Preparing to Host Your First Dinner Party
Hosting a dinner party may sound intimidating, yet it can be done by anyone in any space. By following the steps below, you will be well on your way to hosting your first ever dinner party.
Step 1: Set the Date
Setting the date is the most important first step in planning your dinner party. Choose the date that works best for you, as ultimately you are the one who will be running the show. A dinner party should begin anywhere between 5pm and 9pm, and can be hosted any day of the week, though as the person who will inevitably be doing all of the prep-work day of and cleaning the next day, I would recommend Saturday as the best day for your first dinner party. Hosting is exhausting, and you will appreciate not having to go into work the next day (unless you work on Sundays, then I would suggest choosing a day before you have a day off).
Step 2: Choose your theme
Giving your dinner party a theme will make everything from menu planning, guest inviting, and decorating significantly easier. Holidays are of course easy excuses to throw a dinner, but a proper dinner party should be about just that, the dinner party, and should not serve to fulfill another agenda (ex. Thanksgiving Dinner does not really count). Rather the excuse for having the dinner party should be just that, having people around a table to eat dinner and converse with no other reason to gather aside from that.
Using the current season as a theme is the perfect solution for your first dinner party. Summer dinners, Fall dinners...each season has it's own unique charm and essence which you can use as your guide to organize the rest of your party.
Step 3: Create the guest list
Making the guest list is complicated. A dinner party should have between 10 to 12 people. Anymore than that and it will be too complicated for everyone to participate in the conversation (and if your apartment is small, most likely that is the largest number that will fit). Less than that, and it loses the "party" feel to it.
There are usually two ways in people worry about the guest list. The first dilemma is for the person who feels they know too many people, and cannot find a way to limit the list down to 10-12 guests (usually around 15-18 invites as not everyone will be able to attend). The dilemma is for the type of person worries that they don't know enough people, and are not sure how to fill up their table.
For the first dilemma, the key is to thinking about who would you most enjoy dinning with, and who would most enjoy each others company. Don;t be afraid to leave people out - as it is understood that there are limits to how many people can comfortably attend a dinner. The best way to include everyone is to just have more dinner parties more often so that everyone can have a chance to attend!
The second dilemma can be fixed either by asking that all guests bring a friend to the table, or to really try to reach out to people in your life who maybe you want to get to know, or haven't seen in a while. Don't be shy to invite that person at work who you sometimes have coffee with, or to that old camp friend who you learned just moved to your city. As the dinner party becomes increasingly rare, people are increasingly excited to be invited to them.
4. Strategize how you will organize your space
This is the step that takes the most creativity, and will require that you take a long hard look around your space to find ways in which everything can be moved around to create extra space, and to figure out what items can serve a double purpose. Sofas and ottomans can easily become chairs, as can (at times) side tables or trunks even. Tables can be formed through a myriad of different items that have the right height. This is also the time to reach out to any friends/ neighbors who might have an extra folding table/ folding chairs they wouldn't mind lending. I have walked a number of NYC blocks with a folding table before, and can attest to the fact that it is worth it.
When I host dinner parties in my studio I use three different tables to create one large table. Two of the tables are folding ones that I keep in storage. By putting them all together I can easily fit all guests. I also move my couch from its normal position to face the table to create both seating, and better utilize the space of the room.
Another perk of being creative with your space/ set up is that you are already providing an excellent topic of conversation for the party to come, and your guests will be impressed!
5. Plan out your menu
When deciding on a menu there are a number important things to consider:
What do you cook well
What will your guests want to eat
What can easily be served family style
What will work best with the space you have available in your fridge and the cookware that you have to use.
What can be made in advanced/ needs to be made day of? What can be served cold and what needs to be served hot?
The menu needs to be reflective of your talents as a cook (or attempts to be a talented cook - no one will judge if you are still a novice in the kitchen), as well as what can logistically be prepared. Planning out the order of when to cook/ reheat/ serve food is very much a science. Things like soups can be made a few days in advanced, but salad should be prepared the day of. If your oven is tiny (or nonexistent) then only prepare things that can be made and reheated on the stove top. For items that are tricky to re-heat, prepare them day of and find clever ways to keep them warm while you are reheating other things (my secret is using a ton of tinfoil). Also, serve things at different times so that you can have one thing heating up on the stove while appetizers are being served (for example). However, the entire meal should be prepared before the guests arrive. Once people enter your space you will need to be in host mode and not cook mode. Additionally there should always be dessert.
6. Make your grocery list
Once you've created your menu, take a moment to plan out what ingredients are needed for each dish. A little planning in advanced will save you many unnecessary extra trips to the supermarket.
7. Set your table
I always recommend setting your table the day before. This way you can guarantee that you have enough plates, silverware, glasses etc. and will still have time to find more if needed. Additionally, if you are like me and are creating a bit of a makeshift table, this will ensure that your Frankenstein table actually will work and correctly seat your guests, and will give you time to make any changes if needed.
8. Clean your apartment
Explanation not necessary, but do not forget this step.
9. Welcome your guests
You've been planning this dinner for weeks, and the big night has finally arrived. Most likely you are already exhausted from planning, cooking, cleaning and preparing, but this is where you get to see the results of your hard work in action. Greet each guest at the door as they arrive, and make sure they find their seat, a drink, and someone to talk to. Find a volunteer to help you serve and pass around the food if needed. In the morning there will be dishes to clean, and a table to deconstruct, but for now just relax and have fun (and graciously await compliments on your hosting).