The world may have reopened, but that doesn’t mean intimate dinner parties at home have gone out of style. Dinner parties are part of a long standing tradition of entertaining people you value. It’s a marked sign of trust to invite individuals into your private space, which makes it an important event—no matter how casual it can be.
I grew up learning how to host grand celebrations and more intimate gatherings from the best of the best—my mom. She is the grande dame of events planning. In her partying prime, she could host a party of over 300 at the drop of a hat, and it would be perfect. But where my mother really shined was when she’d invite a few people to our home for a small get-together.
Over the years, she’s taught me some of her secrets to making these small gatherings as special and memorable as possible. Some of her rules don’t really apply anymore (like food tasting with caterers and picking out a theme for the evening), but the spirit of the party principles she espouses still remains the same.
For beginner hosts—or those of you who want to step up your hosting game—here are a few basic principles you should stick to when it comes to throwing your own dinner party.
Choose your guests wisely
Before planning out anything else, the party should start with the people you’re inviting. Your home is a sacred space because it’s where you spend most of your time (hopefully) and feel most comfortable. When choosing dinner guests, it’s important to trust them enough to let them into your home.
You also have to keep in mind that there should be a balance between personalities. If all the people you’re inviting are already friends, then there’s no need to worry. But if you’re inviting different friend groups, you need to think about whether they would mesh or not. It would be best to invite people with common interests, but again, these are just friendly pieces of advice.
You can invite whoever you want, but you should always prioritize the comfort of your guests as well as your own.
Send timely invites
As we all know, most adult friendships are stuck in scheduling hell. It can be extremely difficult to see your friends because of time-bound priorities and other boring, adult things. When you plan a dinner party, it’s good to check everyone’s availability before setting the date.
Ideally speaking, you should pick a date where everyone can make it. Realistically, though, you’ll probably have a few friends who might need to either catch up or can’t make it at all. Don’t let this throw you off. You can still have a great time.
Once you’ve set your date, make sure to ask for confirmation from guests. This is extremely important to determine how much food you’ll serve (if you’re doing a full hosting gig) or to assign dishes for people to bring (if it’s more pot-luck style). Having confirmation also helps you avoid food waste.
Make sure your invite includes the date, time, location, and a map or a pin if people are unfamiliar. Including a landmark and other instructions (like ringing the doorbell or waiting for you at the lobby) can also be helpful. You can also send a reminder a day or two before the party so people won’t forget.
Menu variety is key
Food and company are the two things people remember the most when they attend events. Aside from the taste and quality of the food, offering variety is also important. It doesn’t have to be a lot of food, it just has to cater to the guests you’ve invited.
Dietary restrictions, allergies, and food preferences are very common, so make sure to ask your guests about any food-related issues they might have.
If you’re doing a pot-luck-style meal, ask your guests to bring something easy to make or easy to buy. Ingredients are expensive these days, so asking a guest to bring a fancy dish to make isn’t the best idea. Time is also a valuable resource most people are lacking, so it would be better to ask them to bring something easy instead.
Set the vibe
Bringing out the fine china and fancy decor isn’t as important as it once was, but setting the vibe still is. Picking out the right playlist and making sure your dining area is comfortable for your guests is the right way to go.
If you’re dining indoors, just make sure that there’s enough ventilation and space for people to comfortably eat and lounge around. When dining outdoors, there’s a little bit more work to be done. You can set a few candles on the table to make sure bugs don’t get to your food and maybe a fly catcher near the dining table to keep mosquitoes from dining on your guests.
Also, having an awning or a covering ready is a good idea in case it rains. Having fans set up near the table is a must because you don’t know how hot it might get as the evening progresses.
If you’re extra (like my mom is), you can also do fun things like picking a theme and decorating. These things aren’t necessary, but they can be lots of fun.
Try to start on time, but…
Account for lateness. Filipino time is real, and your guests most likely adhere to it. As a host, though, you should try to be as punctual as possible. Last-minute preparations like setting the table and tidying up is fine, but the food should be ready by the time your guests are expected to arrive.
You should also account for any latecomers by preparing a plate for them in advance when they arrive. We’re still very much in a pandemic, so it’s safer to separate some food before everyone has dug in for the latecomers to enjoy later.
Welcome any help
Hosting is hard. It’s a lot of planning in advance and same-day preparation, so don’t be shy to accept any help or ask for it when you need some. Again, your guests are (ideally) people you trust, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
You can ask a close friend to help you co-host so you’re not single-handedly trying to wrangle the entire thing into existence and back again. Being a host is a big responsibility, so asking for help is okay.
Don’t overthink and have a good time
Overthinking kills the enjoyment in everything, especially when you’re hosting. Instead of worrying about all the small details and whether or not everything is perfect, you should let it all go and have fun.
Being a good host also teaches you a lot about being a good guest. You get to understand how everything works and do better the next time you plan a gathering or be a guest at a gathering. If something goes wrong, that’s okay. That’s all part of the experience. You don’t have to freak out because it’s all fixable. If not, you can laugh about it in the future (as long as everyone is safe).