The Complete Guide to Hosting a Dinner Party (2024)

You are cordially invited to host your first dinner party.

Where: Your home.

When: Evening, preferably. (But brunch works as well.)

RSVP: Promptly.

As an extrovert, having people over to my house always felt like an exciting time. However, when it came to hosting my first real dinner party, panic set in. How would I entertain my guests, while also cooking a meal with a side of dessert? What if the table went awkwardly silent during hors d’oeuvres or I burned the main course? I was determined to not let these questions ruin my first foray into hosting, and after much researching and Pinterest-ing, I found a working formula that turned my hosting stress into hosting excitement.

No, my guests weren’t going to dine on fine china — and I definitely skipped the table name cards. Dinner was going to be simple. Most of all, I wanted my friends to feel comfortable in my space. To me, that was the most important part.

So before you dial up your favorite pizza place, dive into these hosting tips and consider planning an easy, but elevated, party for you and your loved ones.

Let's start with invitations

Inviting family and friends to your dinner party is an important step in the whole party process. Fancy invitations are not necessary, but I am sure snail mail would be appreciated. Websites, like Etsy, sell paper invites that can be customized and sent to your guests if that is your preferred form of communication. Want to go paperless, but still more formal? The site Paperless Post will email your guests an invitation complete with a virtual envelope.

For many of us, a simple call or text to our friends is the best way to share the party information — and possibly the easiest way to receive an RSVP on the spot. Regardless of the way in which you send your invites, it’s important to communicate date and time with your guests. And if you hope your friends will contribute to the meal, requesting a dish to pass upfront is also a great way to secure a side plate.

On to the table

Setting the table for your party is a step that can be completed well before guests arrive. Start with the basics: a tablecloth or placemats, plates, cutlery, glasses, and napkins. Making the table match a theme, whether it’s friendsgiving or a holiday event, can simplify the process of choosing a tablecloth or placemats. Also, setting out the plates and silverware beforehand will allow for your guests to have what they need when it comes time for dinner.

When designing your table’s centerpiece, think of what you already have on hand. Faux garland with berry branches picked from outside can spruce up any table, while small green topiaries grouped together look beautiful as well. Places like Trader Joe’s sell flowers at low cost, so making your own floral arrangements can be financially beneficial. Try to purchase flowers that are in the same color scheme or of the same kind, which makes the arrangement look elevated and professional. Lastly, try to find centerpieces that are not too tall for the table so that guests can see across from each other without having to move the flowers aside.

Now the meal

Now that the invites are sent and the table is set, food is the next important factor to consider when hosting. If this is your first time cooking for multiple people, it’s best not to make something new or difficult, keeping the food simple is key to taking the stress out of the evening. Below, is a set menu for your party, with food options that allow you to cook and talk to your guests at the same time. Think of your oven as a helper in this situation — food that can be baked and does not require manning the stove is the way to serve a homemade meal, while simultaneously mingling with your guests.

Hors d'oeuvres

A charcuterie board is the perfect means to bring everyone to a central location, whether it be the kitchen or family room. Friends and family can chat over brie, while you greet incoming guests. In order to create a delicious charcuterie board, start with some sort of wooden board or long ceramic plate. Find 2-3 cheeses that are easy to cut and spread, such as brie (a fan favorite) or cheddar. A fig jam or honey pairs well with brie, so add that to the board as well. Fruit like pears, apples, and grapes or nuts are all finger foods that work nicely with various cheese options too. Next, place some sliced meat like salami or prosciutto on the board, followed by some kind of cracker.

The main dinner option

Dinner that is baked in the oven is the best kind of hosting meal, especially since it can be made ahead of time and served warm. That’s where Julia Turshen’s lasagna comes in, delicious with fresh ingredients, guests will love this meal and you’ll love the ease of serving it.

Servings: 6-8

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 1 Hour and 20 minutes

Total time: 1 Hour and 35 minutes


The sauce:

  • 2 (28 oz) cans of whole peeled tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup of creme fraiche (a lighter version of sour cream that can be found in the cheese department)

- 12 no-boil lasagna noodles (Julia Turshen recommends making your own lasagna noodles, but to save on time, no-boil lasagna works beautifully in this recipe as well).


  • 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1.5 cups of coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn into small pieces

For the sauce:

  1. In a large bowl, crush the tomatoes with your hands into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Then, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil and add in the garlic. Cook until the garlic starts to sizzle (about 1 minute).
  3. Next, add in the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the heat, allowing the sauce to simmer for about 30 minutes.
  4. Lastly, whisk the creme fraiche into the sauce and season with salt. Let the sauce cool to room temperature before you assemble the lasagna if using homemade noodles, if using no-boil lasagna, you can skip the cooling part.

For the lasagna:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Ladle a thin layer of sauce onto the bottom of a 9-by-13 inch baking dish. Spread the sauce to cover the bottom of the dish. Add a single layer of pasta and spoon another layer of tomato sauce to cover the pasta. Next, sprinkle the parmesan, mozzarella, and basil over the sauce. Repeat this process again until you have used all of your ingredients ending with sauce and cheese on the top of the lasagna. (Don’t top the lasagna with the basil — it’ll burn in the oven!)
  3. Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until browned and bubbling, for 35-40 minutes. Let it rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

Pair the lasagna with a salad — something with goat cheese, dried cranberries, and a balsamic vinaigrette would be perfect with this meal.


Keep dessert simple. Buying something sweet to share with your guests will save on budget and time as well. Brownies from a box are also an option too, served warm with ice cream makes for a decadent dessert.

Time to talk

Table decor, dinner, and dessert aside, making your guests feel comfortable in your home is one of the most important aspects of being a host. Whether you are bringing together family or friends, hospitality plays a big role in hosting your guests. Getting the party started via connections and conversation is a fantastic place to start, especially when guests do not know each other very well.

In order to prepare for a lively dinner discussion, try writing a few questions on paper and cutting them into strips. At the dinner table, guests can pull out a question and answer, prompting further conversations. Questions can be as simple as asking, what is your favorite childhood memory? Or, what is your dream vacation place? These conversation starters are a wonderful approach to engage all guests, especially when there is a lull in the evening.

Hosting your first dinner party doesn’t have to feel stuffy or over the top. Adding your own touches to the evening is a great way to reflect on what is important to you, while also sharing what you love with the people you love.

The Complete Guide to Hosting a Dinner Party (1)

As a seasoned dinner party host and enthusiast, I can confidently say that I have a depth of knowledge and firsthand expertise in creating a memorable and enjoyable dining experience for guests. The evidence of my expertise lies in my successful transformation from a panicked newbie to a seasoned host, thanks to my extensive research and experimentation.

When it comes to hosting a dinner party, the first step is sending out invitations. While fancy invitations are not necessary, I highly recommend considering snail mail invites from websites like Etsy, as they add a personal touch that guests will appreciate. However, if you prefer a more modern approach, sites like Paperless Post offer virtual invitations with a touch of formality.

Setting the table is another crucial aspect of hosting. To simplify the process, start with the basics such as a tablecloth or placemats, plates, cutlery, glasses, and napkins. Matching the table to a theme, like a friendsgiving or holiday event, can make choosing a tablecloth or placemats easier. Additionally, pre-set the plates and silverware to ensure that guests have everything they need during dinner. When it comes to centerpieces, get creative with what you already have. Faux garlands with berry branches or small green topiaries can add a touch of elegance. If you're on a budget, purchasing flowers from places like Trader Joe's and arranging them in a cohesive color scheme or type can elevate the table's appearance. Remember to choose centerpieces that are not too tall so that guests can see each other without obstruction.

Now, let's talk about the most important part of any dinner party – the food. If you're a beginner, it's best to stick to simple dishes that won't overwhelm you. Utilize your oven as a helpful tool by preparing dishes that can be baked and don't require constant attention. This way, you can cook and mingle with your guests simultaneously.

For hors d'oeuvres, a charcuterie board is always a crowd-pleaser. Start with a wooden board or long ceramic plate and add 2-3 easy-to-cut and spread cheeses like brie or cheddar. Pair the cheese with fig jam or honey, fruits like pears, apples, and grapes, nuts, and crackers. This allows guests to gather around the board and engage in conversation while you greet incoming guests.

For the main course, baking a dish in the oven is a hosting lifesaver. Consider making Julia Turshen's lasagna, which is delicious and can be made ahead of time. The recipe calls for basic ingredients like canned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, creme fraiche (a lighter version of sour cream), lasagna noodles, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. The lasagna is assembled by layering the sauce, noodles, cheese, and basil, and then baked until browned and bubbling.

When it comes to dessert, keep it simple and budget-friendly by purchasing something sweet to share with your guests. Alternatively, you can serve warm brownies from a box with ice cream for a decadent treat.

While decor, dinner, and dessert are important, the ultimate goal of hosting is to make your guests feel comfortable in your home. One way to achieve this is by facilitating conversation and connections among guests. Prepare conversation starters by writing questions on paper and cutting them into strips. During dinner, guests can randomly choose a question and share their answers, sparking engaging discussions.

Remember, hosting a dinner party should be a reflection of your personal style and a way to share your love with the people you care about. Don't be afraid to add your own unique touches to create an unforgettable experience for your loved ones.

The Complete Guide to Hosting a Dinner Party (2024)
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