Food

Dinner Party Tips from 15 Genius Hosts

How to Throw a Slamdunk Dinner Party

When Alex and I were first dating, we threw a dinner party together. We were young-ish and in love and got everything totally wrong. We served boxed pasta with pesto squeezed from a tube, plus a cheese plate that was already half eaten from the night before. It makes me laugh to think about it — our poor guests! Luckily, we’ve improved a little since then, and here, we ask 15 genius hosts for their tips on drinks, dinner, music and decor. We’ll never throw a dinner party the same way again…

DRINKS

We get more wine than we need: This might be terrible but I used to think that having each friend bring a bottle of wine was the best way to outsource dinner party schlepping. Now, we know which reasonably priced wines we like and get a case delivered from a neighborhood wine shop. — Deb Perelman

Get sparkling wine in everyone’s hand as soon as they walk in the door. It’s always a celebration when we manage recreational adult human interaction! — Courtney Klein

I make this easy punch. People LOVE it and can serve themselves. — Emily Henderson

MUSIC

My go-to is the questionably-named Rich Girl Pop playlist on Songza — it’s all chill, too-cool music that I’d never be able to put together on my own. —Claire Mazur

My favorite Pandora station is Sister Nancy. Cool old school reggae. — Kendra Smoot

After dinner, I love putting on the VH1 Classics channel! It’s crowd-pleasing background music, and the hilarious 80s music videos are a fun talking point as the night winds down. — Diana Moss

SNACKS

Making candied nuts is the fastest way to jazz up a cheese plate, and this recipe for Chinese five-spice pecans is my go-to. They have an unexpected (but totally addictive) flavor that works with everything. — Erica Cerulo

I’m never quite ready when guests come, so having snacks is crucial so friends don’t get hangry while we finish up. We lightly toast baguette slices, and top with fresh ricotta, a little black pepper and a drizzle of truffle oil. Oh, and a pre-game drink before guests arrive is a real help to a harried cook. — Anna Hoffman

These marinated olives are incredibly fast/easy, but make everyone feel like they are dining at a restaurant. — Lucy Popkin

DINNER

You know what makes for a great dinner party? A giant pot of the best meatballs and a giant pot of spaghetti and a giant salad. You’re only going to make three things, and everyone will have the coziest meal in forever. — Deb Perelman

My parents taught me that fish is not a great dinner party entree, because it’s finished too quickly and doesn’t allow for the same lingering, slow meal that is picked at over the course of an hour. — Lucy Popkin

If I’m super busy, I’ll get rotisserie chickens from a gourmet grocery store. I’ll ask them to cut the chickens up neatly into quarters or eighths, and I’ll arrange them nicely on a platter with herbs and sliced lemons when I get home. Another fast but special meal is fresh pasta. It costs a bit more, but it’s still cheaper than making a fancy entree from scratch. Plus, the pasta is so good, you don’t need a complicated sauce to go with it. — Erin Jang

We love dinner party recipes that strike a nice balance between delicious, easy to make, and “seems impressive.” So our favorite is Sam Sifton’s Momofuku-inspired Bo Ssam, which is phenomenally good, yet requires the skill level of a precocious toddler. — Anna Hoffman

DESSERT

I feel strongly about serving dessert. The key is to always make dessert first, like first thing that morning. Lately I’ve been obsessed with this Salted Butter Apple Galette from Bon Appetit. But in a pinch, when I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to make dessert, I serve a sundae bar with all the fixin’s. — Anna Hoffman

Recently, I’ve been making this insanely delicious chocolate cake, which we’ll serve with two flavors of ice cream (vanilla and berry sorbet). That way there’s something for everyone and our friends leave our place full of sweetness. — Brooke Williams

AMBIANCE

Candlelight makes the entire apartment feel magical. We bought around 100 thick pillar candles for our wedding (13 years ago!), and we are still using them. — Brooke Williams

Keep a quick game on hand. Monopoly Deal is our latest favorite, and Cards Against Humanity is hilarious. It’s always a fun way to end the night. — Diana Moss

I love getting a couple bunches of bodega flowers and putting them together in cool ways, inspired by this post. Flowers are one area where quantity trumps quality in my book. — Anna Hoffman

If children are there, having a separate kids table (even two feet away) is a treat for grown-ups and kids — they love having their own space and extra love having their own condiments (gravy boat, parmesan cheese sprinkles, etc.) and a water pitcher. It’s not as messy as you’d guess. Or maybe it is, but it’s worth the fewer interruptions. — Linsey Laidlaw

We’ll have a fire going. It smells so good and creates immediate ambiance. And even adults love to roast marshmallows for dessert. — Kendra Smoot

We use cloth napkins. My husband and daughter got really into napkin folding after studying this napkin folding guide. — Brooke Williams

Our table can seat eight comfortably, so we usually try to squeeze in 10. With good friends, coziness is a virtue! I love when there’s a single conversation going instead of several separate ones, but of course it’s fun when people break into smaller chats and the volume level rises to a boozy buzz. — Anna Hoffman

GUESTS

As a guest at a friend’s home, I usually offer to wash dishes after dinner, and I like when they say yes instead of refusing! — Lena Corwin

I’m a terrible conversationalist, so I keep a running list of anecdotes or stories I’ve heard on my iPhone. I know it’s lame but it’s better than being a boring party guest! (I also love the book What to Talk About!) — Jordan Ferney

When it comes to host gifts, olive oil should be the new wine. I mean, think about it: When you get a bottle of wine as a host, generally, you drink it that night or at some point within the week and generally, you sort of forget who gave it to you. The gift of wine is a wonderful gesture — I’m not saying it’s not — it’s just that olive oil can sometimes be more wonderful. Because it usually catches you by surprise and because it can be stretched out for weeks, forcing you to remember the giver’s generosity every time you make a homemade vinaigrette or a eat a bowl of Sunday Minestrone, which demands a high-quality drizzle upon serving. — Jenny Rosenstrach

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I’m so inspired to have a dinner party! What advice would you add?

P.S. The #1 thing to have when guests come to your house.

(Top photo by Orlando Suero. Second photo by Time & Life Pictures. Last photo by Owen Franken/Corbis.)

  1. Andrea says...

    I always try to invite one or two people who I know are good and carrying the conversation and drawing out the introverts (I include myself in this group).

  2. Am says...

    My great aunt made the best, easiest, I-can’t-tell-exactly-how-she-made-this-but-it’s-amazing dessert:

    Line a jelly roll pan with ice cream sandwiches. Poke with a skewer all over. Pour a decent amount of Kahlua (or Bailey’s, if you prefer) over them.

    Cover with whipped cream or Cool Whip, and freeze for a few hours to let the flavors meld.

    Topped with toasted sliced almonds just before serving, and slice into whatever size portions you wish.

    It sounds so simple, but tastes really fancy and like it has way more complicated ingredients!

  3. Daisy says...

    I have a necessities bar in my bathroom with toothpicks, floss, pads, tampons, gum, hairspray, hand sanitizer, and lotion. For one, it keeps guests for having to ask for amenities, which can sometime be embarrassing. Sometimes for fun and depending on the crowd, I will throw something crazy on it like condoms or lube, just to see if anyone notices. Someone always does and it can lead to some pretty hilarious conversations.

  4. Polly says...

    Thank you! I was almost not going to read this article because I was afraid if feel overwhelmed. These are really helpful, practical tips! And I love hearing people’s different perspectives.

  5. Lauren Bauer says...

    I purchased a few strands of battery operated led string lights and strategically placed them around in live greenery. It made the house look so festive. I left one strand to loosely place around a set of champagne flutes on a silver platter and handed each guest a glass a they arrived. Later in the evening the platter was set on the bar and used to hold open bottles of wine.
    Everyone commented on what a great idea it was.

  6. Nathana Kauffmann says...

    I wonder what ways you could boost single conversations for 10 or more guests?
    Does anyone have any suggestions or tips such as table games etc.?

    Such a brilliant post and excited for the next dinner party!
    Ps. The comments have been fab too… serious wisdom (bows)!!

  7. marla says...

    My mother in law (who lives in California) frequently makes grilled veggies drizzled with olive oil, grilled steak or chicken and a big, beautiful salad. So simple and laid back but delicious and impressive when done well!

  8. Eileen says...

    All this makes me think of is Mindy Kaling’s book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”

  9. I find that its good to have a few go to desserts, that can be made ahead that way you only really need to worry about the dinner prep side of things!
    My favourite deserts are:
    http://erin-marees-antics.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/best-ever-loaded-brownies.html Served with ice cream and maybe a nice chocolate or caramel sauce
    http://erin-marees-antics.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/flourless-chocolate-cake-with-almond.html Served with cream or ice cream and fresh berries.
    Both of the above can be made ahead and frozen if required plus don’t take much time to prepare.
    I also love getting guests involved with the food prep side of things, I will often do pizza nights and prepare everything (dough, sauce, cheese grated and toppings chopped) before people arrive and start making the pizza 15 minutes before people are due to come and when they rock up they get involved and it prevents any of that awkward stage and its fun to do.
    For an easy drink I mix sparkling mineral water with lemonade and fresh lemon slices, its refreshing, not overly sweet and looks great in a clear jug.

  10. El says...

    @Claire Mazur Songza playlist is Genius, thanks so much!

  11. Have a BBQ! That’s definitely the way here in the Southern Hemisphere, followed by a dip or something :) Easy, casual and the men could do all the cooking! haha!

  12. laeti says...

    Thanks for some great tips, I especially love the Olive oil as a gift!
    If I don’t have time to make dessert, I usually offer a plate of assorted macarons and we love to finish our dinner parties by offering homemade Mint tea (green tea + fresh min leave in the pot and sugar to taste).
    Also, lately, I love to prepare a big pot of veggie soup to start the meal: really easy, it sets a cozy mood and you can prepare even the day before!

  13. Chelsea says...

    I love to cook and like the idea of a dinner party, but my house is tiny. We don’t have a formal dining room, and only one living room with limited seating, so I don’t want to cram my friends in. We usually limit our hosting to the warmer months when we’re able to utilize the backyard as well. I wish we could host year round, but I don’t know how to remedy the feeling of confined quarters.

    • Patti Sosa says...

      I just tell everyone we are having a New York City party – not enough room/no seats aren’t a problem there! It can be fun to be sandwiched in, just limit the time.

  14. Nina says...

    I have only thrown huge parties…like police come, say its too loud – find out its most of the police force and they get off work and join us later…so my ideas might not be very applicable but….

    1. don’t keep anything you like in your bathroom, people act like animals in there, and I had some precious decorative ceramics broken.

    2. I always get bottled water and keep it in a cooler at the front door.

    3. I’m super strict about not drinking and driving. I let people crash at my place, or call a taxi but no one who drank is leaving with their own keys/car. If a group comes, I make sure they have a designated driver and I make sure that person doesn’t drink. I will bring them soda and water all night so I know they aren’t getting alcohol.

    4. I try to have several separate areas for people—one room with the dj/music, one with seating set up for people to talk, one for people to go outside and smoke, and then the kitchen…why oh why does everyone congregate in the kitchen no matter how small? that is my goal when I buy another house a HUGE kitchen!

    5. As the party winds down or when its just starting, I do have games Catch Phrase is a favorite.

    For family parties I make something similar to the cake layers but cook a brownie mix in a pan, then put a 1/2 gallon of softened ice cream on top, freeze, then a container of cool whip on top of that. Let it soften in the fridge before cutting.

  15. Megan says...

    Joanna, I had asked for more dinner party posts in a comment a while ago — THANK YOU! I loved reading these tips and insightful comments. :) I’ve heard this before (I wish I could take credit), but I try to always have something unexpected. Be it a small favor for guests to take home, or a twist on a dish. Surprise and delight!

  16. Caz says...

    Such great suggestions!
    For me, the more chilled the atmosphere is, the easier it is for guests to feel comfortable. That starts with the host feeling relaxed! Foods that can be prepared well in advance are the best. In winter, a slow cooker is amazing! Lamb shanks, curries, tagines etc are all awesome and just need simple sides and crusty bread.
    During summer, when you might not want something warm or heavy, I think sushi is awesome! It can be made in advance and kept in the fridge. Plus, it’s very easy to cater for vegetarians and those with gluten intolerance (just make sure you buy gluten-free soy sauce).
    A great simple summer dessert is fresh strawberries left to soak for 20 minutes in lemon juice and sugar, served with good vanilla icecream.

    Gosh, now I wish I had enough space in my teeny tiny flat to host a dinner party!

  17. Chelsea says...

    I LOVE that ice cream cake idea! We’re having friends over tomorrow and I’ve added that to my list!
    One of my favorite desserts to serve is so simple and so humble: fruit salad, but not your usual suspect. I like to use whatever is in season but you can’t go wrong with a mix of sliced strawberries, blueberries, halved green grapes, pomegranate seeds, and raspberries. Right before serving, add a teeny drizzle of honey and chopped fresh mint (the secret ingredient!).
    I always get the most compliments on this! It’s so refreshing and clean, especially after a big meal!

  18. Great tips, especially about the olive oil as a hostess gift and spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. I make Ina’s weeknight bolognese for a lot of my dinner parties and it goes over really well. The dinner party angle somehow elevates a big bowl of pasta : )

    I would also add that the hostess should wear something comfortable and dark. I used to try to dress to impress with a chic outfit but then I got so worried about getting it dirty, or needing to readjust a complicated top, that I started feeling frazzled. Now I usually wear slim black pants and a black or dark top (to disguise any spills or messes…) Helps keep me sane!

  19. Anitra says...

    I loved this post! Just loved it. :)

  20. Bek says...

    Ahhh I’m so inspired!! What a wonderful post (and comments!) :)

  21. Here in Australia, we can’t access the same apps that you can in the U.S. Seems iTunes is hellbent on keeping us from giving them money.

    Wondering if any of you generous Cup of Jo readers would mind copying and pasting the tracklist for “Rich Girl Pop” playlist from Songza, so that I can at least source some of the songs individually?

    • I was curious too!
      Hip Love (Jamie XX Remix)
      Belispeak by Purity Ring
      Aware by Leland
      Valerie by Amy Winehouse
      Why Even Try by Theophilus London
      New Beat by Toro Y Moi
      3 Days by Rhye

    • Thank you for this! I was curious also! And thanks to Mindy for finding some.

  22. What…..I can’t serve boxed pasta!! Haha, kidding! (But my family still has to eat it). I LOVE dinner parties; hosting them, going to them…so look forward to a dinner party…great friends, yummy food and just so much fun! In the winter we focus on comfort foods, such as a good beef stew and fresh baked biscuits, with a rich, chocolate dessert….thanks for the post, I have pinned some new recipes!

  23. We are hosting a Friendsgiving dinner this weekend. How timely, this advice! I love the flower advice.

  24. We get the record player going and have guests take turns choosing a record to play. It always makes for great conversation and storytelling. There should always be some snacks at the ready (love the sweet and spicy rosemary nuts on food52). I’m in agreement, something sparkly or a new cocktail feels like such a festive way to begin the night. When guests offer to help, take them up on it and let them chop herbs, juice some lemons, or wash a few dishes. I always feel more welcome as a guest when the host allows some help in the kitchen. Dinner is always something I made in advance or something baking in the oven and ready to go after guests arrive. Homemade individual pot pies are always a hit. You can make them in advance, bake them up, and with a fresh simple salad, you’re set. When I’m in a pinch, buying a couple nice chocolate bars and a good bottle of bourbon makes a great dessert. As a guest at parties I love to bring the host something to nibble on for breakfast, either something homemade or great pastries from a bakery.

  25. In Greece we regularly received bottles of wine as entertaining or welcome gifts. Ironically the plainer the bottle, the better it typically is! The home made stuff (which is AMAZING) actually comes in liter-sized water bottles :)

  26. Capucine says...

    We threw a barbecue recently and too many people had conflicting events, so nobody came until an hour and a half in. Mortifying. Since then, I’ve thrown in the towel: I don’t think ‘just do it and you’ll get better’ is true in my case! Uncle!

  27. WMom says...

    We had an impromptu dinner party the other night. I made four cheese pizzas -everyone was happy (one without sauce). It was 4 adults and seven boys! Everyone had a great time!

  28. nanne says...

    for a fun dinner party, the host/hostess needs to be relaxed and able to have fun. no martha stewart dinner prep theater unless you are an experienced cook/host and enjoy that :).

    plan a menu that can be made ahead of time. i love a big pot of seafood gumbo. can be made a day or three ahead and can be reheated and left to stay warm on the stove (can make a vegetarian version also if need be). buy a selection of good bread, prep a salad the day before, make the dressing/viniagrette several days ahead of time. a handful of easy, make ahead appetizers–make sure most of them are ok at room temp. set up your bar and set the table ahead of time. start cleaning/picking up your house several days ahead of time. i hate to bake, so always buy a good dessert from a local bakery. buy plenty of ice morning of/midday, store in freezer…if no room there, set up a cooler in a bedroom, garage, porch, etc.

    have a lovely ambiance…low lighting (not too dark), candles, background music. great each guest warmly and make sure everyone is introduced if all do not know each other. accept help in the kitchen, making drinks, etc–it makes your guests feel at home and part of the evening.

    have the bar set up (with some easy nibbles like spiced nuts) and the table set–can be done several days ahead. get your coffee maker ready to go the morning of.

    loved all of the ideas posted here!

    this all sounds so rigid when i read back through it:), but if you just take a few minutes to prep everyday the week before your dinner it will make it so much easier and enjoyable for all the night of!

  29. Thank God my fiancé is a master at timing everything so that the meat always comes out perfect – because I am about 10 years away from mastering that skill! Between the 1 yr old running around and my large pregnant belly, this thanksgiving I am doing as much as I can the night before and then letting him deal with the bird! Love these tips!!

    xoxo http://www.touchofcurl.com

  30. Elizabeth R says...

    Any way we could get some ideas from Deb on the wine? Maybe a separate blog post or just a quick comment? LOVE this post/these kind of posts. Thanks!

    • Zoe says...

      Yes please!

  31. I just always try to make everyone feel included by asking a lot of questions and connecting the people that don’t know each other. I love these tips!

  32. Kate says...

    So this is slightly off topic but I’m due to have my first baby December 12. My family isn’t local but my boyfriend’s family is. Problem is, while sweet and generous, their environment isn’t exactly comfortable for me or a new born… So I’m planning on skipping out but want to offer an open door policy at our small townhouse for friends and family to stop by for the holiday and meet the baby. Advice on what to have on hand as a brand new Mama ?

    • Amaia says...

      My advice is no open house policy! You’re going to be extremely tired and emotional. Remember that babies get very tired with visits too, specially when being held by too many visitors.Visits should be short and useful! (Helpin with laundry, bringing food,etc)

    • Alexis says...

      I second Amia’s advice. Having a brand new baby (or really up to a year depending on the person. ha!) is a perfectly, socially acceptable excuse to not to go a party. People understand that you and the baby need to rest. If there are certain friends you’re dying to see—invite them them over and casually mention you could use some help with…laundry, picking up groceries, etc. Most friends will be glad to feel useful, especially at this time of year.

    • Kimberly says...

      You’ll be tired, baby will be tired, baby will be eating every two hours (sometimes more frequently!) you’ll be healing and really, I think for the first month or maybe more, you really want to keep baby’s visits selective. They don’t have an immune system built up at all, so you want to make sure everyone is healthy and washes their hands before they hold the baby. That’s why having your family vaccinated is often reccomended when you have a newborn.
      And you wouldn’t believe how important it is to be able to sleep when you can…so scheduling anything especially this far out can be really difficult.

    • Amy says...

      Don’t do it unless you are comfortable retracting the offer of you aren’t up for it!

      My nipples were in such rough shape that I was topless for the first few weeks post-birth. And I was sleeping every chance I got.

    • I’m due with my second Dec. 15, and I plan on just staying home with my family! I am making cinnamon rolls and putting them in the freezer for Christmas morning- but just for us! And letting my husband make something for Christmas dinner. We told my family they can stop by IF things are going well- but any visitors should bring YOU something. That being said, I also froze dough for Christmas cookies- enough to serve people if they come by.

    • Missnicoleo says...

      I just had a baby at the beginning of the year so I will tell you….no matter how much you think you want to have an open door, do not do it!! 1 visitor a day, they should be bringing you food, and helping with life tasks or holding the baby while you sleep! Oh how unaware I was. And yes, I was also topless for at least 6 weeks. I had an easy easy birth and an easy easy baby.

    • Elz says...

      Agree. Don’t do it. Just cocoon at home.

    • Kate says...

      You ladies are so great. I know I’m not really going to be up for a lot of visitors and most of the people we know understand that, it’s more to cover the more sensitive people (like baby’s grandma that makes everything soooooo personal) it seemed like the only way to not seem (in her mind) that I was trying to keep the baby (and her son for that matter) from her on Christmas. I might just keep all of this to myself and just not be up for it Christmas Day and everyone else will just have to deal with it (I’ll have my mom stock me up with some festive snacks before she leaves after we have the baby) !

    • Loesie says...

      I know lots of people who have one low-key get-together about 6 weeks after their baby is born.
      That way, you’ll have a relatively peaceful first 6 weeks :-) Anyone who wants to see the baby like friends and more distant family can meet the baby then.
      Ps:Referring to the other comments about sensitive breasts from breast feeding , I cannot recommend MotherMates enough! Total lifesavers!!!
      Good luck to you XO

    • Sara B says...

      Congratulations! The first couple months are difficult, but babies are so fun. All of this advice is spot on. I think the other thing to consider is that your boyfriend will probably be really freaking exhausted too, so he might not want to go be social either.

    • Nina says...

      My friend had a preemie and wouldn’t let anyone come during winter for her first two years at home (she was in the hospital almost 9 months). My son was a preemie also and got out during RSV season…I see nothing wrong with wanting to protect your child. He was supposed to be born during Dec and came in Oct and came home the last week in Nov so…unless people had vaccinations (and only certain young babies get them monthly for RSV) they weren’t allowed near him. That’s a way to make it not personal…just have a blanket rule for everyone! If anyone came near him, they had to wash hands before going near him. And if anyone had sniffles they didn’t come in (because RSV is often like a common cold for most people).

  33. These are great tips. And perfectly timed since I’m planning to host a Friendsmas in December. The best piece of advice I’d have for a dinner party is to not serve any new recipes. It really cuts down on the stress. As for what to bring to a dinner party, I always ask the host the day of if they need me to bring anything specific. That way if they realize last minute they forgot to pick up cheese for the cheese plate or whatever else I can save them the hassle of having to run back out.

  34. the very first dinner party my husband and i ever hosted together was for the lunar new year. we did asian hot pot (it was combination of vietnamese, chinese and thai). with the exception of making the stock beforehand, everything was easy. all the raw foods was at the table and our guests cooked their meats to their liking.

    it was SO MUCH FUN. a year later, we did it again to the same success.

  35. I love dinner parties because I love good company and food. When I host parties, I like to serve food family style as it feels more intimate. My tip for hosts is to be aware of all your guests and make them feel included. I’ve been to some parties where friend’s partners are unintentionally ignored because friends have their own in jokes and memories.

  36. I can’t wait until I have a table big enough to host Friday Night Meatballs (Pizza!)

  37. Samantha says...

    I like Ina Garten’s tip of wearing slippers to make guests feel more comfortable.

    • Cindy says...

      My family has become obsessed with a game that’s a great mix of pictionary and telephone. It sounds complicated, but I promise you will be in stitches by the end. This works great with 5-12 people, and really all ages works as long as you can read.

      1. Everyone sits in a circle. and receives one pen/pencil and small pieces of paper numbering the people in the group (so if there are 8 people, everyone gets 8 small pieces of paper in a stack)
      2. Everyone rights a short sentence on the first piece of paper (something like, mom loves fast cars, or the stockings were hung by the chimney with care…)
      3. Everyone passes their stack of paper to the left
      4. Each person reads the sentence, moves that page to the back of the stack and draws a picture illustrating the sentence on the new sheet of paper
      5. pass to the left
      6. the next person looks at the picture, and on the next sheet of paper, writes a sentence describing the picture
      7. Keep passing around the circle and alternating drawing and writing until everyone ends up with their first description.
      8. Everyone shares the progression of the story.

      It’s free, fun, good for all ages, and literally hours of laughter and entertainment. I promise!

  38. Rosemary says...

    Really great advice – thank you! On this note, would you have some recommendations for some games to play at a family dinner party – no small kids , everyone over 18, nothing too raunchy!

    • Alex says...

      Catchphrase! It is SO FUN and such a crowd-pleaser.

    • Lauren E. says...

      Everyone in my family (parents in their 60s, kids in our 30s) love love loves Cranium and Guesstures. I’ve never laughed harder in my life than watching my mother, who hates to look foolish, dancing around acting out Mae West.

    • S. says...

      The game of things. We’ve played it with large family groups ranging from 9-78. And same goes for Catchphrase too. Both are so much fun.

    • Kate says...

      Best game EVER: Empire. The first round is usually a little confusing, but after that everyone will be obsessed. Last year a group of us (all in our 30s) played for 5 hours, no exaggeration. Here’s how it works:
      1. Each person writes a name on a small slip of paper. Ideally, it will be someone most people will have heard of. (Eg: Elmo, Eli Manning, Obama, Cat in the Hat, friend’s name in the room).
      2. Put all the names in a bowl and have one person read them out loud, one time only. You won’t look at the names again.
      3. Choose someone to start. They get one guess to match someone in the circle to one of the names read aloud. (“Joanna, are you George Clooney?”)
      4. If the guesser guesses correctly, the person they guessed joins their “empire”. They should move to sit by each other. Now they get to work together to guess another person and if they guess right, their Empire keeps growing, until they miss a guess.
      5. When a person or team guesses wrong, keep going around the circle. The winner is the last person guessed!

      The trick is remembering all the names that were read in the bowl. Sometimes even though one person or team has guessed almost everyone, they can still lose if that last person remembers/guesses the leader of the Empire! The bonuses of this game are that it requires minimal props (pens and paper) and can be played with the whole family or with your adult friends. We’ve found that the ideal number is 8+. After the first round, people learn to disguise who they write down – for example, your golfing uncle may automatically write a golfer for the first round, but if they’re guessed really easily maybe the next round they’ll put Adele or something. It also gets hilarious if multiple people put in the same name. Give it a try!!

    • Nina says...

      I agree Electronic Catch Phrase…so.much.fun!

  39. Cynthia says...

    My first dinner party decades ago was Hamburger Helper lasagna, so I think I’ve got you beat, J. I’ve been through the whole Martha perfection stage and am now in my Ina just-roll-with-it stage. It is great fun to serve simple, seasonal food. I have a large outdoor garden and my all time favorite is to set one long huge table and while my husband grills steaks and salmon, I slice a dozen gigantic heirloom tomatoes, plop a few balls of burrata on the platter, drizzle with olive oil and place that platter and a few crisp baguettes and cold butter on the table. A week before I would have made chocolate chip cookies and a few days before the gathering I would have put vanilla or coffee ice cream in between two, wrapped in waxed paper, and put back in the freezer. I bring out the ice cream sandwiches sometime after dinner when folks are still enjoying the table conversation. The children run free and climb trees and I don’t worry about their sticky fingers. A galvanized tub of ice with plenty of sparkling beverages and white wine. Red on the table. I have a wonderful set of enamelware we use outside and I don’t hesitate to use my best white linen tablecloths and napkins. If I’m inspired to do an appetizer it’s often raw oysters and I let the guests who know how to shuck have at it. There is zero stress, we hose down the outdoor furniture the next morning, and every one is happy. To the readers who fear hosting…just do it! It becomes easier with practice and these parties are what you will remember all your life.

    • Mary says...

      Agree so much with your advice. Calm happy hosts plus good unfussy food equals best dinner parties. Yours sound extra special mind!

    • um. i’d like to attend your backyard party, you make it sound SO FUN.

    • This reads like a novel/the best dinner party of all time. Count me in.

    • Jill Palumbo says...

      I agree – can I come to your party? Sounds wonderful!

    • Cait says...

      This definitely sounds great and is awesome for those of us in the Northeast in the summer…but unfortunately for Thanksgiving and Christmas the weather is just not warm enough for it. We’re stuck doing the best we can inside!

  40. Meredith says...

    Creme brulee. You can make them in advance, and then whip out a bowl of sugar and a kitchen torch after dinner and let everyone carmelize their own. As long as people aren’t totally smashed, a (small) blowtorch adds fun to any dinner party.

    • Anne says...

      “A blowtorch adds fun to any dinner party” –classic

  41. I don’t drink wine, so I never bring wine as a guest. I often bring olive oil, or a good loaf of bread with butter and sea salt, or a box of breakfast pastries so the host can have a great breakfast the next day.

  42. Petra says...

    The best dessert tip: I call it Ice cream orgasm. You only need 2 things: the best vanilla ice cream you can find or afford and extra virgin pumpkin oil (it has very dark color and nutty taste). Just pour it over the ice cream. Everybody loves it but they can hardly guess what is it .

    • El says...

      Oooo !

  43. Annie says...

    Yes to the ice cream loaf cake! I have done this a few times before an it’s always easy, always delicious, and always a stunner. It’s infinitely customizable, too. Shutterbean.com has a bunch of recipes for this kind of dessert if you need inspiration!

  44. I love making homemade popsicles as a dinner party dessert. They are no mess, super easy, look very impressive and guests can even leave with them. No clean up is the greatest. Check out my latest recipes on http://www.thegramercyfox.com

  45. Any tips on elegant yet easy table setting??

    • Mary says...

      Yes, keep it low so your guests can see over it. I often just use tea lights and a small posy of flowers!

    • Melissa says...

      Small nicely potted house plants make a beautiful centrepiece. The great part is you can always have one on hand for impromptu dinner parties. Add a scattering of beeswax and/or white candles, and you’re good to go.

  46. Jo says...

    Thank you so much for these genius tips! I really needed them! :-)

  47. Love this post! I love how you brought in all of the entertaining bloggers to give their best tips! Definitely will reference this for Thanksgiving.

  48. Dinner parties scare me. Scare is an understatement. I am talking actual terror. I LOVE the idea. I want to have friends to dinner. My friends are not judgmental. I am not that bad a cook. Yet paralysis accompanies the idea of the dinner party. 2016 is the year I address this. This post has just added to my resolve. Thanks xx
    https://champagneinateacup.wordpress.com/

  49. Whitney says...

    Above all I want people to feel welcomed and comfortable. I always set the table ahead of time, arrange fresh flowers in plain view and have music going -either on the turntable or a Pandora station. I want people to see their visit is a special occasion. Nothing is worse than walking into a dinner party and seeing that the table isn’t set and the hostess didn’t tidy up the house. Also, I know pets are important to some people but not everybody appreciates a dog wandering around the table during dinner time. Put them in the other room and please don’t make guests feel bad about it.

  50. Tina says...

    The host gift idea was great! As we head in to party season, I’d love to hear what other go-to gifts people bring.

    • Sally says...

      I like bringing something homemade they can eat for breakfast in the morning, granola/yogurt, muffins or a quiche are nice. After a party, it’s nice not to have to worry about breakfast the next day!

    • nanne says...

      ideas for hostess gifts:

      –i always love receiving wine as a hostess gift. when i take it to a party i will say something like “just replacing what i will probably drink tonight” or “this is for your ‘wine cellar'” so the host does not feel that they have to serve it that night.

      –good, monogrammed or just one initial disposable guest towels.

      –a selection of fun cocktail ingredients like bitters, stuffed olives, simple syrups, etc. in a clear gift bag maybe with a cool mixology guide or book.

      –there are so many great, small batch liquors now. a bottle of scotch, bourbon, vodka, etc from a interesting small batch maker.

      –if the hostess/host seems stressed just leave whatever gift you bring somewhere that is not in sight, but where they can find it when they clean up. it’s fun to find a surprise.

      –if the dinner party is being given by a really good friend, call/text and tell them that you are their hostess gift :). don’t just ask them what you can do to help (most people will say that they are fine bc they either can’t think of anything off the bat or just don’t want to impose), give them some concrete options: pick up ice, or whatever need to be picked up the day of; run errands; come over early and set the last minute food out/open wine/whatever tasks need to be taken care of while the hostess gets ready; help prep the food; etc. i have never been turned down on this offer :).

    • Caroline says...

      As a non-drinker I love the suggestion of oil too. Other gifts I’ve given or received that were great are:
      -high quality maple syrup
      -specialty vinegar (white or fruity balsamics in particular)
      -scent diffusers, instead of candles
      -jams, preserves, or special sauces
      -vacation souvenirs (our friends travel regularly) like woven items or cultural relics for our tchotchke shelf
      -chocolate covered dried fruits
      -fresh nut or seed butters
      -cigars

  51. I grew up in a family that never had very much money, or even that many friends, but they love to entertain and I learned at a young age the kinds of things that really pleased and excited guests.

    It’s definitely not necessary to spend tons of money, and I learned that the hard way when I left college and started hosting dinner parties on my own. So much money I spent that I didn’t have! I think the tips listed here are so great, particularly when it comes to serving good drinks and having food available right away. Here are a few things I would add…

    – It seems obvious, but always be sure you have enough places for everyone to sit. I can’t tell you the amount of dinner parties I’ve been to at friends houses where everyone was sitting on the floor, because there were enough seats for maybe two people. That’s fine when you’re in college, but if you don’t have enough couch or table space for more than six people, then don’t try to throw a dinner party for 12.
    – This sort of goes off of the tip about buying extra wine, mentioned above, but I think the same goes for food. Always make sure you make more than enough, and that may mean sticking to a simple pasta dish, or large couscous salad, or something else that can easily be made in bulk. Those things tend to keep her really well for the next few days, and it’s worth spending a little extra to make sure that guests don’t finish one serving and then have nothing left to eat.
    – Joanna has written posts about this before, but I think it bears repeating: always have your bathroom stocked with toilet paper, and a plunger. A lovely scented candle, or an odor spray is also essential. There’s nothing worse than being a guest at someone’s house and being stranded with a disaster in the bathroom!
    – This should go without saying, but I’m embarrassed to admit how many friends I have that don’t abide by this rule: NEVER EVER EVER ask your guests to reimburse you, or contribute monetarily to your dinner party. It’s one thing if you decide to open it up for people to bring some beer or wine, or if the type of dinner party you’re having opens it up for a family member or friend to contribute a dish or an appetizer, but if you decide to throw a party and you pick the menu, the cost is all on you. If you can’t afford to host your friends, then don’t.

  52. I love the idea of hosting dinner parties but I’m too chicken to actually host one! Haha! I take it wayyy to seriously and get major hostess neurosis!

    When Luna was a baby we did host a few dinners after her bedtime. We would have people arrive at 7. But now that she’s a toddler and we have no babysitter I can’t really imagine hosting a dinner party. I need more tips on hosting dinner parties with kids! Maybe I can find a sitter to at least play with the kids while we eat.

    Lendy
    http://www.twoplusluna.com

    • Rosemary says...

      You would be surprised how small kids can rise to the occasion of an exciting dinner party – especially when everyone pays attention to them and makes a fuss about them! I used to Include my kids in the festivities by giving them a drink in a special glass, not fussing about what they wore, giving them a lovely treat to eat And giving them a movie to watch when they get cranky. Then off to bed, while your partner takes charge of the party for a half hour or so. Folks are very understanding about kids !

  53. Mary says...

    I remember the first dinner party I gave. three complicated-to-cook courses! Yeah, all i can say is it was a good way to learn – never again! Now, i cook simple things that need little attention so i can concentrate on the guests. I usually just cook two courses, serving nibbles when people arrive.

    The worst dinner party I ever went to was when one the hosts totally ignored me for twenty five minutes. We didn’t know each other well and I think it was because he was harried but still, I was a mere 3 metres away maximum and there was just one other person there-his girlfriend, I just felt so unwelcome. He then, bless him talked on his phone during the dessert… I was so bored by the whole evening (i kept asking them questions to start conversations) I thought I might bring my phone into the bathroom and text my friend to ring me so I could ‘fake need to go home NOW!’ (My boyfriend was working). Really besides never going round there again, it brought home that the company is way more important than the food. Granted the food that night was crap too ;))) ha ha!

    • Mary says...

      Ignored me totally on arrival I mean.

  54. Hai Yen says...

    I’m definitely going to start using these suggestions at my next dinner party! And coincidentally, we’re having a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year and plan to serve bo ssam!

  55. We are a big fan of stew with homemade bread as the main- most of the work for both is done hours before, and its a nice cozy meal. We start with cheese and/or salad and end with dessert (usually we outsource this or do a good make-ahead like chocolate pudding- yes I usedCup of Jos recipe for this at least once!). I agree on the goal of a relaxed host/hostess!

  56. oh my! i love all these suggestions, i want to incorporate almost all of them! absolutely love the olive oil gift idea!

    the key for me is to be a relaxed host. I prepare before hand so i can also enjoy myself. I used to get carried away with appetizers – cause those are my fav to make, but now know that if you fill up your guest on appetizers they won’t have much room for dinner!

    http://www.footnotesandfinds.com

  57. Hai Yen says...

    I’m definitely going to start using these suggestions at my next dinner party! And coincidentally, we’re having a non-traditional Thanksigiving dinner this year and plan to serve bo ssam!

  58. Emmanuella says...

    For ambience, I suggest tea lights in corners because it opens up the space and invites guests to feel comfortable anywhere in your place.

    • This is such a good idea!! So subtle, but it would totally work (if I were the guest) to make me feel comfortable being the first one to sit on the sofa, or venture out on the patio! Love this!

    • Tina, NYC says...

      Thank you I needed a recipe like this and i will try it soon.

      And can I add that I became the instant hit at a kid party, before I had my own children, because I brought fresh popcorn. The kids went nuts for it!

      Lesson learned and now my own kids love it too.

  59. Those five-spice pecans sounds amazing. I always think the key to a great party is the snacks!!

    Nat Lewis
    Rocky Mountain Decals – Cute Wall Decals for kids, and kids at heart!
    http://www.rockymountaindecals.ca

  60. This post is so timely! I’m actually hosting my first “real” dinner party this weekend, and I was inspired to do so after reading the “Friday Night Meatballs” article which you once linked to in weekend links :)

  61. Megan says...

    I throw monthly dinner parties (similar to the spaghetti and meatball nights!) so I’m quite used to hosting ten people around my table. I would agree with most of the questions above and add for the host to wear comfortable shoes or even no shoes and a great pedicure. People are always so uncertain whether to leave their shoes on, take them off, etc… I want to show them that they can feel at home, do whatever pleases them. It’s my tiny way of creating a comfortable and casual environment (maybe no one even notices!).

    • Ana says...

      I do the exact same thing! I am always barefoot with nice pedicure, so people (specially the ladies) feel at home and also feel comfortable taking their shoes off. Guests are in control of the music; there are iPads and Apple TV for people to hold music videos contests naming 80’s bands; I make a lot of easy dips with veggies and toast (butter with pesto; hummus; baba ganoush; or tzatziki) so people can nibble while waiting for everyone to arrive.
      A lot more wine than you think you need and lots of small bottles of cold beer are lifesavers if the night stretches on.
      The main course is always something huge and comforting: curry, lasagnas, risottos or casserole.
      I just don’t make cocktails or bake dessert. I buy home-made ice-creams, throw together a cheese plate with grapes and walnuts and serve espresso and whiskey. I think it works wonderfully, even though I once asked a chef to cook for a 30-people-dinner party and was really happy with the result – and everybody felt super special. But it is a very expensive solution.

      I would just like to add: if you’re hosting a female guests only party, it is great to ask for home delivery sushi. Forget it with men, because they eat tons; but with women it fits perfectly. Some sparkling white or champagne and you’re a hit.

  62. Adriana says...

    That olive oil tip is genius! Can’t wait to use it!

  63. nohatnogloves says...

    I too would love to be given a bottle of olive oil – lemon oil is my new favourite and is perfect drizzled over pasta. Apart from that…plenty of booze. Something decent for non-drinkers. Only people you like. And instead of pudding (that’s what I call it) I like to offer people a nice selection of sweet things to nibble, all piled up on the table, with coffee and more booze. So: bowl of roughly broken up good chocolate, plate of amaretti biscuits, plate of baklava, large board of fruit (grapes, good pears, crisp apples) and cheese, plus smart crackers. Then we can all get on with whatever we fancy and carry on talking.

  64. Barbara says...

    What a great post! As a new home-owner, we just hosted our first dinner party, and now I have lots of ideas on how to improve for the next time. I love to cook and these tips were right-on! I especially love the idea of Olive Oil gifts – but a great balsamic is just as good! I hope that someone invited to our next party reads this hint … :)

  65. Emily says...

    My favorite menu for having a dinner party is a tri-tip steak, baked potatoes and a salad. With a chocolate chip cookie brownie and ice cream for dessert. It’s simple but also seems very impressive. And the cleanup is minimal. And I love the Nina Simone radio station on pandora!

  66. Anne says...

    Best easiest dessert–use cookie scoop to scoop sorbet (I like a scoop of raspberry and a scoop of peach) into champagne glasses. Add champagne and garnish with a mint leaf and a berry or two. Light, delicious and easy to knock the presentation out of the park.

  67. Melissa says...

    Such good suggestions! I’m still a dinner party novice, but one trick I find extremely helpful is to set the table the night prior. I like a beautifully set table and this way I’m not stressing out at the last minute over minutiae. Plus, when guests walk in and see it already done, it seems to make more of an impact.

    Also, involve bread. Who doesn’t like bread.

  68. My advice: a relaxed and happy hostess = a good dinner party! I’ve been to too many events where the food and presentation were stellar, but the hostess was so frazzled that it just wasn’t even fun. I’d rather have the boxed pasta and tube pesto! ;) The most memorable dinner parties I’ve been to have been super relaxed, with simple but incredibly high quality foods, candles and lingering.

    Also, we have some friends who entertain all the time, and they ALWAYS make you write in their guest book…even if you just stopped by for a drink. I’ve come to love it!

    • KC says...

      Ditto on the “rather have the boxed pasta and the tube pesto” – apart from allergies or food restrictions, the food is definitely less important than feeling like you’re not imposing by your presence/existence.

    • Megan says...

      oh my gosh yes! I was at a dinner party where it seemed like the host was about to lose it over making everything perfect and I kept thinking… what is the point? We’re all here to chat and relax and enjoy eachother’s company, we’re not here for an instagram-perfect-presentation. It really killed the mood.

  69. Love these….A few more tips I’ve learned along the way…

    1. In the living room, leave out any books you’ve been reading recently. It’s a great conversation starter for guests as they sip that first glass of wine.

    2. Set aside a simple task in the kitchen for the guest that insists on helping (i.e. chopping parsley, opening a bottle of wine, lighting candles, etc)

    3. In a pinch, the Ghiradelli boxed brownie mix is a dessert lifesaver. Everyone always thinks it’s homemade. Serve with the best vanilla ice cream you can find.

    4. One tip for the host(ess) that I’ve learned: never apologize if the dish you made didn’t come out as perfectly as you envisioned.

    5. And one last one: double check that the bathroom has plenty of toilet paper before guests arrive. You know………AWK!!!!!!

    • Another Joy!! :) And these are such good tips. I agree about the Ghiradelli brownie mix!

    • Katie says...

      Agree on the brownie mix, but! add butter instead of oil and MAN do they taste (even more) homemade. Also, it’s a great way for you to honestly say “it’s my take on a traditional brownie recipe”!

    • Katie says...

      Ghiradelli Brownie mix – yes yes yes! The best I’ve had.

  70. Lauren E. says...

    Perhaps it’s that my dinner party meals usually consist of comfort food, but I find that when I’ve served cake for dessert people look at it like I’ve asked them to climb a mountain post meal. It’s just too much. Cookies, on the other hand… I served homemade chocolate chip cookies as dessert at a Super Bowl party last year, dropped a plate off at the (young, male) neighbors’, and a little while later THEIR guests knocked on my door and said, “Hi um… we heard you had cookies?” Crowd. Pleaser.

  71. I love all of these suggestions! My husband and I love hosting dinner parties. Something we’ve started recently is writing down menus from our dinner parties in a journal – this way we can preserve our memories from wonderful evenings and also it helps us when planning our dinner party menus.

  72. Erin Cochran says...

    I LOVE the olive oil gift idea! Brilliant.