I’m sharing 5 Pro Tips for Dinner Party Success so you can feel confident when you entertain. These are the rules I’ve been following for over two decades of hosting themed dinner parties, holiday dinners, and casual dinner parties with friends. And they’ll help you host with confidence too.
5 Pro Tips for Dinner Party Success
If you haven’t been there yet, it’s only a matter of time before you will be. You’re going to find your self hosting a dinner party for friends or family and it may throw you into a panic! Have no worries – I got you!
I’ve been hosting dinner parties for two decades. I’ve cooked chicken to where it resembles dry wood. I’ve had a pitcher of juice break all over the table. I’ve had a cake I spent 5 hours making from scratch (multiple steps) turn out less than delicious. If you haven’t had a few party fouls while entertaining at home then you’re doing it wrong! LOL Just kidding…but it can make for some terrific memories and stories to tell.
We talk a lot around here about pretty tablescapes, perfect recipes and cocktails, and fun little details, but today I’m getting down to the nitty gritty. I’m sharing five pro tips for dinner party success.
This is not necessarily for holiday entertaining, which usually involves family and traditions that have their own set of rules. These are the tips for home entertaining that I apply when I want to host friends for a nice casual dinner party, ‘just because’.
1. Good people with a balance of personalities
If you’ve followed CAH for a while you probably know my #1 rule for hosting a successful dinner party – choose the guest list wisely. I don’t care how much effort and fabulous detail you put into a party, if the people aren’t fun, kind, interesting, and bringing something to the table (pun intended) then it won’t be enjoyable. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be the life of the party, they just need to be open to having a good time and put in a little effort to mingle.
2. Easy do-ahead menu & plenty of wine
Prepare a menu that won’t make you stressed out and exhausted before the first guest even arrives. Your own tried and true recipes are usually a good bet, as well as casseroles like baked spaghetti, this Mexican pasta bake, or hot chicken salad. Slow cooker entrees like white chili with chicken & sausage, or anything that can be pre-prepped and placed in the oven before guests arrive is convenient too.
Never underestimate the beauty of a salad either. It’s a perfect meal companion and you can just open a bag and put it on a plate! Don’t forget the wine! I know there are serving estimates out there but I like to play it safe and have more than enough. Brush up on these 5 basic tips for serving wine for entertaining.
It’s true that people may not drink as much during the meal while they’re chatting and eating, but lets not forget about the pre-dinner drinks and after dinner drinks.
3. Thoughtful set up, play list, lighting, etc.
Setting the atmosphere for a party is one of my favorite things to do. I like for my guests to arrive to a home that’s clear of clutter, and dimly lit. It should be a little too cool rather than too hot because body heat (and wine) will raise the temperature. I’ve talked more about setting the mood with tips for lighting here.
Have some chill tunes playing in the background. As for the music, Jazz is always my go-to choice. Some favorites are Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Doc Powell, and Grover Washington. Other good choices are small Indy bands, singer/song writers, or even classical. You can always kick it up as the party gets livelier.
4. Have a Backup plan (food, conversation starters, table game, etc)
No matter how engaging and interesting your cast of characters, it IS possible that there could be a conversation lull. Or worse, a single person takes over! A good hostess should be prepared for the worst. To combat the fear of dead air, have some conversation starters on hand or simple games that can be played right at the table. Something like “2 truths & a lie” or “would you rather…”
In the same vane, be sure to have extra food and drink on hand JUST IN CASE something goes wrong with a dish. I’m talking pantry and freezer staples that can be brought out at a moments notice. For instance pasta, rice, pizza, veggies, even frozen fish filets can be thawed in cool water and cooked in 10-20 minutes.
5. Keep children in their place so you can Relax & enjoy yourself
There’s no easy way to say it, but the truth is that when adults are having a grown-up dinner party no one wants the littles cramping their style. No one wants to edit their words or conversation topics in order to keep it kid-friendly. For the love of all things relaxing, please keep the children at bay by tucking them into bed, bringing in a sitter to keep them in a separate part of the house, or sending them to grandma’s for the night.
We actually raised our children with boundaries when it came to adult time vs. family time, so we were able to host a party downstairs while they stayed upstairs watching movies or playing quietly. Not only will your guests appreciate it, you will be much more relaxed as a hostess.
Weather you’ve hosted your first dinner party or you’re on the fence about planning one, I hope you’ll find these pro tips for dinner party success. helpful. Don’t worry about being “perfect,” just follow this hostess guide and have fun!