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Feature

July 12, 2021
Everything You Need To Host Your First Post-Pandemic Dinner Party
Don’t stress, you’ve got this.
Written by

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.

Accept Imperfection

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.

We’re recommending these products because we actually use, and like, them. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.

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.

Get Echo Dot (3rd Gen) - Smart speaker with Alexa ($35)→

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.

Get Hedley & Bennett The Smock Apron ($80)→

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.

Get Food 52 x Staub 2 in 1 Grill Pan Cocotte ($199 - $209)→

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.

Get Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo ($56)→

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.

Get Le Creuset Signature Round Dutch Oven 5.5 Qt ($369)→

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.

Get Five Two Oven Mitts and Pot Holders Set ($60)→

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.

Get Omsom Gluten Free Set ($55)→

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.

**Get Oishii Omakase Berries ($15-$50)→

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.

Get The Infatuation Wine Club (From $75)→

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.

Get 2020 Obsidian Wine Co. “Máslás” Piquette ($16)→

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.

Get Optimist Fresh Botanical ($35)→

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.

Get Lifetime 5 Foot Folding Table ($51)→

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.

Get Summermill & Bishop Print Striped Tablecloth ($368)→

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.

Get Threshold 84" x 60" Cotton Plaid Tablecloth Cream, designed with Studio McGee ($25)→

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).

Get Minna Triangle Cotton Table Runner ($78)→

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.

Get Botanical Flour Sack Cotton Napkins, Set of 4 ($40)→

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.

Get Graf Lantz Foldable Geometric Felt Napkin Rings Set of 6 ($25)→

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.

Get Hawkins New York Essential Cotton Placemats - Set Of 4 ($48)→

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.

Get LSA International Canopy Carafe & Cork Stopper ($45)→

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.

Get LSA Gem Tumblers, Set of 4 ($60)→

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.

Get Our Place Set The Table Bundle ($120)→

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.

Get Estelle Colored Glass Wine Glasses, Set of 6 ($160 - $175)→

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.

Get Ever Eco 4-Pack Rose Gold Straws ($19)→

Timeless Flatware

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.

Get Mepra Due Italian Flatware Set ($82–$2,572)→

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.

Get East Fork Weeknight Serving Bowl ($150)→

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.

Get Skagerak Slid Tray ($199)→

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.

Get Grain Totem Candle ($12-$20)→

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.

Get Beehive Alchemy Tapered Beeswax Candles, Set of 8 ($52)→

Don’t Forget Candleholders

Speaking of candle holders, we love this pair of terracotta candle holders that are sculpted from wheel-thrown clay.

Get Goodee x Lea Nicolas Set of 2 Terra Cotta Candleholders ($100)→

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.

Get Menu Salt and Pepper Bottle Grinders ($80 - $190)→

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.

Get Yield Poivre Organic Hand Soap ($20) →

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.

Get Parachute Fouta Stripe Hand Towel ($19)→

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.

Get Monikers ($25)→

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.

Get Nguyen Coffee Supply Loyalty Beans ($15)→

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