Want to know what to make for a dinner party for friends? Here’s a collection of dinner party menu ideas I’ve made for years including cocktails, appetizers, main courses, side dishes, and dessert. Whether you’re hosting out of town guests or you need ideas for a monthly supper club, this guide gives you complete meals, recipes, and hosting tips to pull it off with ease.
If you’re looking for menus for entertaining you’ve come to the right place. In this guide you’ll find menu ideas for 4, 6, or 8 people. And they’re great for occasions like birthday celebrations, hosting overnight guests, or hosting a theme dinner party for no reason at all except for the love of gathering with friends.
What Do You Serve at a Dinner Party
For a sit down dinner I usually include an entrée + starch + 1 or 2 vegetables or salad + dessert. However you can also serve a main dish casserole which incorporates both the entrée and the starch.
- Drinks & Appetizers – I love serving a signature cocktail or pitcher drink for a party of 6 or more, but you can keep it simple with a few bottles of wine if you like. As for the appetizer, I love anything bite-size or light dips. You don’t want them filling up before the main course!
- Entrees – This is the main protein like beef, chicken, pork, or fish. It can also include plant based protein like beans and lentils for vegetarian diets. The general rule of thumb is to have 4 to 8 ounces of meat per guest.
- 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. TIP: 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.
Dinner Party at Home
No matter what the occasion, here are some hostess tips to keep in mind as you’re planning.
- Keep your budget in mind. If you don’t want to spring for filet mignon for 8 people you can always serve 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.
- Remember 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, conditions like diabetes, or simple vegetarians.
- Mix & Match. 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.
- Where to start. If you have a tried and true recipe, that’s a great place to start. You can always build around it.
1. Make-Ahead Menu for 8
When it comes to a make-ahead dinner, it doesn’t get much better than slow cooker recipes you can prepare in advance. Everything from drinks to dessert can be fully made or prepped 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 phyllo cups with apple butter and bacon recipe is easy to double or triple for a large group. And they’re delicious!
- Entrée & Starch: Slow cooker spaghetti sauce for a crowd. Make your pasta ahead too, by following this method.
- Vegetable: Our green salad with oranges has fennel and avocado and looks so pretty but is easy to make.
- Dessert: Make this quick chocolate trifle a day ahead to save time. It takes less than 30 minutes to prepare!
2. Easy Dinner Party Menu for 6
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.
- Entrée & Starch: Easy Mexican pasta bake is home style cooking and everyone I know just loves it. This easy layered pasta bake is also simple to make and can be prepared without meat for a vegetarian option.
- Vegetable: This beet and goat cheese salad is very simple to make and tastes great.
- Dessert: After a hearty pasta meal this blackberry custard pie is refreshing but still decadent.
3. Small Dinner Party 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.
- Entrée: Baked salmon with red pepper coulis. You’ll need to make the coulis a day or more ahead to save prep time on party day. The sauce can be frozen for 3 months making it a great option!
- 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.
- Entrée: This simple beef filet with balsamic glaze is a classic entrée for a dinner party.
- Starch: Fruit and nut wild rice will pair nicely with the balsamic glaze from the steak filet.
- Salad: The butternut squash & baby kale salad is very delicious with a warm bacon dressing.
- Vegetable: Serve these easy roasted carrots.
- Dessert: Kahlua creme brulee is classic French elegance and tastes fantastic!
5. Vegetarian Dinner Party Menu Ideas
This menu proves that plant based dinners can be just as flavorful as animal protein dishes.
- Tablescape inspiration: Here’s an easy casual dinner tablescape with neutral cream and golden amber tones.
- Signature cocktail: This blackberry moonshine cocktail is super festive!
- Appetizer: Spanakopita appetizer cups are simple bite-size finger foods that taste fantastic!
- Entrée & starch: This easy slow cooker lentil soup serves up to 10 guests. Or try fettuccini with homemade alfredo sauce and toss in some sliced mushrooms.
- Vegetable: Marinated green bean salad is light and flavorful.
- 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: Say ‘cheers’ and celebrate with this blackberry sparkler cocktail made with champagne or Prosecco.
- Appetizer: This apple chutney goat cheese crostini is fantastic and is a make ahead recipe.
- Entrée & 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 quick and easy and would pair perfectly with the turkey breast or a whole roasted chicken.
- Dessert: Serve this fluffy white layer cake with pineapple for a celebration dessert centerpiece.
More Dinner Party Menus
- Here’s a light and rustic dinner party menu.
- This casual dinner party menu is simple and delicious.
- Serve Moroccan themed mezze plates for a unique dinner party idea.
- This Italian dinner party with wine pairing is directly inspired by our trip to Italy.
- Host an outdoor party with this alfresco dinner party menu.
- Follow this plan for an easy laid back dinner party.