How To Plan a Dinner Party
It takes a lot of hard work to make it look effortless.
Something will not go according to plan. Expect it. Roll with it.
Casual: friends for bbq
special occasion,i.e. birthday
Semi-Formal: special occasion i.e. milestone birthday or anniversary
theme: Valentine’s Day, Christmas Party
Number of People:
*Plan as if everyone you’re inviting will come, plus a few unexpected guests, so
you’ll have enough food and seating. Better too much than not enough.
*Large groups may require a larger venue or the opportunity to be both
indoors/outdoors. i.e. bbq at home. This presupposes good weather. Otherwise…
*For dinner parties, generally no more than three or four couples works best.
For larger groups, either keep the meal casual, or just serve drinks and party
*Harder to plan when you’re dealing with larger numbers. There’ll always be
someone who can’t make it. Hopefully, the guest of honour will be there,
though! Also harder for those who do shift work. Dates may need changing to
accommodate. Hopefully, the non-shift workers will be more flexible.
*May be an ethnic theme, a holiday theme, or the guest of honour’s favourite
*Can be a combination of homemade or store bought, but try to make most
*Find out about your guests food allergies/dislikes. Could be life threatening.
*Some hosts are daring and will try new recipes for the first time the day of
the party. I need to try it at least once before, so I know how it tastes, and
if I know how to cook/bake it. I once had to make a cheesecake at the last
minute as Plan B because my Pavlova flopped.
For a formal dinner party, serve:
Amuse-bouche—this is a one or two bite pre-appetizer palate teaser. It should
be tasty and visually appealing. May be served on individual spoon.
Appetizers—plan for two to three types, and 2-3 of each kind per person, if they
serve themselves or plated with about five or six bites per person.
The first two courses can be served before everyone is seated. Always be
watching that your guests have a drink.
Punch, Wine, Water, Juice, Pop.
Soup—keep it light. Don’t make a stew.
Salad—Usually with the dressing incorporated. Find out before you add it if
someone doesn’t want it included.
Pasta—Small portions are important when you are serving seven courses. You
don’t want your guests stuffed when there are still three courses to go. It
won’t be enjoyable.
Entrée—Plated or family style (see below for descriptions)
Include one or two meat, fish or poultry.
A starch—potatoes or rice or pasta.
Two vegetables—try to use a variety of colours.
*Make sure the individual parts of the meal work well together. If you have a
heavier meal, make a light dessert.
Coffee/Tea. –Specialty coffees and teas are nice.
*See sample menus at the end.
*All food laid out on a table, along with plates, cutlery, glasses and napkins.
Everyone serves themselves. An alternative is cafeteria style, where the food
is set out but one person serves it to the guests. This controls portions.
*Advantages of this style: easiest for the host, especially easier if it’s also
a potluck, where guests bring prepared food. People take only what they want
and as much as they want.
*Disadvantages of this style: may run out of something before everyone gets to
try it, if people take larger portions. Very casual, not so much about the
experience of eating.
*Also known as Boarding house style. Adage: stretch or starve.
*More informal. Food is served in serving bowls or pots in middle of table.
Everyone serves themselves.
*Advantages of this style: People take only what they like, and only as much as
they want. The host can enjoy the meal more; less serving.
Feels like home=comfort.
*Disadvantages of this style: Doesn’t feel as special.
Formal Dining/Plating Food
*Each course is brought out to the guests and placed in front of them with plate
already full. Serve from the guest’s right side and remove dishes from the
left. Serve beginning with the women first, especially the guest of honour or
the oldest woman.
*Timing is essential to keep hot food hot.
*Advantages of this style: each plate can look picture perfect. Portions are
controlled by the server. Because it is so artistic and they are being served,
guests feel special.
*Disadvantages of this style: the cook is the host and the waitress. Not
usually able to get someone else to serve you, i.e. teens.
*Not as relaxing for the host since you have to be anticipating the next course.
*Table setting: extensions in table, table cloth or placemats, name tags for
planned seating arrangements, special dishes, cutlery, glasses, lighting,
candles, appropriate music, decorations, flowers.
*Do as much ahead of time as possible, i.e. clean house, put extensions in
table, shop for groceries, cut veggies, iron table cloth, make dessert, because
the day of the party is busy enough and you have to get yourself together, too.
*When you begin to prepare your meal, consider what takes the longest and count
back from when you want to serve it, add some prep time and then begin cooking
Also plan food so it will be ready for the time it will be served. This will
improve with experience. Make lists if you need help reminding yourself.
i.e. appetizers first. If they need to be hot, make sure you put them in just
before guests arrive, so they’ll be hot, and your guests will smell them when
they walk in. Keep in mind how many burners you’ll need use of, and oven
space. That’s why it’s best to prepare as much ahead as possible.
*Decide if you’ll have any activity planned, i.e. games, gifts, singing, sports,
Clean up before guests arrive, and clean as you go, putting dishes in the
dishwasher, or, if your guests have a view of the kitchen when they’re eating,
pile them into a laundry basket and get them out of sight.
*Be clear. Announce Who is invited (who is not, i.e. no children),
When it is, both date and time,
Where it will be held and a small map if the address is not easy to get to or
familiar to those invited.
Also mention if there are special considerations, i.e. parking costs or places
for extra parking.
Occasion, and if a gift is expected or not.
A date to RSVP by and a number or e-mail to
Say if the party is a surprise or not.
Dress code, if necessary.
Send the invitations by mail or e-mail.
If this makes you hungry, it’s not my fault.
1. Theme: dinner party
Style: formal dining/plated
Menu: Bacon-wrapped scallops
Cream of Leek soup
Snow Peas and carrots
Raspberry whip stuffed crepes
2. Theme: dinner party
Style: formal dining/plated
Stuffed mushroom caps
Mixed greens with pear and feta salad
Bavarian Apple cheesecake
3. Theme: Homecooking/Sunday dinner
Style: Family style
Menu: Spinach and strawberry salad
Hassleback potatoes with sour cream
Green beans/ baby carrots
Lemon poppy seed cake
4. Theme: Seasonal (summer)
Style: bbq/buffet/family style
Menu: Potato salad
Corn on the cob
Pina colada punch
5. Theme: Comfort food
Style: family style
Menu: Pea soup
Chicken pot pie with herbed crust
6. Theme: Ethnic (Italian)
Style: Family Style
Menu: Caesar Salad
Lasagna, garlic bread
7. Theme: Movie Night (Subs vs. subs)
Menu: Torpedo shrimp
Ice cream sundaes
8. Theme: English Tea
Style: Tea party/buffet/bunch
Menu: Scones, sandwiches with no crusts,
Canapés, crudités, pastries, coffee cake.
9. Theme: Ethnic (Greek)
Style: Family Style
Menu: Greek salad
Chicken and lamb souvlaki with tzatziki sauce
10. Theme: Ethnic (Jamaican)
Style: family style
Rice and Peas
Fried okra and tomatoes