A collection of dinner party ideas including menus, recipes, themes, and hosting tips to pull it off with ease. Whether you need a year of themed dinner party ideas for a monthly supper club or you’re a new host wanting to entertain at home, this guide will make it seem effortless.
WHAT'S IN THIS GUIDE?
Dinner Party at Home
If you’re looking for dinner party ideas at home, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide you’ll find creative themes and ideas for decor, as well as menu ideas for 4, 6, or 8 people.
The thing is, there are so many reasons you might find yourself needing ideas for a dinner party. There are birthday dinners and celebrations. There’s the occasion of hosting overnight guests. And there’s the wonderful tradition of hosting a theme party for no reason at all except for the love of gathering with friends.
No matter what the occasion, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind for a successful dinner party: budget, time, dietary restrictions.
Let’s jump right in to some basic tips for dinner party planning.
How to set up a dinner party
As you know, when guests arrive to your home for dinner you don’t immediately head to the dining table. First you’ll need to welcome them and create a comfortable atmosphere.
Personally, I like to have 30-45 minutes to mingle and get acquainted before sitting down to dinner. This gives guests time to have a drink and nibble on a light appetizer or cheese platter.
This also gives the host time to wrap up any last minute meal prep or cooking, and gives cooked meat time to rest.
PARTY TIP: Don’t fight the urge for guests to gather in the kitchen. Serve drinks and appetizers around the kitchen island. This allows you to be part of the conversation as you finish cooking.
Clean as you go
One of my biggest pet peeves is when my husband does the cooking and leaves all the mess to clean up LATER! While technically it may be the same amount of workload I think it’s easier and faster to clean up work stations and dishes before they pile up. Plus, if you clean as you go then your kitchen will be more inviting to guests.
No one wants to look at dirty pots and mixing bowls while they’re sipping wine and noshing on cheese.
Set the Table Ahead
Half the fun of hosting a dinner party at home is setting a beautiful table. It sets the stage for any theme party and it sets the mood for a casual or elegant occasion.
I suggest setting the table at least a day ahead, two is even better. This gives you time to make any last minute purchases if you need to.
Set up a Bar
As I mentioned above, a welcoming drink is the best way to get party guests in the social spirit. Set up a designated bar space that allows them to refresh their drink as needed.
You can set it up on the kitchen island, on a bar cart, or on a side table. It can be as simple or as fancy as you want.
Use a tray to corral bottles of red and white wine, or a pitcher of a signature cocktail. Have glasses at the ready along with some cocktail napkins. And follow these tips for serving wine at a party.
Confession: my biggest fear when hosting a dinner party is that the conversation will die. I know it’s a bit irrational since any time you have six or eight people plus wine it equals a good time.
In any case, I like to have these conversation starter ideas on hand just for peace of mind. They’re a fun idea even if everyone knows each other well!
Get help where needed
I’ve got several menus laid out for you below but it’s certainly fine to combine homemade dishes with store-bought dishes. We don’t want you to be a stressed out hostess after all.
If there’s a specialty restaurant that has the perfect side dish for your entree, then by all means order it and serve it in your own serving dish.
Leave the clean up for later
When I host at home I want to enjoy the party as much as my guests. That’s why I’ve made a habit of preparing everything as much in advance as I can. That also means leaving the party cleanup for later!
There’s no better way to kill a party vibe than to leave the table or room and start washing dishes.
Remember how I said to clean as you go, earlier? You’ll have a clean sink or counter top to place dirty plates. That clears them from the dining table and you can do the rinsing and loading the dishwasher after guests have left.
Inevitably your guests will ask if they can help you clean up. I always tell them, “No, I don’t want to interrupt the party; I’ll clean up later.” This usually ends with them thoughtfully helping me clear the plates off the table and into the sink for later.
How to Plan a Dinner Menu
When I’m planning a party menu I usually follow a formula. I do this for cocktail parties, party buffets, and dinner parties.
For a sit down dinner I usually include an entree + starch + 1 or 2 vegetables or salad + dessert. However you can also serve a main dish casserole which incorporates both the protein/entree + the starch.
- Entrees – This is the main protein like beef, chicken, pork, or fish. Although with the increase in plant based and vegetarian diets this is certainly evolving.
- Starch – Remember the classic dinner of steak and potatoes from decades past? Well, we still love the idea of serving a starch to round out our meal. Think couscous, pasta, crusty bread, potatoes, rice, etc. And remember, a bread basket is always acceptable even when served with a starchy dish like pasta.
- Vegetables – A serving of vegetables can consist of a salad or a side dish. You can serve both or choose one – whichever rounds out the meal better. Some favorites are roasted carrots, sauteed brussels sprouts, roasted asparagus, green beans, and steamed broccoli.
- Dessert – Doesn’t everyone look forward to dessert at a dinner party? This is one course where you can go completely indulgent or keep it light and casual. I like to plan my dessert around the main meal. For instance, if the meal is heavy and filling it’s probably a good idea to serve a lighter dessert. Likewise, if the main meal is simple and light, a decadent chocolate dessert is a welcome ending. You can choose from cakes, pies, trifles, brownies, or ice cream.
Keep your budget in mind. If you don’t want to spring for filet mignon for 8 people you can always serve a pork tenderloin instead.
Pay attention to timing. There are some recipes that must be made ahead, and there are some that require you to be actively cooking right up until it’s time to serve. It’s always best to balance the menu according to prep time.
PARTY TIP: If you’re serving 1 laborious recipe, then make sure everything else is easy to prepare or can be fully prepared in advance (like a cake).
Make sure you plan your dinner menu according to guests dietary needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make an entire vegan meal for one guest. It just means you’ll need to plan for an alternative option for that guest to have while the rest of you are chowing on chicken. Other dietary restrictions can apply to food allergies like peanuts or shell fish, diabetics, or simple vegetarians.
Dinner Party Menu Ideas
These party menus are categorized so that you can pick and choose according to the overall experience you want to create, or the amount of time and effort you can dedicate.
If you have a tried and true recipe, that’s a great place to start. You can always build around it.
But if you’re looking for dinner menus from appetizer to dessert you can follow these ideas.
1. Do-Ahead Casual Menu for 8
When it comes to a make-ahead dinner, it doesn’t get much better than slow cooker entrees you can prepare in advance.
- Tablescape inspiration: Create a warm and inviting atmosphere with ideas from this winter dinner party table.
- Signature cocktail: For a crowd of 8, serve this delicious spiced sangria.
- Appetizer: Our brie cups with apple butter and bacon recipe is easy to double or triple for a large group. And they’re delicious!
- Entree & Starch: Slow cooker spaghetti sauce for a crowd. Make your pasta ahead too, by following this method.
- Vegetable: Green garden salad
- Dessert: Make this quick chocolate trifle a day ahead for easy entertaining.
This easy menu takes the labor out of preparation and cooking so you’re a relaxed host.
- Tablescape inspiration: This party table with mini cheese boards is gorgeous inspiration.
- Signature cocktail: This light mezcal margarita is refreshing and a great start to the party.
- Appetizer: One of these quick & easy cheese appetizers is a great start to dinner.
- Entree & Starch: Easy Mexican pasta casserole is home style cooking and everyone I know just loves it.
- Vegetable: This beet and goat cheese salad is very simple to make.
- Dessert: After a hearty pasta meal this blackberry custard pie is refreshing but still decadent.
3. Small dinner party ideas for 4
These recipes are good to use for a small party because you can make them in smaller amounts.
- Tablescape inspiration: Keep it simple with this round table setting for casual entertaining for four.
- Signature cocktail: Serve this bourbon ginger lemonade cocktail.
- Appetizer: This is a good time for a small party cheese board.
- Entree: Baked salmon with red pepper coulis. You’ll need to make the coulis up to a day ahead to save prep time on party day.
- Starch: Mashed potatoes or crispy roasted potatoes.
- Vegetable: We eat brussels sprouts and salmon for dinner once a week! This sauteed brussels sprouts with bacon is a scrumptious dressed up version for a dinner party.
- Dessert: Hope you saved room for dessert because our chocolate chess pie is rich and satisfying.
4. Elegant Menu with Fancy Recipes
This party menu includes items you may not make every day. It’s beginner to intermediate level “fancy.”
- Tablescape inspiration: This black & white dinner party table starts with a plaid taffeta tablecloth for an unexpected twist.
- Signature cocktail: This elderflower gin fizz cocktail is perfect for a special dinner party drink.
- Appetizer: Make this dinner a surf and turf with these crab and avocado stacks as the appetizer course.
- Entree: This simple beef filet with balsamic glaze is a classic entree for a dinner party.
- Starch: Fruit and nut wild rice will pair nicely with the balsamic glaze from the steak filet.
- Vegetable: butternut squash & baby kale salad
- Dessert: Kahlua creme brulee is classic French elegance and tastes fantastic!
5. Vegetarian Dinner Party
This menu proves that plant based dinners can be just as flavorful as animal protein dishes.
- Tablescape inspiration: Here’s an easy cream & amber tablescape for a casual gathering.
- Signature cocktail: This blackberry moonshine cocktail is super festive!
- Appetizer: Spanakopita appetizer cups
- Entree & starch: Mushroom pasta with goat cheese or this linguine with sun dried tomato cream sauce.
- Vegetable: Marinated green bean salad
- Dessert: A rustic apple galette with caramel drizzle is a great way to end the meal.
6. Birthday dinner ideas for adults
When it’s time to celebrate a special birthday guy or gal!
- Tablescape inspiration: This black and white celebration tablescape is relaxed but festive. And this gold tablescape with balloons centerpiece will really wow your guests.
- Signature cocktail: Celebrate with this blackberry sparkler cocktail made with champagne or Prosecco.
- Appetizer: This apple chutney goat cheese crostini is fantastic and a make ahead recipe.
- Entree & starch: Lamb chops with goat cheese polenta is special enough for a birthday celebration. Slow cooker turkey breast is also a good easy option.
- Vegetable: Wild rice with bacon and vegetables is easy to make!
- Dessert: Serve this fluffy white layer cake with pineapple for a celebration dessert centerpiece.