The Stress-Free Guide To Hosting Your First Dinner Party [8 Steps, With Pictures]

Your first dinner party could serve many purposes.

It might be your way to play out your fantasy of being on Chopped. Or a way to celebrate a big move to your dream city. It can be an opportunity to finally get your friends dressed up for a fancy evening in.

Or it could be a great excuse to have a party, while also seeming like an adult.

Whatever the reason, here are eight tips and tricks on how to make it happen as stress-free — or at the very least, as stress-reduced — as possible.

1. Decide who to invite and when you’re hosting

The first part of a meal is served in a casual setting
For your first dinner party, four to six guests is a good starting point. Remember, you do have to feed all of them. And since you might not be used to cooking for a large volume of people, starting small is a good idea.

(Plus, if they’re your close friends, you can probably burn the entrée and they’ll still love you.)

A dinner party is a lot more intimate than a party-party, so inviting only friends who have never could be awkward. Instead, invite people who know each other, then add one or two outsiders. Or invite a group of couples.

As for when to invite them, it’s a good idea to do it a little under a month ahead. Use a service like goHappy to figure out a date that works for everyone. Three weeks in advance is enough time for invitees to clear their schedules, but not too much time that they’ll forget about your party.  Make sure to ask for any dietary restrictions while you’re at it.

And this probably goes without saying: Fridays and Saturdays are the best nights to host. Any other night will either be close to impossible with work schedules, or a bummer because of work the next morning.

2. Get strategic with menu planning

a wooden table with provisions for preparing a meal

If the point of you hosting this shindig  is to show off your culinary skills, then the main focus should be on the, yep, food.

If it’s not? Well, you still need to serve food, but you won’t have to put as much pressure on yourself. Make some small bites, dub them tapas, and call it a day.

Cook meals you’ve tried before so you don’t have any surprises the day of. Or go for recipes that seem fancy, but are actually easy.

Get your dessert ready a couple days ahead. The Happy Foodie rounded up 18 make-ahead desserts that’ll please every level of sweet tooth.

Time the cooking of your dishes in a way that doesn’t leave you in the kitchen (and out of the fun) all night. In fact, the Barefoot Contessa advises against using any recipe that can’t be cooked ahead.

Hosting a dinner party on a budget?

The New York Times shares tips on how to throw a cheap but elegant dinner party.

3. Provide plenty of drinks

rose being poured alongside a charcuterie platter

Always wanted to learn how to pair wine with food? Now’s your chance. Check out Wine Folly’s basic wine and food pairing chart for some basic pointers.

We also recommend having beer or cider on deck, and maybe some liquor. But don’t let drinks break the bank.

Unless your liquor cabinet is already loaded with lots of options, wine is your safest bet. Liquor preferences differ, and you don’t want to get stuck buying a different kind of liquor for each attendee. That being said, you can’t go wrong with a signature cocktail.

If anyone asks what they can bring, say “alcohol.” They’ll likely pick something they like, which makes it easier for everyone.

Don’t drink and/or have friends who don’t drink?

BBC Good Food’s top 10 non-alcoholic drinks has something for everyone.

4. Prepare in advance

a cozy home that's ready for hosting
“Prep” means three things here: Food prep, apartment prep, and mental prep.

For food prep, make a list of ingredients based on your finalized menu. Give yourself enough time for two trips to the store (in case you forget something), plus one day of actual food prep.

If you’re slammed the week of, consider having groceries delivered to your house. FoodKick is a sure bet for New Yorkers.

Or ask someone to help you plan. If they go pick up supplies, you can clean the apartment, or vice versa.

Which brings us to the second part of “prep:” house prep. Take this evening as an opportunity to clean your apartment.

You don’t have to clean every room, but make sure your living space, kitchen, and bathroom are clean. Create the space you’d want to be invited to.

Last, but far from least, is mental prep. Maybe you’re stressed after a long week. Maybe you’re nervous. Or maybe you’re just plain excited. Whatever you’re feeling, take a second to become aware of it, get calm, and ground yourself.

5. Set the ambiance

a candle lit on a cozy table

A few simple spruces make all the difference. Decorate your dinner table with fresh flowers. Set a subtle mood with light-scented candles String fairy  lights across the wall or ceiling, and dim your lamps to help people relax.

And don’t forget music! Powerful small speakers are ideal, but your laptop will do in a pinch. Either way, a playlist is crucial.  Making a playlist should not be on the agenda while cooking, especially since Spotify’s Dinner Party Playlist exists. Tonight, you’re a host(ess), not a DJ.

Or invite your friend with the best music taste and give the job to them for the night.

6. Wear an apron

closeup of a woman who's wearing an apron in her kitchen
A Beautiful Mess

Because you can.

7. Be a cleaning hero

a cutting board with leftover food

Clean up right after the party. Some guests might offer help to be nice, but don’t feel like you have to accept it.

Remember: You invited them over for a dinner party, so try to take care of everything involving the food. That means prep, cooking, and clean-up.

Gather all plates, glasses, and anything else lying around and put them in the kitchen. If it’s really late, or you don’t have a dishwasher (and therefore don’t feel like staying up until 3 AM washing dishes), put everything in the sink to soak overnight.

And those candles you lit? Don’t forget to blow them out. 🙂

8. Go easy on yourself

two women enjoy a dinner party in the backyard
A Beautiful Mess

Set your own expectations low, but don’t apologize.

Yes, this could finally be your chance to assert yourself as Celebrity Chef of the Friend Group, but making yourself more nervous than necessary isn’t going to help the food come out better, or make the party go any smoother.

One last way to make things easier? Let  MakeSpace pick up and store the extra stuff that you don’t need in your home right now.

Maybe your pre-dinner party prep has reminded you of those skis you never use.  Or those blankets from your mom you forgot about, and those books you love but don’t have space for anymore.

Free Bonus: How To Store Skis — Fast (6 Simple Steps)

We’ve got you covered. We make it easy to store your stuff by supplying the storage bins, the heavy lifting, and the driving.

All you have to do is schedule a storage pickup (your first pickup is free!) pack your stuff, and leave the rest to us.

And with all the time you save from not buying boxes to pack, driving to a self-storage unit, and then heading back to it when you need something, you’ll have more time to get your dinner party Instagram-perfect.

This article was written by Hannah Van Arsdale, a freelance writer and dog person based in Portland, OR.