Learn how to plan a successful dinner party in my quick guide to planning and hosting a party in your home. The topic of how to plan small gatherings is on my mind right now because I’m in the deep end of research, writing, and finishing up my first book, the Happy Hostess and the Gracious Guest™. My passion is to bring people together. I want to help you feel comfortable hosting small gatherings in your home and hopefully inspire you by sharing a few tips I’ve learned over the years, while hosting gatherings in my home, and planning my own wedding (during a pandemic).
2022 is the year of the dinner party!
After two years of essentially not entertaining, and minimizing interactions with friends and family, many of us are brushing off the dust of our hosting skills and could use a refresher course on how to party plan.
Party Planning 101
There are six essential elements to planning a successful party and to illustrate each element I will use the example of how to plan a dinner party for 6 to 10 guests in your home. Each party planning element can be applied to almost any gathering and can easily be built upon for larger occasions, such as a wedding.
1. Extend the Invitation
Start your dinner party planning by determining the date, the gathering time, and the location. Create your guest list and send your invitations one month in advance if you are planning to mail the invitation. While collecting RSVPs, it is important to ask guests if they have any dietary restriction, this will help you when planning the dinner menu.
Note: the length of time to extend an invitation to guests expands, when the event is larger. With a guest list under 10, one month gives you plenty of time to plan your menu and prepare for the dinner.
Hostess Tip: When you extend invitations to guests, this is a great time to set expectations. You want to take this opportunity to inform guests of a dress code and the type of event you are hosting, such as a backyard BBQ or a formal gathering.
Ask guests about any dietary restrictions, this will help you later as you plan your menu.
Guests get just as anxious as the host, so the more you communicate on the front side, the more relaxed everyone will be at the gathering.
2. It is all in the details
After the invitations have been sent, start creating the details of the party… this is the fun part! If you have set a theme, such as the floral pattern shown in the example invitation, use this theme to guide you through the next steps of the planning process of creating a menu and place cards.
Planning the menu for your event does not need to be overly complicated. If you plan to cook the entire meal on your own, I recommend selecting recipes that you have already tried and that are “fool proof”, as the lovely Ina Garten would say.
When guests arrive I love wowing them with a signature cocktail, small bite appetizers, flowers on the dinner table and around the house, and music. Every detail you add to your dinner party will show guests just how much you appreciate them for making the time to come to your home.
3. How to Create a Timeline
The key to creating a timeline is to start backwards. I know this sounds weird, but start at the end of the evening. Ask the question, when would you like for your guests to depart? Allow for guests to arrive in plenty of time to enjoy a cocktail before dinner and estimate a minimum of two hours for dinner. You might also consider creating a timeline for pre-dinner for activities, before guests arrive, so you can estimate how much time you will need to prepare the food.
4. Clearly Define Spaces
As you are preparing to setup the dinner table, consider also defining spaces in your home for entertaining, such as, where your guests will sit and will be comfortable. Determine if you will need to rearrange your living room space and if additional seating is necessary. Clearly defining spaces should be done a few days ahead of the party.
5. How to Manage Your Stress Levels While Hosting
The best way to stay calm, cool, and collected is to plan early and stay organized throughout the party planning process. I keep organized by creating four lists:
- To Do List – this list could include cleaning the house to setting the dinner table. There is a satisfied feeling of accomplishment when crossing off tasks on a to do list.
- Guest List – manage RSVPs and follow up a week before with guests who haven’t responded for a final headcount. Managing your guest list early will help you when you are at the grocery store shopping for wine and food.
- Shopping List – use your timeline to help create a grocery shopping list. From the bar all the way to after dinner coffee, be prepared to shop for each element of the party.
- Day of List – Create the last minute details, such as placing floral arrangements on the table, double checking the guest bathroom for extra toilet paper, setting out cocktail napkins.
A second way to manage your stress while hosting a dinner party is to delegate tasks. You might even ask your spouse or partner to help you with a few things ahead of the party. Or maybe you have a best friend who would make an excellent sous-chef. Here are a few tasks that can be delegated at your dinner party:
- opening wine
- setting up the bar
- bringing ice
- slicing bread
- lighting candles
6. Greeting Your Guests
It’s show time… the day of the party is here and guests are arriving. A few things to remember are to have a clearly marked front door and provide any special instructions about parking to your guests ahead of time or when you extend the invitation.
Make sure that you have built in enough time for you to take a break before guests arrive and to allow time for you to greet guests, take their coats and purses. Guests want to see the host at the front door. If you are strapped on time ask your spouse, partner, or a friend to help you with greeting guests.
Hostess Tip: Have a dedicated space for guests to set their purses and hang-up their coats, such as a unoccupied guest room or closet.