Don't stress, we'll help your first dinner party go off without a hitch!
Friends sharing food and wine at a dinner party
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So you want to host a dinner party for your family and friends, but you have no idea where to start? First of all, don't panic! Yes, hosting a dinner party can seem like an overwhelming experience, but once you get the basics down, you'll be good to go.

We'll walk you through everything you need to know about hosting, plus some tips and tricks that will help your dinner party go off without a hitch.

The Gear

Nothing says "put-together" quite like a nice set of matching dinnerware, but don't let your lack of "grownup" dishes stop you from hosting. If you do want to spring for matching dinnerware, glassware, and cutlery, it doesn't have to break the bank! Plus, these one-time purchases will be so useful for dinner parties in the future.

We recommend you have matching plates (both dinner and dessert), bowls, silverware, drinking glasses, and wine glasses. A nice, reusable tablecloth is also a good item to invest in to complete the table's look.

Some other items to consider, but that are not necessary, include serving dishes, serving utensils, cloth napkins, placemats, and a pitcher.

The Menu

When it comes to what you're serving, try to keep it simple — for your own sake. You can plan a traditional three-course meal, which is an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, or you could give your guests a choice by setting up a buffet-style bar. Either way, your menu doesn't have to be complicated.

Three-Course Meal Ideas

Try bruschetta, followed by an easy, yet fancy pasta dinner, and end the night with an Italian-inspired dessert, like tiramisu or zeppole.

Try stuffed mushrooms, followed by a steak dinner paired with potatoes and vegetables, and end the night with cheesecake or chocolate cake.

Try bacon-wrapped scallops, followed by grilled salmon paired with rice and vegetables, and end the night with key lime pie or orange cake.

Try a Caprese salad, followed by chicken Marsala or chicken Parmesan, and end the night with lemon meringue pie or vanilla ice cream.

Buffet Ideas

Having a buffet-style dinner party is really easy because then you can have a theme. For example, if you do a taco night then you'll set up a taco bar with ground meat, cheese, tortillas, and toppings, plus margaritas to drink, and Latin-inspired desserts, like sopapilla or tres leches cake.

You can even have a broader theme, like backyard barbeque or comfort food, that lets you mix and match more foods.

Some other fun build-your-own meal ideas include pizza, chilidumplings, and grilled cheese. The possibilities are truly endless.

If you choose to host a buffet-style dinner party, you can set up your foods at different tables, like an appetizer table, main course table, and dessert table, so your guests can grab food whenever they want. The key to this party is to keep the food simple and make sure appetizers and desserts can be enjoyed in grab-and-go style.  

The Prep

When it comes to prepping the food, try to do it in steps leading up to your dinner party. Do not try to get everything done on the day of your party! You may be the host, but the day is still about you, so we want it to be as stress-free as possible. Try to find shortcuts wherever you can, like using pre-cut fruits and veggies, using store-bought appetizers, or prepping and freezing food ahead of time.

Chop Fruits and Vegetables A Few Days in Advance

If you're planning on having a salad or a fruit salad, cut the fruits and veggies in advance. Many vegetables, like carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, and greens can be cut two to four days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Strawberries can be cut one day in advance, while grapes, melons, and citrus can be prepped and stored for about four days in the refrigerator.

You can build your salad ahead of time, just don't add any dressing yet because it will get soggy.

Your Freezer is Your Friend

Yes, frozen appetizers make for a great shortcut, but your freezer can also be used for storing homemade foods too, specifically desserts. Fresh desserts like cheesecake, pie, cakes, and cookies can all be made in advance and frozen. You can make your dessert more than a month in advance and pop it in the freezer until you need it for your get-together.

Break Out The Hands-Free Appliances

If you can find a slow cooker or Instant Pot recipe for your party, your life will be so much easier. With these simple appliances, all you have to do is prep the food, and the appliance will do all the heavy lifting. It'll save you time from babysitting your meal and you'll be able to prep other things.

The Wine

Picking the perfect wine can be tricky, especially since everyone has a different taste when it comes to red, white, sparkling, or rosé. Try to pick wines that pair well with what you're serving — but it doesn't hurt to have some extra options for those who might not like your first choice. This is a general guideline for food and wine pairings:

  • Sauvignon Blanc + tart flavors
  • Pinot Grigio + seafood
  • Chardonnay + fish
  • Riesling + sweet and spicy flavors
  • Moscato + fruits and desserts
  • Sparkling + salty flavors
  • Rosé + cheesy dishes
  • Zinfandel + rich dishes
  • Merlot + lean meats
  • Syrah + spiced dishes
  • Pinot Noir + earthy flavors
  • Cabernet Sauvignon + red meat

The Bottom Line

When all is said and done, the most important thing about hosting a dinner party is to just have fun with it! If there are a few bumps in the road, it's OK, as long as you and your guests are enjoying yourselves. Plus, if you burn the chicken, it'll just be a funny story to tell at the next dinner party you host.