How to host the perfect dinner party

how to host the perfect dinner party

How to host the perfect dinner party

by Marissa Allen, food blogger at First & Full

I’m excited to be guest posting for Mary Ellen! When she asked me to write about dinner parties and hosting, I was excited because this is one of my favorite things to do. I love inviting people over, feeding them, and enjoying their company.  Notice that last part. I strongly believe in stress-free dinner parties and actually getting to ENJOY my guests, not strictly SERVING my guests. This has everything to do with planning. From making sure I have enough food, to planning for finicky eaters; the most important part about hosting is in the moments leading up to the  party.

My expertise emerged from a few failed dinner parties, stressful holiday meals, and a lot of trial and error.  My husband is an offensive lineman in the NFL and we tend to bond with histeammates over home-cooked meals. The NFL season also runs through Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because of his unyielding schedule, hosting Christmas Dinner and Thanksgiving was the only way we got to participate in family traditions.

These are the top 5 questions I get when asked about planning dinner parties:

How do I know how much food to prepare?

how to host the perfect dinner party

Always err on the side of too much food as opposed to too little. My dinner party guests aren’t you average dinner guests; their portions are NOT normal. It’s safe to say I can make as much food as I want and somehow their stomachs expand and they rise to the challenge! For a normal dinner party, it depends on a few things:

  1. Will there be drinks?
  2. How many sides do you plan on serving?
  3. Will there be appetizers and dessert?

If you plan on serving drinks, serve more appetizers. Expect people to nosh on 6-7 bites before dinner. I like to serve 2 main dishes if more than 8 people will be coming over. I just anticipate most of the party trying both so one serving of each main dish is usually more than enough.

As far as sides go, I  anticipate everyone trying at least a spoonful of each side and returning for their favorite. The number of sides is up to you, but if you’re nervous, start with a salad, bread ( a great filler), and a sautéed vegetable. Depending on the main dish, roasted potatoes or au gratin dishes are always a hit as well! Finally, survey your sides and determine which might be most popular, make sure you have extras!

how to host the perfect dinner party

What if someone has a dietary restriction or allergy?

Hopefully they will disclose this ahead of time, but if not, depending on the restriction, veggies and salads are usually their safest choices. I like to set up my salad in “components” so you can choose what you like and avoid, say croutons or tomatoes, if you don’t like them. I’m typically against guests bringing items, but if you are aware of restrictions, invite them to bring a dish they can enjoy.

What are the easiest dishes to serve a crowd?

I wouldn’t suggest a dinner party as the place to try a newdish.  Pasta  dishes, casseroles, roasted meats, and anything that can be done low and slow all day are great options.

When you are planning your menu, start with what you have. For example, I have 2 ovens, a 6 burner stove, a grill, and like 4 crockpots. If you have 1 oven, don’t pick a meal that has to be completely prepared in the oven. Instead of roasting your vegetables, can they be steamed or sautéed? Look for things that can be prepared on the stove and finished in a crock pot.

how to host the perfect dinner party

Some ideas from

Vegetarian Lasagna

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Italian Honey Baked Ribs


Ideas from

Roasted Chicken

Italian Parmesan Broccoli

Lemon Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Roast Beef

Whole Roasted Salmon

Avoid items that need to be watched carefully as they cook. i.e tender fish. You will be juggling several different things and would hate to burn the main course!

What if cooking isn’t my strong suit? What If I don’t really like cooking?

That’s not a problem! There are plenty of semi-prepared options and shortcuts too, you can find at your grocery store. Mary Ellen has highlighted some of her favorite choices from Costco on Instagram... like lasagnas, other pasta dishes, and casseroles are great.   Another Idea is to buy pre-marinated meats and toss them on the grill or in a dutch oven to cook low and slow. You can almost always find pre-marinated: pork shoulder, ribs, brisket, whole chickens, and pork tenderloins, at the store. You guests will be none the wiser! Some easy sides are roasted yukon gold potatoes, a salad with all the fixings and an easy homemade dressing, or blanched and sautéed veggies.

how to host the perfect dinner party

When do you start prepping?

My answer to this is simple; I prep as much as I can ahead of time so there is very little to do day of. Example: Shop the day before, take out serving dishes the night before, and get somerest!  The next day, I chopall the vegetables first thing; wash and store the cutting board andwork from there. Then, anything that needs to be chilled, needs to marinate, or develop flavors (i.e homemade salad dressings, tomato sauces) I do first. That includes making sure the beverages and wine are chilling. The last thing you want to do is remove the main dish from the oven or stove. I always put that off until the last minute, so it is still piping hot when we get ready to enjoy it. I also suggest you clean as you go! Finish a dish and clean it up entirely. This prevents you from pullingout all the dishes!  It’s also just a good practice because if guests arrive early or something comes up,  you don't have to worry about running around cleaning.

Final Tips

If you are using disposable plates, anticipate each guest using 2 or 3 plates (especially if dessert is served).

Don’t stress. Definitely don’t let them know if something didn’t turn out as expected. Roll with it; they’re just happy they didn’t have to make dinner that night!

Portable desserts are a great way to gently encourage people to leave. Nicely suggest everyone grab a cookie on their way out as the night wraps up.

Don’t clean while your guests are still there. They feel obligated to help and the point of the night is the ENJOY their company, not put them to work!

how to host the perfect dinner party

how to host the perfect dinner party


Marissa Allen is a wife, mother to 2, and the brains behind She is known for her easy weeknight recipes and tips on meal prep. When she’s not in the kitchen or chasing her kids, Joy and Jeff Jr., she can be found supporting her husband, Jeff Allen, #79 on the Houston Texans. She believes in the fundamental power of food to bring people together and frequently hosts casual dinner parties at her home. 

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