How to Host the Perfect Dinner Party

A dinner party is a seemingly simple recipe – food, drink, friends, and conversation – made unique, special, and memorable by what the host and guests bring to the evening.

As a host you might be looking to show off your culinary skills, bring together a group of friends, or simply an excuse to have a party.

Whatever the reason, host the perfect dinner party for your friends and family with our handy guide with everything you need to know (and a few fun ideas) to make it a memorable and unique evening.

Group of friends enjoying dinner party outside

What to do

The basic recipe for a dinner party is the same regardless of the food, atmosphere, or theme you intend to create as the host. You will need to set up a timeline, invite guests, plan and prepare your evening, host and serve food to your guests as well as sort out the after-party clean up.

Timeline

The secret to a successful dinner party is simply good planning.

Take some time to think about the style of dinner party you wish to host. Choose a date, come up with a guest list, pick recipes, and select a theme (should you choose to have one). Once you have determined the basics, sit down and plan out a timeline of events leading up to the party. Use our example below as a guide and adjust it to meet your specific needs.

calendar with a date marked

Two weeks before

  • Decide on a date and create your guest list.
  • Ensure you have enough dishes, crockery, and cutlery to serve everyone. Have a look at our crockery ranges for hire and cutlery for hire.
  • Pick a theme and figure out what you’ll need for décor. You should consider hiring decor for the table that you need to create your theme as well as any additional items like flowers, candles, and serviettes.
  • Create and send out your invitations.
busy woman on the phone and writing notes

One week before

  • Get confirmation from guests and check on their dietary requirements.
  • Plan your menu.
  • Think about how you’d like your dishes to look when served, and include any special plates, tools or garnishes you will need to create them. You can hire anything you could need from our range.
Chalkboard menu

Two days before

  • Buy all of the groceries and ingredients for dinner.
  • Buy wine and any other drinks/beverages you will serve, and make sure you have a good corkscrew (or rent one here).
  • Fill up your ice trays and pick up extra ice from the store if you’ll be making cocktails.
  • Make a playlist (or several).
groceries being unpacked

The day before

  • Prepare as much of the food as possible, including dessert.
  • Clean up your home, especially areas where guests will be (the dining room, living room, and bathroom) and be sure the rubbish and the dishwasher are empty for the next day. Consider using sweep south if you aren’t a big fan of cleaning.
  • Pick up flowers or other natural decor and put them in vases.
chef making sushi

The day of

  • Set up the table and any décor. All linen, table settings, glasses, place cards, and candles should be set.
  • Do any food preparation that you can and prepare any last dishes.
  • Set up a drinks station.
man's hands setting a table

Two hours before

  • Arrange all the food you cooked previously on the counter and pull out any pots you’ll need to prepare them.
  • Set up a drink and snack station for guests.
  • Put jugs or bottles of water on the table.
  • Get dressed for the evening.
  • Light candles and put on your first playlist.
  • Have a glass of wine or take a moment for yourself so you’re relaxed when your guests arrive.
woman relaxing and drinking tea

Invitations

A dinner party is no fun without guests!

When planning your guest list, try to keep in mind the different types of people you are inviting and how they will get along. Try to create a mix of guests that will allow for a great evening of conversation and laughter.

When inviting guests to your dinner party, you have a variety of options. You could invite them via email, SMS, Facebook, Whatsapp, or in-person/over the phone (it might be a good idea to follow up with an e-mail or SMS to make sure they have the details to refer back to).

Be sure to send out invitations well in advance and include important details like the date, time, venue, RSVP, and what to bring. On that note, guests are always happy to bring something so don’t shy away from asking them to contribute something that will be helpful and lessen the load on you as the host.

invitation

Atmosphere & Theme

Decide on the atmosphere that you are trying to establish for the dinner party. This can be influenced by the type of event – is it a family get together, having your boss for dinner, celebrating a birthday, or just having friends over for a night of fun- as well as by your guest list, and what you as the host decide for the evening. Furthermore, the atmosphere can often inform the menu and recipes you choose to cook for the evening.

Casual

A braai/barbeque is a great option for a casual evening with friends and is really easy to manage as a host. All the cooking happens on the fire and you simply have to prepare the sides. This is also a very interactive and social atmosphere as guests are free to roam freely and not stuck at their assigned seats at a table. You can choose to have your table inside or outside and decorate the table as you please, anything goes! If you need to hire any outdoor equipment or tables check out the furniture we have for hire.

friends helping themselves to food at a relaxed braai

Themed

Although it’s a little more complicated to organise and arrange, a themed dinner party can be great fun especially for celebrating a birthday or special event. Check out our article on birthday party ideas for more birthday inspiration. A themed evening is also a great way to break the ice between guests who do not know each other and to provide plenty of entertainment for the night.

You could plan your dinner party’s theme around the menu, for example, having an Italian night where you serve pizza and pasta or even let guests create their own pizzas/pasta. If Asian culture inspires you you could choose to have a sushi or dumpling evening. Get guests to dress up, sit on the floor around low tables, or simply choose Asian inspired decor and tableware to set the scene. Hire any special kitchen tools you may need from our range.

Traditional – with a twist

For a more traditional or formal dinner party (with a slight twist) you may consider taking the traditional indoor dinner table and changing one aspect. For example, if it is summer you could consider serving dinner outside in the garden. Take advantage of the warmer evenings and take inspiration from the garden for your table decor. If it is winter you might consider eating outside as well and hiring heaters to keep the chill off guests.

friends enjoying dinner party outside

Preparation & Menu

Now that you have the guest list and atmosphere sorted, it is time to prepare. You will need to ensure your house is clean, decor, crockery, cutlery, and flowers are arranged, and most importantly plan the menu.

Cleaning

Ensure your house is cleaned either the day before or the day of the dinner party. This will help alleviate stress for you on the day. Recruit the family, or arrange with your domestic worker to come the day before or of your event.

Woman cleaning floor

Decor

Collect decor and hired items (or arrange for delivery) at least the day before to prevent any last-minute mix-ups and confusion from ruining your night.

Flowers can be collected the day before or on the day of your dinner party, depending on how much time you have left to spare.

florst creating bouquest of flowers

The Menu

The menu should be planned about a week in advance and groceries purchased a day or two before. This gives you time to grab any last-minute items that were forgotten. If you are too busy to go shopping you could always try out an online delivery service that most major retailers offer. There is also a range of produce delivery services like Buyfresh and Wild Organics.

When planning the menu, keep any specific allergies or dietary requirements of guests in mind (it might be helpful to check that the menu is suitable before finalising the menu). Also, think about the atmosphere of your dinner party, it doesn’t make sense to serve pizza at a formal evening as much as it doesn’t fit to serve sushi at a pizza night.

You should also consider logistics around how you will cook and serve your dinner when planning your menu. Choosing a cold starter or a simple soup will free up time and effort by allowing you to prepare ahead and stay out of the kitchen when guests are around.

For the main course keep in mind the limitations of your kitchen and the time you have to serve guests. Do not choose a dish that requires everything to be in the oven at the same time if there isn’t space or a dish that needs 2 hours to cook and you end up leaving guests waiting and hungry.

Where possible try and choose a dessert that can be made in advance and warmed up or served just before eating.

For more recipe inspiration check out Jamie Oliver’s recipes for dinner parties which cover a range of dishes including vegetarian and many different styles of cuisine.

Meal on a table

Something different

For a special occasion, you may want to consider something a little different…

You could hire a private chef to cook a meal and give yourself a break from the kitchen. This allows you to spend quality time with your guests.

For something very casual, you could host a potluck and get your guests to bring their favourite dishes along. This is a great conversation starter and can result in some interesting combinations and new experiences.

Bringing some form of entertainment into the evening can be a great way to strike conversations, bridge the gap between courses, and leave guests with a lasting memory.

friends laughing and playing poker

Playing games such as charades, Pictionary, or cards is a great way to get everyone relaxed and having a good time.

Creating DIY stations for cocktails or dessert will give guests something to do and take the load off the host.

A murder mystery can be a great way to keep a thread running through the evening with clues dropped at opportune moments and a bit of competition as to who can spot the killer. However, a bit of preparation is required for this one!

Cocktail making equipment and ingredients

Hosting

The big night has finally arrived and your guests are on their way. Make sure you are the perfect host with our 3, simple tips for hosting a great dinner party.

  1. Before guests arrive: Make sure you have prepared everything you can ahead of time. All food prep, setting the table, chilling drinks, preheating the oven, setting out name cards, etc.
  2. When guests arrive: Offer to take their coats/jackets and bags and make sure you offer them a drink right away.
  3. During the evening: Keep drinks topped up, try and stay out of the kitchen as much as possible, offer seconds, guide the conversation and discourage cellphones.
woman pouring drink for man

The after party

What to do at the end of the night. Guests may offer to help tidy up, decide beforehand whether you wish to accept help.

If you want to let them help, give them clear directions and small, manageable tasks to keep things in order.

If you choose not to accept help, wait until your guests have left before starting the cleaning process. You could choose to do all your dishes before bed (especially if you are lucky enough to have a dishwasher). Alternatively, you may wish to simply tidy up and allow dishes to soak before tackling them in the morning. If it was an especially wild or large dinner party, you may consider getting someone in to help clean up the next day and avoid doing the dirty dishes altogether!

Before guests leave don’t forget to give them their coats/jackets and bags as well as thanking them for attending your delightful dinner party.

woman washing dishes

Conclusion

Hosting a dinner party should be exciting, entertaining, and possibly a little bit challenging for you, the host. With our guide on how to host the perfect dinner party, you should be able to breeze through your evening from planning, right through to execution, without ruffling a feather. Leave your guests feeling impressed and satisfied!

If you are hosting a dinner party and need a little help, check out EHIRE’s range of cutlery, crockery, and decor for hire. You can even rent bar equipment, wine coolers, heaters, and gas braais and ensure that you are fully kitted out for whatever dinner party you choose to host. You can order everything online and get it delivered to your door, stress-free – one less thing to worry about on the day.

Hire your dinner party essentials from EHIRE today!

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