guest toast with cocktails at summer dinner party

1. Keep it casual.

Some of the most successful dinner parties don't involve formal place settings or five-course meals. So, unless you really love cooking gourmet cuisine, keep your dinner and your presentation simple. This charcuterie above is a terrific example of dinner party fare (especially during summer when you just want to linger outdoors for hours).

outdoor dinner party with throw pillow seating

2. Create a relaxing and inviting atmosphere.

Okay, so the backyard party above still looks pretty swanky, but you get the idea. As a host, you want your guests to feel absolutely comfortable at the party. So, do what you can to create a warm and hospitable space, whether that is throw pillow seating or soft music playing in the background.

bar table with garnishes at modern dinner party

3. Organize different "stations" around you space to encourage conversation.

Especially if you have more than just a couple guests, or they don't know each other very well, it can be tough to get good conversation going. Set up different spaces for guests to interact with each other, such as a bar table, comfy seating, or around a roaring fire in the winter.

guests talking at dinner party

4. Take turns playing host.

Hosting a dinner party will definitely take the both of you.  One person should be entertaining guests and introducing people, while the other one refreshes drinks and checks on dinner in the oven. Just make sure to switch off so that one of you isn't saddled with all the work while the other gets to be a social butterfly.

vegetarian salad at dinner party

5. Consider dietary restrictions.

When inviting your guests, make sure to inquire if they have any dietary restrictions.  Although you certainly aren't beholden to cook a meal around someone's gluten intolerance or vegan diet, you should have something on hand for everyone to enjoy. Have a variety of side dishes that can serve as entrees for those who aren't able to partake in the whole meal.

Thai curry soup with shrimp

6. Keep your menu seasonal.

Don't make your menu more difficult than it has to be. Follow the seasons.  In winter, make a hearty and delicious soup accompanied by grilled sandwiches, in summer serve fresh salad and loads of ripe berries.

cheese and fruit plate with pickled strawberry

7. You only need one great item to become a dinner party maven.

Some of the most memorable dinner parties we've attended have all been thanks to one "star" of the evening. One had the best margarita ever.  Another turned us on to an incredible new board game.  Don't think that everything has to be perfect in order for you to become the enviable hostess.  All it really takes is one great thing.

cheese and basil pizza with sundried tomatoes

8. Make-your-own meals are easy and fun.

When in doubt, construct a food station. Whether it is tacos, pizzas, baked potatoes, or pasta, serving food "bar-style" is not only fun, it's also practical. You don't have to worry if Todd can't stand mushrooms or Emma's allergic to shellfish when everyone can create their own entrees.  Plus, this activity is a good way for introverts and extroverts to be on an even playing field (because talking with strangers can be intimidating to most people).

beer tasting kit for dinner party

9. Find an activity revolving around your shared interests.

If everyone at your dinner party has known each other for years, you might want to throw in a new activity to set your party apart from the many that have proceeded it.  Find something you are all interested in and build around that. Do you all enjoy a good microbrew?  Organize a "blind" tasting like the one above to increase your beer knowledge and introduce yourselves to new favorites.

oversized Yahtzee for fun lawn game with chalkboard score card

10. Games are a great go-to way to fill awkward silences.

Always have a back-up plan. Perhaps you thought everyone would linger over after-dinner coffee, chatting it up and having a grand old time. But instead, you can practically hear the proverbial crickets.  Have a back-up plan such as a lawn or board game to rally the crowd.

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