It took me a long time to feel comfortable with throwing dinner parties because I worried about every little detail. Would it be too contrived? Like I was trying too hard? Or not hard enough? Would my guests have fun? Or just completely fall apart? Clearly I tend to overanalyze.
The thing is, I love to cook. Especially for friends. There is nothing quite as rewarding to me as sharing the food I’ve cooked with the people I care about. That, in the end, was what finally pushed me to throw my first dinner party.
Since then, I’ve only thrown a handful of dinner parties but I feel like I’ve learned a lot. Every dinner party teaches me something new that will help make the next dinner party even better. The first thing I learned was that even though I love cooking, I don’t love being stuck over the stove while my friends sip cocktails and mingle without me. I want to be able to enjoy the dinner party, too! So here are some things I keep in mind to help my dinner parties be fun for everyone.
Go seasonal with the menu
I’m a fan of eating seasonally whenever I can. And when it comes to a dinner party, seasonal produce is not only going to be cheaper but it’s also going to taste better with a lot less work. For my dinner party menu, I went with roasted seasonal vegetables as a side dish and sweet plums for my dessert. The veggies required little more than olive oil, salt, pepper, and a splash of balsamic to be delicious. And the plums required no additional sugar before being added to clafoutis I made for dessert.
Dinner menu recipes:
- Pork loin with wine and herb gravy – Recipe here.
- Roasted seasonal vegetables – Simply slice veggies, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a splash of balsamic before roasting at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes.
- Lemon and herb couscous – Cook couscous as directed on box in chicken stock then tossed with toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley, a good squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper.
- Fresh baked bread – Recipe here.
- Plum clafoutis – I used this recipe as my base and just replaced the cherries with plums.
Make ahead where you can
This is definitely one area I still struggle with. But with every dinner party I get better and end up spending less and less time in the kitchen. For this party, I cut and prepped the veggies in advance so they were ready to throw on a baking sheet and roast when my guests arrived. I also chose snacks that could be made at least a few hours before, if not the day before. And I sliced the plums and whipped the clafoutis batter up in a blender the day before and just kept it in the fridge.
Always have snacks ready
I generally plan for the first 30-60 minutes of any dinner party to be for low-key mingling as people arrive. I always have a few appetizers available to tide people over until dinner ready, like lemon and lavender shortbread cookies, goat cheese-stuffed dates, and black olive tapenade with toasts. I also try to limit my appetizers to just a few lighter options because I’m selfish and I don’t want people filling up before the dinner I’ve been working on is even ready.
- Lemon and lavender shortbread cookies – Recipe here.
- Goat cheese-stuffed dates with rosemary honey – I used this recipe as the base. For the rosemary honey, simply about a tablespoon of chopped rosemary with 2-3 tablespoons of honey in a saucepan for a few minutes, then let it cool a bit before drizzling over the dates.
- Black olive tapenade – Recipe here. Probably the easiest appetizer recipe ever.
Ask guests bring the booze
I’m notoriously bad at asking people to contribute something to a dinner party. I usually have the whole menu planned out in my head, so it’s hard for me to think of what a guest might be able to bring. My solution: ask them to bring booze! When you’re planning for anywhere from 6-12 people, wine and alcohol for a dinner party can add up fast! But if you have everyone chip in and bring their favorite adult beverage of choice you’ll have a whole lot less to worry about yourself.
Make smart, simple decor choices
With everything else I’m trying to put together for a dinner party, I try not to let decor stress me out. And I’ve found it doesn’t take much to set the mood. In fact, I focus on just three decor elements.
- Fresh flowers: Even a cheap grocery store bouquet can be divided into a bunch of small flower arrangements and placed on the table and around the room. It’s amazing how just a few flower arrangements make a space feel really special.
- Candles: It’s a well-known fact that overhead lighting is not the most conducive or flattering light for party ambiance. In addition to a few lamps, I like to place candles around the room. It adds a bit of light and there’s just something so cozy and intimate about candlelight.
- Legit dinnerware: I hate doing dishes. It’s honestly one of my least favorite chores. However, when I’m hosting a dinner party I feel like it’s worth the extra work to use real plates, glasses, flatware, and napkins when setting the table. It makes the party feel a little less house-party-like in a good way.
All in all, I’m officially hooked on dinner parties. I’m already planning my next one. I’m thinking a sips-and-snacks take on Friendsgiving would be particularly fun. Any favorite hors d’oeuvres I should try?
*Note: Please forgive the poor photos. By the time everything was set out I had lost any shred of natural sunlight. One more thing I’ll try to do better next time!