Not quite as fond as you used to be of getting drunk and dancing in strange places with people you’ll probably never see again? Feeling that you might like to try a more intimate form of entertainment? Welcome to the world of the dinner party.

At a dinner party, the conversation and the wine flow equally as easily, the food appears on the table effortlessly and the ambience is enchanting. At least, as the host, that’s what you’re hoping for.

To aid you in your quest for this pinnacle of grown-up culinary diversion, the gourmands at How To have compiled a few tips.

Strength of Purpose

Why are you hosting this dinner party? Do you wish to impress your office colleagues, are you angling for that vacant position in accounting? Or are you reconnecting with the friends you haven’t seen for a while because you’ve been spending so much time at…the office?

Your purpose will define not only the tone of the party, but also the setting, decoration and food. Be clear before you start. Whatever you do, don’t try to make your dinner party do double duty. Office colleagues and old friends rarely connect on any meaningful level.

Guest Appearance

One of the secrets to a successful dinner party is your guest list. Consider the people you want to invite. Are they compatible? Are there too many from one profession, who’ll group together and bore everyone else senseless by talking shop all night? Is there a balanced mix of the sexes?

Safety in Numbers

At a dinner party? Not quite. Unless you are a veteran host, limit your soiree to around six or eight guests. The demands on the kitchen won’t be quite so overwhelming, and you won’t run yourself ragged trying to spend a little individual-time with everyone.

Inviting Disaster

Oh, pish, not at all…. Send out those invitations with confidence. Your friends love you, and even if they don’t, who can turn down a free meal?

A formal dinner party requires written invitations. For something more casual phone calls and emails are sufficient. Either way, put pen to paper or pick up the phone at least a week before the happy event is scheduled. Today’s modern lives….

Variation on a Theme

Want to make dinner more of an event? Consider a theme. Hawaiian shirts and ham and pineapple pizzas? Italian food, Chianti and checked table clothes? Such decorative flourishes don’t have to be expensive and can add a sense of cohesion to the dining experience.

A Perfect Setting

Even the dullest dining area, the starkest sitting room can be made into a welcoming environment with a few simple touches. You want your guests to relax, to feel at home, to open up….

Candles and flowers are two of the most effective accoutrements for creating atmosphere. Build on these with a centrepiece decoration for your table, perhaps? Bring out that linen tablecloth you never normally dare use. Got granny’s silver service hiding in a drawer? Let it see light – these are the times it was meant for.

If Music be the Food of Love

Music is the mood-creator par excellence. Match your music to the atmosphere you wish to create. Making a dinner party play list for your mp3 player, or at least organising your disks beforehand, will prevent the frenzied clattering of CD cases interrupting your prandial delights.

What’s on the Menu?

No one says dinner parties have to scale the heights of culinary achievement. Your guests are there for a good time and a good time can be had as easily with curry as it can with caviar. A recent How To dinner success involved nothing more than a trestle table lined with individual portions of fish and chips served on newspaper.

The object of the exercise is a good time. Make sure you have one too by choosing a menu that isn’t beyond your skills as a cook and which won’t necessitate you to spending the entire evening in the kitchen. Choose foods which require minimal preparation. Where preparation is required, do as much of it as possible before your guests arrive.

A cold soup needs only to be plucked from the fridge, a salad too will sit happily for an hour or two in the ice-box, waiting patiently for your guest’s appetites. A pot of chilli can be made the day before.

Choosing such host-friendly food in preference to pretentious display-pieces will allow you to waft elegantly from guest to guest without, apparently, a care in the world.

The Host with the Most

While, as stated, the aim of the game is fun, fun, fun, you, as the host, have certain responsibilities. Apart from tiresome exhortations that there be at least one sober driver among the bunch, you should facilitate not only introductions but conversation as well.

Such social encouragements, however, must be done with grace and a lightness of touch. A nervous, over-attentive host will exude anxiety and have guests checking their watches and glancing about for the nearest unlocked door.

Tricks of the Trade

Want to set that dinner party swinging from the start? A pre-dinner game of Pictionary or charades will, no matter how embarrassingly foolish it seems, break the ice and have your guests chatting to each other in no time.

The tip we prefer though, and use often in the How To offices, is enshrined in the trusted adage: “Get some booze into them – and fast!” A potent cocktail forced upon guests as they walk through the door does a wonderful job of lubricating social interaction, particularly if repeated several times over the next half hour.


Pay attention to the tips above, keep your food simple and enjoy its preparation, don’t forget the flowers, music and candles and, most of all, remember – your guests are there to see you, they don’t really care about the food. So relax, relax, relax. Even if it doesn’t go to plan you’re still going to have a great time. And if things should happen take a turn for the worse, why all you have to do is open another bottle….

For a humorous take on throwing a dinner party check out this video.

How to Host a Successful Dinner Party, 4.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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  1. Definitely keep things as simple as possible so you actually enjoy the night as well as your guests.
    A nibble that has always been a winner for me has been grilled halloumi with sautéed green beans. Found the recipe online and have not looked back since.
    The other trick I found that works especially in summer is to do a lot of your meals on the BBQ. It’s healthy, it’s social and you can cater for a lot of people in one hit!

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  2. I’m hosting a Thanks Giving dinner party for friends visiting NZ. Thanks for the tips.

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