How To Host Your First Dinner Party, From Prep To Clean Up

Don’t stress out, you’ve got this.

By Renée Walton5 min read
Pexels/cottonbro studio

In case you haven’t heard, social media has declared going out out and staying in in. And there’s no better way to enjoy the company of close friends than by hosting a dinner party. 

Whether you’ve just moved into your own place, are newly married, or simply haven’t had the chance to host before, having a dinner party at your home for the first time can feel overwhelming. There’s the menu to think about, cleaning the house, and the grocery shopping, not to mention the decor and picking out the perfect outfit. It’s normal to have some first time jitters, but try not to panic. This is supposed to be enjoyable for everyone, including you as the host! 

Inviting Your Guests 

The first thing to do when planning a dinner party is to pick a date. Weekends are typically best, but also take note of your schedule for the days leading up to the party. Make sure you’ll have enough time to prepare so you’re not running around the day of your event wishing you had the time to start earlier. It’s also nice to have a light schedule the day after your party so you can relax and clean up.  

Once you’ve decided on a date, let your guests know. Everyone has a busy schedule, so aim to give them a couple of week’s notice. As far as spreading the word, you can always call or text your guests, but a special invitation elevates the experience. Skip the snail mail and opt for a text invitation. It’s easy: Screenshot a background or pattern that goes with the party’s vibe (Pinterest is perfect for this), then add text over the photo in an editing app to provide details for the party. (You can also do this in Instagram, just like how you’d create a story.) Then screenshot your adorable invitation, and text it to your guests. Not only will they enjoy receiving your cute invite, but it’ll stand out amongst the barrage of texts we all get day-to-day. And bonus: Your guests can save the photo to their phone to refer back to for the party details. 

Preparing Your Home 

Now that your guests have been invited, it’s time to start your prep work. First things first: Make sure your kitchen is equipped for all of your dinner guests, including enough plate settings, flatware, platters, serving utensils, and glasses. 

If you don’t have enough, don’t stress: This is the perfect opportunity to go thrifting. With a well-trained eye and some patience, you can find stunning kitchenware for super cheap, and a lot of times, you can score high quality pieces for next to nothing. And since you won’t be spending much, don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a fun, non-neutral option that’s perhaps a little more whimsical than you’d buy for everyday use. 

Once your kitchen is equipped with the essentials, it’s time to think about decor. Setting a beautiful tablescape is one of the most exciting parts of hosting a dinner party and can make the evening feel extra special. It doesn’t take much; some taper candles, a little greenery, and a table runner or placemats go a long way. 

Planning Your Menu 

Start thinking of your menu as early as possible. You’ll want to serve a couple of appetizers, a main dish with one or two sides, and a dessert. Since it’s your first dinner party, keep it simple; this probably isn’t the time to attempt a new recipe. Instead, make a tried and true favorite – ideally, something that can feed a crowd. For cooler weather get-togethers, think lasagna, steaks, pot roast, or casserole. If your party is outdoors, fire up the grill for your veggies and meat – you’ll free up your stove or oven for other dishes, and you’ll get to be outside with your guests.

Choose a couple of dishes that can be made (or at least started) the day before. Again, the more you can get off of your to-do list for the day of the party, the more confident you’ll feel. Even chopping your produce a day or two before the party can save your sanity.  

Keep in mind, you don’t have to cook everything yourself. The best leaders know how to delegate, so don’t be afraid to order a couple of items from a restaurant – perhaps your favorite tiramisu from the little Italian restaurant you love or a big salad from a place with an incredible house dressing. It’s not cheating, and knowing that one piece of the puzzle is already complete can be a huge relief.

While we’re on the topic of delegating: Your guests will likely ask if they can bring anything. On the one hand, you’ll save time and energy by having your guests bring a dish. On the flipside, know that you’ll be giving up some creative control over your menu, since it can be off-putting to tell guests exactly what to bring. So it’s a toss up. Whether you ask them to bring their favorite appetizer, a bottle of wine, or just themselves is up to you, but it’s something you’ll need to consider beforehand. 

Setting Up 

Nothing can throw a dinner party off course like an awkward ambiance, so be sure to set a comfortable tone – both in your home and in your demeanor. A frazzled hostess can make guests feel like they’re imposing, so try and keep things light while you’re setting up – get a fun playlist going and sip on a glass of wine or a mocktail

The right music is a must for any gathering. Browse some playlists ahead of time to find tunes that compliment the tone of the party. Similarly, lighting is key to setting the dinner party mood. If possible, turn off your overhead lights and use only lamps and candles. A candle in the bathroom is also a nice touch. 

Guests mingle where the food and drinks are, so keep that in mind while you’re setting up. Do you enjoy having people around while you’re finishing your cooking? Then, set up the appetizers and drinks in the kitchen. Does the thought of being “on” while you’re getting the food ready make you feel frazzled? Then, set up the stuff in a different room so you can have a minute to yourself. 

Once everything is pretty much set up, it’s time to get dressed. Opt for an outfit that’s put-together but still comfortable enough to move around in. Dresses are feminine and have a way of inspiring a hostess mindset. If you’re feeling extra tradwife, tie on an apron – they’re cute and practical for when you're cooking and washing the dishes.  

Getting the Party Started 

Before you know it, the doorbell will be ringing to announce your guests’ arrival. Greet your friends with a smile and offer them an area to put their belongings – this is also the perfect task to delegate to your man so you can focus on those little finishing touches like lighting the candles or setting out the appetizers.  

A dinner party should never feel rushed, but don’t wait too long before serving your meal – your guests did come over to eat, after all. Aim to serve dinner about an hour after everyone arrives. That gives people enough time to settle in and munch on some appetizers without making the evening feel dragged out.

Consider if you want to serve your food buffet style or family style. Buffet style tends to be more casual, and family style is a little more traditional and refined. In some cases, the layout and size of your home and space factor in, too. 

After Dinner

Once your guests are well-fed and the table is cleared, keep the evening going with some game options. Think cards or board games that are simple and quick (i.e. nobody wants to play Monopoly). No games in the house? No problem: Grab some paper and pens and start a few rounds of charades.

If you’ve set a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere, you might notice your guests lingering well past your bedtime. While you might have visions of your coziest pajamas and a hot cup of chamomile tea on your mind (hey, you worked hard today!), remind yourself that your guests are staying so late because they’re enjoying themselves. Bravo, Little Miss Hostess! 

If you absolutely must get your guests out of your house, try to be as discreet as possible. For instance, you could ask them what their plans are for tomorrow, or who their kids are staying with if they got a sitter. Those are subtle ways to snap them back into reality and get them thinking about what they need to get home to. 

After you say your goodbyes, it might be tempting to ignore the pile of dishes in the sink and the overflowing trash can, telling yourself you’ll clean up in the morning. Resist the urge to procrastinate and get the job done that night. Not only will you be grateful when you wake up to your sparkling clean kitchen, but you might find that tidying up right away gives you time to reflect on the evening and savor it a little longer.  

Closing Thoughts

Hosting your first dinner party can be intimidating, but don’t let the stress of getting everything perfect ruin your good time. If you set a tone of gratitude for being together and enjoying each other's company, your party will be a success. Remember, your guests will still love you even if the appetizers aren’t on the table the second they arrive, or if they have to restock the ice bucket themselves.

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