Part 1: Planning Ahead
From the series "The Art of Subtly and Benevolently Manipulating People into Having Fun or How to Host a Dinner Party"
For our first installment of the hosting series, I'll focus on event structure and planning ahead. These steps can be done weeks (or even months) prior to the party itself.
The Guest List
You can't have a dinner party without guests! When deciding who to invite, stick with a smaller group than you might invite for a rager house party. Consider how many people can comfortably fit around your table and how much food/drink you want to provide. I usually fill my table and stick to people from one social circle who all know each other. My dinner parties usually range from 6-12 people. (I don’t usually consider having only one other family or household over for dinner as a “dinner party” - a party for me involves 3+ households including my own.)
Some people like to host dinner parties with people who don't all know each other. In my opinion, that’s obnoxious. It forces your guests to talk to strangers, which they may or may not want to do. It's also more work as a host because you are responsible for making sure everyone is getting introduced and feels comfortable. It's easiest and most comfortable to host groups of people who are already friends with each other. If I am inviting people from multiple social circles, I tend to choose people who have met at least once or twice before and who I know will get along well. (Or people who I want to get to know each other because I have a plan to merge said social circles. Like I said, subtle and benevolent manipulation...)
Choosing a Date and Inviting Guests
When inviting people, think about whether you want to find a date that works for everyone or whether you want to choose a date and entertain whoever is available on that date. Finding a date that works for everyone can be difficult with short notice, so it's good to plan ahead. I like to use Doodle polls if I'm trying to find a date with a large group.
When selecting a date for the dinner party, make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare. Depending on what format you choose (see below) and your menu (stay tuned for a future post), you will probably need a few hours or even the whole day before the party to get ready. I prefer to host dinner parties on weekends or on Fridays when I do not have to work in the afternoon. If you are doing a potluck or simpler meal, a weeknight can work just fine.
Once the date is set, there are many ways you can invite guests. Typically I text everyone and send a calendar invite. If the party has a theme or if I feel like being extra, I'll make a fun invitation PDF to include in the text message or calendar invite. If the dinner party is more than a week or two away, I will also send a reminder to everyone closer to the date of the party.
GUEST TIP: RSVPing Depending on the formality of your host’s invitation, you may be asked to submit a formal RSVP or you may just need to tell them whether or not you are attending. Try not to take more than a few days or a week to respond, and definitely respond at least a week prior to the party. The host is likely starting to buy groceries at that point, and they need to know how many people are coming. I think sometimes people assume you only need to RSVP if you are attending, but it’s important to let your host know either way so they have accurate numbers.
Choosing a Format
There are multiple formats for dinner parties: plated, family-style, and buffet-style. A plated meal is probably the fanciest - each guest receives a plate with the evening's meal. This gives you an opportunity to show off beautiful plating skills.
A family-style meal is plated on serving platters that guests can pass around to serve themselves. The platters usually stay on the table throughout the meal. This is the approach I use most frequently. It feels cozy.
A buffet-style meal is plated on serving platters or in the dishes you use to cook the meal in. The buffet is set up on a counter or sideboard and guests make their own plates before sitting down at the table. It tends to work best for meals that include a lot of customizations, like a taco bar where everyone can choose their own fixings.
If you choose family-style or buffet-style, you can also decide if you want to prepare all or most of the meal yourself or if you want to do a potluck, where each guest brings a dish to share. A potluck requires less time of the host to prepare food, but it does take some effort to coordinate who will bring what - you don't want everyone to show up with just a bag of chips. Drinks and store-bought snacks or desserts are great options for guests who don't like to cook. Make sure that dietary restrictions are communicated to everyone if you are doing a potluck.
IMPORTANT: Only do a potluck if you trust your guests' cooking skills and food safety knowledge.