjay Rao June 5, 2018 at 9:16 pm

    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.

  • Reply Jeanine June 5, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    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!

  • Reply Amalia Silva June 6, 2018 at 5:28 am

    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!

  • Reply Kaz June 6, 2018 at 6:49 am

    Great tips – I haven’t hosted a dinner party for ages. I must plan one for the summer. Kaz

  • Reply Denni June 6, 2018 at 7:58 am

    i know i always can count on you when i have a food dilemma ! great advises darling and always a great read

  • Reply Laura June 6, 2018 at 8:06 am

    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.

  • Reply Holly June 6, 2018 at 10:25 am

    These are great suggestions. Throwing a dinner party can be so much fun when you get all the details sorted!!

  • Reply Daisy June 6, 2018 at 10:33 am

    These are wonderful and fabulous tips for throwing an amazing dinner party! It sounds like your guests will have a lovely time.

  • Reply Michele Dennis June 6, 2018 at 11:05 am

    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!

  • Reply Lexie Lane June 6, 2018 at 11:42 am

    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.

  • Reply Olivia June 6, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    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 🙂

  • Reply Nayna Kanabar June 6, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    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.

  • Reply Liz Cleland June 6, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    We throw a lot of dinner parties > Something about entertaining makes me happy that and cooking for others. Great suggestions!!

  • Reply Kim June 7, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    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.

  • Reply Kusum June 8, 2018 at 8:48 am

    You seem to have thought of and listed every single detail. Anyone could throw an amazing party if they follow your suggestions.

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