Monday, January 30, 2012

How-To Plan a Dinner Party

Another new and exciting adventure in 2012 is I got to plan a dinner party!  It was so much fun and I thought I would take the time to share my experience to make hosting your own dinner party a little smoother and enjoyable for you - the host(ess).

1. Pick a date (2 - 3 weeks in advance)

Pick a date that works for you and most (if not all) of your guests.  Send invitations through Facebook, Evite, email, or good old fashioned snail mail (people still do that, right?).

2. Pick a theme

Every dinner party should have a theme.  This will help you narrow down recipes for your menu and pick out decorations.  Plus themes make everything so much more fun.  Because the dinner party was the same day and time as a Saints/Lions game, we decided to do a classy tailgate party.  Basically, we wanted to take typical tailgate food and turn it into dinner party food.

3. Pick a menu - 1 week in advance

Once we had the theme, I started to look for recipes that would follow our tailgate party theme.  For appetizers, I wanted to set up a bunch of dips (veggie dip, hummus, some type of salsa) with veggies and chips.  For the sides, I found a cucumber salad recipe from Ina Garten and we decided to make cornbread.  I loved the cucumber salad recipe because it reminded me of a lighter and somewhat classier potato salad. And cornbread is just flat out delicious, especially the Trader Joe's mix with actual kernels of corn and honey.  We then decided the entree would be a DIY burger bar with some classy fixings and BBQ chicken with a homemade BBQ sauce for the people who didn't want red meat.

4. Plan out your shopping and cooking - 3 days in advance

You should be shopping for all of your ingredients at least three days before the event.  Grab all of your recipes and write out what ingredients you'll need for each.  Add together any ingredients that overlap and cross out ingredients you have in your fridge.  Don't go overboard with the ingredients either.  If there's something in your recipe that seems a little out there, find out if there's something else you can substitute for.

Once you have all of your ingredients, plan out when you should do the cooking.  Look at the prep and bake times for each item and see if there are times and temperatures that overlap so you can cook 2 things at once or prep one thing while something else is cooking/marinating.  We decided to cook the chicken ahead of time because that takes much longer than burgers, which could be cooked up and served hot right before the party.  Everything else was either made the day before or that morning (but I do not recommend saving a lot of stuff for the morning of!).

5. Set up your space

Leave plenty of time to do this as well.  Write out or print up tags for each of your dishes so that people know what they're eating.  If a guest at your party has a known allergy, you can also put allergens on the tags.  Also, set up your space in a way that pulls people into the party.  Since we wanted people to gravitate towards the living room, we set up all of the appetizers in there.  Once the dinner was ready, we moved the burgers and chicken from the kitchen to the dining room but left the dips for people to snack on.

6. Have fun with it!

Set some time aside so you can mingle with guests while still making sure everyone is good on food and drinks.  This is your party, make sure you leave yourself enough time to enjoy it.  And don't worry if things don't go as planned, chances are your guests will still have a great time as long as there's stuff to drink and eat and good company to be had :)


  1. At the risk of sounding totally patronising, this is a good list and sounds like you had a great party! I agree with the theme, quite often, mine are culinary based, i.e. type of food. One of the things I like to do, depending on the size of the party, is send the guests home with a tiny food token, like a little bag of spicy nuts, a cookie on a stick or just a brownie wrapped up pretty! Am following you on Google Connect, hope to see you on my site, we have a Friday Cooking Club and run monthly themes, next month is CHOCOLATE! Looking forward to sharing! xx

  2. Ali, this is a great post. Good advice! It could explain why I am always so stressed when people come for dinner...lack of good planing.

    Anyway, I am passing on a little award to you called the Liebster award. You can find out more about it on my blog post at

  3. Great advice! Thanks for sharing these tips. I have to ask my boyfriend to read this. Somehow men think that dinner parties can just be made to happen in three days notice. Uh, no!


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