It’s no secret I love dinner parties. Let’s be honest, I started this blog so I could set the table more frequently and share it with you all! To many, hosting is overwhelming, but to me, it’s second nature because I repeat these four simple steps every time.
1. Plan your table decor
Photo compliments of One July Photography
Start with the plates and flatware you want to use a week or more in advance. Decide if there’s a theme or if you want to style it to the season. Your theme or style come shine through in either the plate decor or by adding menus and napkins.
I like to have a beautiful white set for 12 on hand since it can be styled to match any theme. By using a white setting, you can easily design a new table by simply adding new napkins (which are roughly $4 each depending on where you shop) or a new table runner. It will look like a brand new set – trust me.
I highly recommend setting one or two place settings so you can visually see the design you’re bringing to life. Doing this one to two weeks in advance will make life much easier.
2. Determine your food and drink
Photo compliments of One July Photography and Cake Design by Sugar Fixe
I find it easiest to select the main dish and then build around it. The main is typically a meat or a protein. Then, you’ll want to add three sides (give or take) plus a dessert to round out the meal. I recommend a salad, a vegetable, a starch and a dessert. Bonus points if you think about the color of the foods and mix that up as well.
The most important part is to think about what you want to make yourself and what you want to outsource. I typically only make 80% of the meal myself and outsource the remaining 20%. Not a baker? Totally fine! Go to your local bakery and pick up a seasonal cake.
It’s easy to decide what you want to to make once you pick the recipes. Decide what you’re comfortable making for dinner. If you’re not comfortable with it and you don’t want to invest the time to practice before the party, outsource it. It’s not a big deal.
3. Create your table accessories … aka the menu & placecards
Photo credit iron + honey photography
Before you tell me this isn’t necessary, consider this – neither is eye shadow, but you look really beautiful when you take the time to put it on, right?
I’ve created super easy templates to print your own menus and placecards in under an hour. You can download them here. All you’ll need to do is take a quick trip to Paper Source (or order online) A7 paper (also known as 5×7) and placecards (also known as 3×5, which you fold in half). Guests will be so impressed with it, and it’s so easy. I’d tackle this piece about one week in advance. Again, the goal is to get as much done as possible in advance so the day before and day of is simply cooking.
I also love to use a favor as a table setting like the mini champagne labels with my friend’s names on them. My go-to shop for champagne labels is Label with Love and it takes about 3 weeks to order and receive the labels. If you need to know how to soak the labels off and reapply, you can refer to my post here.
4. Set your table and prep your food
Photo credit: One July Photography
When it comes to setting the table, I always do it the night before. Once I see the table set, I get really excited for the party [note: this is probably also because I’m obsessed with tablescapes in general].
Pick up some type of greenery or flowers for your table. If you’re looking to keep it simple white roses or hydrangeas will often do the trick. If you’d like to shop from a florist, I love Dilly Lily & A New Leaf in Chicago. You can design your own bundles or have them design for you. Ultimately, pick something that you want to keep on your table for the week.
When it comes to the food, I highly recommend prepping any dishes in advance that you can. Most starch dishes (ie: mashed potatoes) can be made a day in advanced and just warmed the next day. Honestly, they sometimes taste better that way. If the taste of the food won’t be compromised, cut, prep and cook it all as much as you can. I always pre-chop my veggies so I can cook like I’m Giada on my Food Network show the day of the party.
My favorite tip: Clean out the dishwasher after you’re done cooking, but before guests arrive. This makes for the easiest clean up you can imagine because you have a place for the dishes to go. Nothing is worse than wanting to load the dishwasher and it’s already full of pots and pans you used to cook the food.
Lastly, leave yourself about 90 minutes to get ready no matter how long it takes you. It’s best to leave more time than necessary because a few things will undoubtedly pop up and you don’t want guests to arrive while your hair is still wrapped in a towel.
Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Start with a small dinner party with your least judgmental girlfriends (you know who I’m talking about – the ones that don’t stress you out) and test out what works for you. Refine your little process and do it again.
I’d love to hear about your dinner parties below. Do you follow a similar process? What tips can you share?
Affectionately known to her friends as Millennial Martha for her love of DIY and decorating, Jen can’t help but pour her heart + soul into everything she touches. She’s loved to entertain since acquiring a table and chairs, and giving gifts is one of her favorite hobbies. Jen is the creator of Girl Meets Party. Her dream is to share her passions with the world in hopes to inspire others by making the seemingly unattainable attainable.