I don’t love a lot of things, but I do love having people over for dinner. This started in the months before New York City locked down and was, to be completely honest, motivated by my own self interest. At the time I was doing social media for a food hall and ate out so much for work that I genuinely missed cooking at home (the fact that I was saving money didn’t hurt either).
Now that my friends and I are all vaccinated, I’ve been able to have regular dinner parties again. Hosting, post-lockdown, has been like learning to ride a bike again with a few wobbles but I’ve slowly regained my groove. Whether you’re throwing your first dinner party or looking to up your entertaining game, here are some tips that help me (and my guests) have a great evening every time.
Keep it Simple
It may be tempting to break out the latest viral recipe but you’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you cook something familiar. Remember, you’re not just working away in the kitchen, you’re also socializing and that’s hard if you’re scrambling to do 20 steps of a recipe you discovered the day before. I tend to experiment with dishes when it’s just me and my roommates and then upgrade them to the dinner party menu once I can recreate them by memory. If you must cook something new and innovative for your guests, give yourself ample time to prepare.
Ask for Help
Odds are, your friends are good people and will want to lend a hand, so take advantage of it (if they don’t want to contribute or help … perhaps get some better friends). Give the flakier ones smaller tasks like picking up a few bottles of wine or assembling your charcuterie board, and ask your more responsible guests to do bigger jobs like buying ingredients or helping you set up. This may be my Virgo showing, but I’m also a fan of putting all the guests into a group chat so they can independently delegate. It also saves me from having to respond to multiple “what do you need??” texts.
Look, something is probably going to go wrong throughout the evening. Maybe the mains will be overdone, or the wine you picked won’t pair exactly. Instead of stressing the small things, the best thing you can do as a host is enjoy yourself and if for whatever reason your home cooked meal is truly a huge disaster, you can always order pizza.
Ready to host an excellent evening in? Here’s absolutely everything you’ll need, from versatile cookware that can handle whatever’s on the menu to all the table decor and linens to make each place setting feel chic and cozy.
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Cooking Tools and Accessories
Here’s everything that’ll feed your hungry dinner party guests and keep you from feeling overwhelmed while getting food on the table.
An Intelligent Cooking Buddy
I know this sounds like I’m shilling for Jeff Bezos, but I truthfully can’t imagine hosting a dinner party without my smart home devices. I use it to set multiple timers, play music in various rooms in my apartment, and even check the forecast to see if my guests can enjoy al-fresco aperitifs.
Keep Your Party Clothes Clean
No matter how well I try to plan and time my cooking for a dinner party, there will inevitably be some frantic last minute moments in the kitchen. Keep your ’fit mess free by throwing on a chic apron until everything’s set.
Cookware For Just About Any Task
This Staub cocotte can do just about anything: grill, braise, sauté, and more. The fitted lid would also make for some impressive tahdig flips or other table side presentations.
Because Food Safety Is Key
Nothing will ruin your carefully curated dinner party vibes faster than a bout of food poisoning. To avoid such a fate, you’ll want to eliminate opportunities for cross contamination between raw and cooked meats, and ensure foods are properly cooked before serving. This instant-read thermometer is my go-to for checking the internal temperature of a piece of meat before I pull it out of the oven or off the grill, and there’s even a magnet to keep it close by on your fridge.
A Versatile Dutch Oven
Few things as versatile as an enameled dutch oven. They have plenty of surface area for sautéing and shallow frying as well as enough capacity for bigger roasts, long simmers, or large scale stews and soups. This Le Creuset is pretty enough to serve your main dish, without having to replate.
Mitts for Moving Hot Pans
We’ve previously opined the many reasons why we love the oven mitts and pot holders from Food 52’s Five Two line: They’re stylish, have heat resistant silicone exteriors, soft-to-the touch cotton interiors, and hang neatly on your fridge or oven door with integrated magnets. I’m grateful to use and test a lot of great kitchen products, but this is the item that my friends point out and compliment the most.
If You Truly Don’t Know What To Make
I know it’s tempting to make something impressive and new for guests, but trust me when I say you should stick to the stuff you know for the best dinner party results. However, there have been times where a casual evening hang turns into an impromptu dinner party, so it’s always good to have these meal starters on hand. You can literally make a delicious meal with a block of tofu, some leftover rice, and a green onion plant that somehow hasn’t died yet. This set from Omsom features their gluten free classics, so you can accommodate your guests’ dietary needs as well.
A Stunning Dessert Option
I’m not much of a baker so I typically ask someone to pick up a cake or a fun assortment of ice creams for dessert. But these omakase berries are an easy way to wow everyone at your table. They taste like the most perfect strawberry you can imagine so it’d be doing them a disservice if you do anything but eat them as is. Although if you really must, you can make strawberry shortcake.
Wine For Everyone
Trying to calculate how many bottles of wine for a party can often make me feel like I’m living that one Charlie Day meme, but signing up for a wine club has eliminated that one particular dinner-party stressor. Now I always have a perfectly curated selection. Added bonus: the wine club tells you what pairs well with each bottle, so you know exactly what to serve.
A Low ABV Piquette
I came out of quarantine with a much lower alcohol tolerance, so I can’t quite drink wine like I used to. Odds are some of your guests are in the same boat. This low ABV Piquette lets you and your guests imbibe without becoming sleepy or sloppy halfway through your meal, plus it’s super refreshing on uber hot days.
A Non-Alc Option for Guests
It’s also smart to anticipate the needs of guests who don’t drink. This non-alcoholic spirit lets you play bartender and everyone can enjoy the finished product. Optimist makes a variety of distilled zero proof spirits, but we like this herbaceous gin-like one that plays well with tonic or ginger ale.
At The Table
Decor and place settings help differentiate a proper dinner party and a more casual meal at home. Candles, tablecloths, and dinnerware will make your meal feel fancy, even if your guests are squeezing into a small dining space.
An Inexpensive Table Solution
If you live in a cozy apartment, fitting more than four people into your home can pose a challenge. While you could just have everyone on your couch or any other available sitting area, it doesn’t have the same feel as enjoying a proper sit-down dinner. Get an inexpensive folding table that can be tucked away in a closet or under your bed when it’s not in use. Dress it up with a nice tablecloth and some matching plates and you’re good to go.
A Classic Summery Tablecloth
If you’re going to set a formal table, you’ll need a formal tablecloth. This vibrant blue linen one is an investment for sure but feels especially festive for summer. Should you want a solid color, the linens from Linoto are another good choice.
A Much More Affordable Tablecloth Option
If you don’t host that often, it’s probably not super practical to drop close to $400 on a tablecloth. For when all you want to do is camouflage that inexpensive folding table, this cozy plaid number from Target will do the trick.
A Neutral But Not Boring Runner
If you’re not going the full tablecloth route, you can still add some pizazz to your dinner table with a sleek cloth runner. The graphic print keeps things interesting without distracting from the stars of the evening (you and your food).
Add Some Greenery To Your Table
Just about any napkins will do, but as a newly minted plant enthusiast, I love these botanically themed napkins with designs of wild ferns, garden herbs, and winter greens. An added bonus: the slightly different prints make it easy for your guests to tell them apart.
Soft, Easy To Store Napkin RIngs
I love the look of folded napkins neatly tied together with a napkin ring, but hate how much space the rings take up in my drawers when they’re not in use. These foldable geometric napkin rings are made with felt, so they’re modern, soft, and take up minimal space.
A Staple Set of Placemats
You can use placemats to create a cohesive aesthetic for your table or color coordinate with your plates. This simple Hawkins New York placemat set mix and matches well with everything and they’re both casual enough to use daily, while still feeling special enough for guests.
A Chic Water Carafe
Make sure everyone at your table stays hydrated with a simple, sustainable glass pitcher. You can also infuse the water with some fresh fruit if you want to be extra fancy and hospitable.
Seasonally-Appropriate Drinking Glasses
Your guests will need some glasses to drink water and other beverages throughout the evening. While I feel no millennial cringe when putting out mason jars for my guests at my home, you may want some nicer, more refined gem-toned tumblers.
Proper Place Settings
Once you’ve made your meal, you’ll need some plates and other dinnerware. We love Our Place’s tableware bundles that can be mixed and matched. This set comes with dinner plates, side plates, and bowls for 4, so you can set your table for a cozy get-together while spending less than $150.
An Elegant Neutral Wine Glass Set
We’re huge fans of Estelle Colored Glass’s stunning stemware and wine glasses. Can’t you see yourself, a gracious host, toasting to your friends and loved ones in front of a dining spread that’d make Betty Draper jealous with a warm-hued glass in your hand? Maybe that’s just me, but either way, these glasses are gorgeous. If you’re going for a more vibrant, tropical color scheme, Estelle Colored Glass also makes a mixed stemware set that features bright pinks, blues, and greens.
Stylish Reusable Straws
Maybe it’s just that I’m in my 20s and my friends are easily impressed, but I always get glowing compliments when I hand a guest a cocktail with a reusable straw. It’s an easy win, plus you can use them on regular days for your own drinks or for summer morning iced coffees.
Unless you’re going for a curated thrifted flatware aesthetic, odds are that you’ll want a full set of matching forks, spoons, and knives for your dinner party. This Italian flatware set comes in four finishes, and is dishwasher safe for easy post-dinner cleanup. You can buy packages of 5, 20, 30, and 60 pieces, so you can adjust according to the size of your guest list.
The Literal And Figurative Centerpiece of Your Table
I always tend to forget about serving bowls and platters until it’s time to plate and I’m stuck using a spare mixing bowl to dish out sides. You can avoid such a fate with this serving bowl from our faves over at East Fork Pottery. The wide, sloped shape of the bowl is suitable for a wide variety of dishes, and can hold up to 9 cups of food up to the brim. Don’t let this ceramic’s gorgeous glaze fool you into thinking it’s too delicate to use regularly — it’s dishwasher and microwave safe.
A Versatile Serving Board
Your guests will probably mill about in your kitchen while you cook unless you exile them to your living room or patio. Give them something to do and something to snack on by having them assemble an easy charcuterie spread with this sustainable teak wood serving board from Skagerak.
Some Candles To Set The Mood
Adding some candles to your dinner table is an easy way to instantly elevate your party’s vibes. Your space will look great, even after golden hour has passed, courtesy of the warm glow of these totem candles from Areaware. The wider shape can help alleviate any candlestick anxiety you may have, and they’re a fun touch to any table setting. You could also mix them up with more unusual candle shapes for an avant basic take on table decor.
More Traditional Candles
If you’d rather go the more traditional route, this set of eight earth-toned candles are perfect for setting the mood. They’re made with 100 percent unscented beeswax, and fit into your standard-sized candle holders for an elegant dining table set up.
Don’t Forget Candleholders
Speaking of candle holders, we love this pair of terracotta candle holders that are sculpted from wheel-thrown clay.
Design-Minded Salt and Pepper Grinders
While we trust that you’ll season your food to perfection for your dinner party guests, they may still want to add salt and pepper to taste. These matte salt and pepper grinders will ensure everyone can enjoy their meal to the fullest, and their minimalist design won’t detract from your tastefully curated table spread.
A Fancy Hand Soap
The first thing your guests will likely do when they enter your home is wash their hands (at least, I hope that’s the first thing they do). Seize your first opportunity to impress as a host by setting out a fancy hand soap that doesn’t smell overly floral or fruity.
And Hand Towel
You’ll also want to put out a nicer hand towel that’s absorbent enough to withstand a night of drinking, handwashing, etc. without becoming musty. We love this lightweight hand towel from Parachute that’s minimalist but still feels expensive and fancy.
A Post Dinner Game That Isn’t Just Charades
The perfect dinner party game should strike a delicate balance between being accessible and engaging for your party guests. Monikers is a sort of combination between Taboo, charades, and Password. How you play can easily be adjusted to be as family friendly or raunchy as you want it to be, so this game works well for dinner with your in-laws or your buddies from college. You can also have up to 12 players, so everyone can participate.
A Cup of Coffee To Send Folks Home
Like all great things, your evening’s lovely dinner party will eventually end. I find that making a pot of coffee before everyone goes home ensures that everyone’s awake enough for their commute. I like Nguyen Coffee Supply’s Loyalty roast because of its combination of arabica and robusta beans that give an extra kick of caffeine.