Nearly eight months into COVID and there’s been a clear shift in the way we spend time with our close friends and family. Switching up the usual hangout brings levity to these eerie times, and for me, that means hosting dinner parties. With Thanksgiving and trips home to reconnect with old friends around the corner, reuniting with food is not only good for the soul but is also one of my favorite ways to socialize with anyone. After many dinner parties and even more charcuterie boards, I’ve gathered my favorite tips for throwing a successful dinner party.
- Be COVID friendly!
This first piece of advice is the most important. Remember, we are still in a pandemic. A limited guest list will not hinder your dinner party’s success unless you let it! There are multiple ways to host a dinner party while staying COVID-free. For example, keeping your guest list under 15 not only abides by CDC guidelines but makes your event more intimate and personalized. With less people, you can invest more time and energy into making quality dishes rather than producing large quantities of food that would serve a larger number of guests. Also ensure that your guests have not been in contact with anyone who has tested positive in the past 14 days and that they feel no symptoms related to COVID. The last thing you want is someone putting your entire group at risk. In addition to this, try throwing your dinner party outside! Outdoor events give more space for your guests to roam and avoid the issue of the airflow being trapped inside. However, I understand the struggle of living in an apartment, so opening the windows to allow fresh air in is another great alternative.
Adapting to COVID is another thing. Thoroughly cleaning your space, whether it be your apartment, home or patio, is critical during this time. Placing hand sanitizer within reach of your guests and keeping disinfectant wipes on deck shows you care for their health and safety, and they’ll appreciate it. Just as the guests should take caution, the host should, too! If you’re looking to give out small goodie bags, travel sanitizers, a pack of wet wipes and a spare mask will help ease your guests’ fear of COVID and let them enjoy their night!
I’m a sucker for interior design. It does so much to a room and absolutely sets the tone for a fun night. It livens up your space and gives a taste of your personality. My favorite easy way to make a space feel more at home is to add flowers. Getting a unique vase and simple flowers that harmonize with your space does wonders to bring your room together. Nice outdoor lights create a magical dimmed atmosphere that allows you to see properly without a strong light going into your eyes. Another way to achieve this is through candles. One life hack for bringing more character to your typical taper candle is putting it in warm water for a few minutes until it becomes malleable and then twisting your candle into an abstract spiral.
As for the actual table where you’ll be enjoying your food, crisp linen cloths and nicely wrapped napkins add to the room in a simple yet highly functional way. Creating a seating chart by placing name tags at each chair is an easy way to personalize your party and ensure your guests are sitting comfortably next to their closest friends in the bunch. Another way to personalize your party is by sending out invitations. As easy as it is to make a group chat, an e-vite or nice handwritten invitation sets the tone for the party and gives a sneak peek into the vibe you want for the night.
- Coordinate food
Planning what you’ll serve at a dinner party with due time will take a huge weight off your shoulders. As fun as decorations are, people are there for the food! Pinterest and BuzzFeed have some unique meal ideas to explore that are easy enough to make yourself but still add a twist on a classic dish. But don’t forget your friends with dietary restrictions! The last thing you want is for one of your guests to miss out on good food because there isn’t any that meets their needs. Make sure you have a grocery list and shop the night before or day of for your produce and perishable items to ensure your ingredients remain fresh until it’s time to prep.
For appetizers, baked brie isn’t in your typical charcuterie board, but don’t leave out the cheese everyone loves. A drizzle of honey and a sprig of rosemary are all you need to enhance the strong flavor of the buttery, earthy cheese. Another one of my favorites is bruschetta. Only a handful of ingredients are needed for it, and the tomatoes and fresh basil are refreshing and light enough that you and your guests won’t stuff yourselves before dinner.
The spotlight, however, is on the main course. This dish is what your guests will remember about your dinner party, so it’s important that they leave with a good word! Depending on what you and your guests’ preferences are, there are a number of dishes from a number of cuisines to choose from. If you’re not the greatest chef, consider ordering your main dishes and putting your focus on appetizers and dessert. Another option if you’re planning a bigger dinner party like Friendsgiving is to plan a potluck. The easiest way to coordinate dishes is to start a Google Doc and let your friends take charge from there.
I have two stomachs: one for dinner and one for dessert. I always find myself searching for something sweet to eat after dinner. Dessert can be as simple or complicated as you want. For simple prep, an ice cream bar lets your guests serve themselves, so you won’t have to worry about satisfying everyone’s sweet tooth. Having two or three flavors and a couple of toppings is more than enough for this. If you want to go the extra yard, I recommend making lava cakes. They’re simple enough for beginners yet aesthetically pleasing when broken open with a spoon. Make sure that if you plan to bake something, you prep it beforehand and put it in the oven in due time so that it’s ready by the time your main course is over.
- Make a playlist
Another special way to bond besides food is through music. Two guests who may not know each other well may catch one another belting the lyrics to the same song, letting them click instantly over their favorite artists. There are so many playlists already out there you can use, or you can create your own. One of my favorite features on Spotify is the collaborative playlist feature. As someone whose music taste is selective and niche, only a few friends of mine enjoy my music (as you can guess, I’m never handed the AUX cord on road trips). The best way to solve this is by sharing the collaborative playlist with your friends so they can add or remove any songs they want. Sending out this playlist builds up the anticipation for your dinner party in the days leading up to it.
- Dress up or down
Let your guests know in advance what they should wear. I know that for many, especially us girls, knowing how casual or dressy an event is is critical for picking out an outfit. You don’t want your guests to show up feeling too overdressed or underdressed if they didn’t know what to wear! This also gives you the freedom to give your dinner party a theme! For example, a Bohemian theme means floral prints and fun with vases full of flowers, lace tablecloths and hanging plants, while a Wild West-themed dinner party means cowboy hats, succulents and bandanas as napkins. Sending your outfit idea as a host gives everyone an idea of what they should wear to match your energy.
As you can see, dinner parties have lightened up this stressful time in my life, and those few hours of planning and spending time with friends– especially in a semester like no other– eases the stress for us all. Taking the time every few weeks to regroup with friends no matter how busy you are lets everyone take care of themselves by spending time with each other.