12 Surprising Secrets of Hosting a Dinner Party Straight from the Experts

When I imagine hosting a dinner party, I picture myself in a beautiful dress floating around the table with a perfectly crafted ice-cold martini. My friends and I reveled in the wee hours, and when I woke up the next day, my Instagram feed was filled with dazzling photos from the night, captioned with glowing praise for my hosting abilities. (I also don’t have a hangover, and my kitchen is super clean.)

When I'm "actually" hosting a dinner party, I'm more likely to be found sweating on the stove because I'm trying to eavesdrop on the conversation to make sure everyone is getting along, and I'm constantly clicking away on a random Spotify playlist of my choice Skip” at the last minute. I'd be lucky if I didn't fall asleep face down in the middle of dessert.

To find some middle ground between my fantasies and reality, I asked experts (including chefs, cookbook authors, and influencers in the entertainment space) for their best dinner party tips... you know, aside from the basics of considering dietary restrictions Beyond knowledge and remembering where the salad fork is. (P.S. The world wouldn’t end if you stopped using a salad fork at all.)

Whether you're hosting a close-knit group of friends, hosting a holiday dinner for your family, or getting together with people from different walks of life, these tips will help ensure everyone (including yourself) has a great time .

1. Host a low-key theme party

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You don't need to dress up in costumes and fill the menu with dishes with punning names, but having a certain cohesion can elevate the night from "eating with people I know" to "legit dinner party."

“Every aesthetic, culinary and musical decision creates a mood,” says Stephanie Nass, caterer, designer and founder of home entertainment brand Chefanie. "For example, if you want a cozy vibe, choose brown instead of neon; soup instead of sushi; Norah Jones instead of Benny Benassi."

Of course, if you want to go all out on your topic, you certainly can. "[Choose] an artist with a large body of work, choose an album, and [base] all the dishes from that album," suggests chef and Food Network regular Carla Hall. "I would love Prince's Purple Rain because I want everyone to choose something purple," Hall says. Alternatively, you could assign different TikTok-famous recipes (like baked feta pasta or buttery slabs) for guests to try.

Bonus points if you want to keep people on their toes: pick a few recipe videos, assign two guests to each video, and have them go head-to-head to see whose dish is better - you'll have a video full of taste A night of tests and friendly matches.

2. Tell the truth and don’t procrastinate

“Plan the menu as soon as you decide to host,” Nurse says. "If you need special ingredients, purchase them early. Dry goods and alcohol can be purchased as much as you like. Produce can be purchased three to four days before the event. Meat, fish, and flowers should be purchased the same day or the day before. Bread must be fresh. "

One big reason why you should get a head start is so you can figure out your budget. "When I budget, I always start with the most expensive item, which is protein," says chef, cookbook author and TV host Adrianne Calvo. From there, you know how much money you have left to spend on sides, desserts, drinks, and garnishes.

3. Invitations are still a thing

"The invitation builds anticipation of what's going to happen," Hall said. But it doesn't have to be a formal paper invitation sent via snail mail; if your party isn't particularly fancy, a digital invitation or even a text message will suffice. This will prompt guests when to show up, when you expect the event to end, and (if you send Evite, Paperless Mail, Bulk Email, or Bulk Text) who will be coming.

4. Try these chilled wine tips

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No one wants to drink wine at room temperature. (Yes, this works for red wine, too.) "If you're in a pinch, take a paper towel and dampen it with cold water. Squeeze out the excess, wrap it around the bottle, and pop it in the refrigerator Medium. It cools down in five minutes," said Ayesha Curry, who was inspired to co-found a wine brand after a toast at her mom's birthday dinner. (She and her sister-in-law, Sydel Curry-Lee, launched Princener Wine Company’s portfolio brand Domaine Curry in 2018.)

"For Champagne, to keep it cooler longer, add a pinch of salt to an ice bucket filled with ice cubes," Curry says. There's a lot of science involved in this tip, but the point is, as Curry says: "It tends to keep everything nice, cold, and perfect." Cheers!

5. Offer your guests a treat upon arrival

The tone is set from the moment people walk in. "Pour them a drink and invite them to relax," says Dan Pelosi, food influencer (better known as @grossypelosi) and author of the Let's Eat cookbook. If the idea of ​​hors d'oeuvres sounds overwhelming and stressful, relax—they're just snacks. Try a simple cheese platter with charcuterie, fruit or nuts.

6. Don’t go to bed eating casserole

Many professionals rave about casseroles, largely because they are so easy to customize to your guests' dietary needs. You can make them meatless, vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free—or all of the above if you have a big group. They're also easy to prepare ahead of time; the oven takes care of the rest.

"An hour before you invite people over, you just want to light candles, organize the books on your shelves, put on your makeup and just relax," Pelosi said. Casserole lets you do just that. "Also, walking into a house and there's something in the oven and the whole house smells like a dream."

Among these expert-recommended casseroles, one reigns supreme: lasagna. (Yes, lasagna is a casserole; this is not a hot dog sandwich argument.)

7. Dining family style

" Sending [individually plated food] is now outdated," Calvo said. Instead, she recommends putting all the food on plates and letting guests help themselves. It relieves the host of the responsibility of portioning out the food and when each dish is served. Plus, it makes it easier for guests to eat enough of what they want to eat and discreetly skip what they don't eat.

8. Let people sit where they want – with some rules

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"I don't normally assign seats," Pelosi said. "I think it's a little presumptuous [to assume] that you have so much power in the world." He did encourage guests to change seats multiple times during the party, though. “I like to say, okay, now is a good time for you to connect while I’m on my next course.”

Hall also has a knack for fostering connections between guests. "You can talk about anything else, but you can't talk about what you do," she said. “As soon as someone talks about their job, [there are] a lot of assumptions, [and] what you do for a living is not really who you are. This is a party, not a social event.

9. A collective effort

Whoever said dinner parties were out of fashion is very uneasy. According to our pros, asking your guests to bring a dish not only takes some of the load off of you as the host, but also ensures they have at least one thing they'll enjoy eating.

If you're worried about ending up with three different salads and zero desserts - or you want to make sure all the flavors come together well - you can assign each guest a specific dish or a general type of dish. (Those who aren’t too keen on cooking can bring wine, ice, and other supplies.)

10. Don’t forget your decor

Want an easy way to make your dishes look impressive (yes, even if they're store-bought)? accessories. “Garnish your cocktails, your dishes, in any way — whether it’s edible flowers, fresh herbs or whatever,” Calvo says. "It's the attention to detail. That's the skill." Citrus peels, nuts and bread crumbs also play a role.

11. Retro playlists never fail

Music plays a big role in the overall mood of the night, so don't just randomly pick a Spotify playlist and hope for the best. If you have a specific theme in mind, choose one that fits.

If not, retro is almost always a crowd pleaser. “Once people have had a few drinks and the conversation gets better and people feel more comfortable, I like to do the retro thing,” Calvo said. “Like, we’re going to play music from the ‘90s, early 2000s. I don’t know if that’s because people are starting to reminisce about their college days — I don’t know what’s going to happen — but it’s always a good time. "

12. Calm TF

The most common advice from these experts may be the easiest to say but hardest to do: enjoy your party.

"Entertainment is not playing an episode of Bears in front of your friends," Pelosi said. “When people come to your house for a dinner party, the most important way to make them feel relaxed and comfortable is to make you feel relaxed and comfortable.”

Calvo agrees. “If the owner is having fun, it’s contagious.”


Stephanie Nass, Caterer, Designer, Founder of Chefanie

Carla Hall, chef

Adrianne Calvo, chef, cookbook author and television host

Ayesha Curry, co-founder of Domaine Curry, culinary expert, author, actress

Dan Pelosi, food influencer and author