how to host a dinner party

Nearly 30 years ago, as I was preparing to head for Thanksgiving at Mom’s house, I realized that many of my friends and co-workers were spending their day alone. That was the year I threw my first Friendsgiving dinner on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Friendsgiving has become an annual tradition in my family, one that’s spawned similar celebrations for other holidays. Over the years, I’ve gotten the planning and execution of Friendsgiving down to a science, but even I’ve learned a few new tricks to make the holiday dinner even easier and more fun. Whether this is your first Friendsgiving or your 30th, here are some tips to help you host a Friendsgiving dinner party that you and your friends will remember for years.

Organize and Share the Load

Keep your guest list under control. Figure out how many people your home can hold, and stick close to that number.

how to host a dinner party - party planner book

Get it on Amazon for around $8

Organization is the key to throwing a flawless dinner party, so you have to think like a party planner. There are tons of little things to keep track of: what to buy, when to buy them, who’s bringing what, and so much more. A party planner organizer book will make your life easier. Not only will it let you keep track of all those little details, it will also suggest other pieces you may not have considered.

As host, you get the responsibility of providing the turkey — or whichever main dish you’ve chosen. Experts recommend about 1 pound per per person. If you’ll need more than one turkey to serve the crew, enlist a friend to prepare the second turkey and bring it along. Or, save yourself all the trouble and headache and order a fully cooked turkey from a local catering service.

how to host a dinner party - recipe cards

Get it on Amazon for around $14

Invite guests to participate in the preparation. Asking guests to bring side dishes does more than lift some of the weight off your shoulders; it also gives them a chance to show off their own special dishes. Over the years, we’ve come to look forward to Margaret’s mother’s cornbread, Imrana’s zucchini kuku, and Rosa’s traditional Mexican corn salad, each of which has become part of our traditional Friendsgiving feasts. Keep track of everyone’s contributions with an online party/event planner like PartyLabz, which is free for parties with fewer than 100 guests.

how to host a dinner party - place card holders

Get it on Amazon for around $12

Be considerate of guest’s dietary needs and preferences. You don’t have to police everyone’s contributions. Just provide a way for each guest to note the ingredients in the dishes they bring. Bliss Collections features these awesome little recipe cards that match their invitations. Just mail out the recipe card along with the invitation so that guests can fill them out at home and bring them along on the day of the party. Grab a set of inexpensive place card holders and use them to hold the recipe cards in front of each dish.

Dress It Up

Start your party cleaning early. Clean a room at a time so that you’re not overwhelmed with last-minute cleaning on the morning of your party.

how to host a dinner party - tablecloth

Get it on Amazon for around $30

Make sure that everyone will have a place to sit and space to set their food. If you want a full dinner-party experience but lack a family dining table, you can rent tables and chairs and cover them with an appropriately themed harvest tablecloth.

Keep table decorations to a minimum if you’re planning a sit-down dinner. You’ll want to save room for all the food. If you’re planning to serve buffet style — and I recommend it — choose a couple of smaller centerpieces rather than one huge one.

how to host a dinner party - eco-friendly dinnerware

Get it on Amazon for around $48

Cut down on pre-party headaches and after-party cleanup. Opt for disposable plates and dinnerware — and buy it in one set. You can even buy an eco-friendly dinner party set that will serve up to 50 guests with compostable cutlery and biodegradable plates and napkins.

how to host a dinner party - leftover containers

Get it on Amazon for around $12

Invest in a set of inexpensive take-home leftover containers. Trust me on this: There will be more leftovers than your fridge can handle; let your guests take them home. Providing dedicated take-home containers encourages them to fill up on their favorite dishes. Also, it doesn’t deplete your own food storage container inventory.

Keeping Things Moving

Invite guests to show up about an hour before you expect your turkey to be ready. Have appetizer trays set out for them to enjoy as they stream in and get settled.

Plan on taking the turkey out of the oven at least 30 minutes before dinner. It will free up the oven for dishes that need to be heated before serving.

Have the serving table set up and ready to be filled. Provide extra recipe cards for guests who may have forgotten theirs at home and pens for quickly jotting down ingredients. If you have a significant number of guests with dietary restrictions, make their lives easier by grouping foods they can eat close to each other — or by noting “Vegetarian,” “Kosher,” “Vegan,” “Halal,” etc., clearly on the recipe cards so guests can easily find foods that fit their diets.

how to host a dinner party - coffee urn

Get it on Amazon for around $32

Have drinks ready to serve and include a non-alcoholic option. A punch bowl is a great centerpiece and helps get people moving toward the drinks table.

If you’re serving after-dinner coffee, consider renting or buying a coffee urn. It will make your life as party host so much easier.

Optional: Fun Activities to Try

In an ideal world, dinner party conversation flows effortlessly without any direction from the host. Sometimes, though, a planned activity can help spark conversation and make the party even more fun. Consider a few of these activities to make your Friendsgiving even more memorable.

  1. Post a big Gratitude List on the wall and provide markers so guests can write in what they’re grateful for this year, or do a round-the-table gratitude list to start dinner off.
  2. Give everyone a wishbone. These DIY air-dry clay wishbones take only a few minutes to make in advance and they let everyone have a chance to make a wish come true.
  3. Clear the table and set up a board game for after dinner fun.
  4. Pull out a deck of cards for a few rounds of your favorite card game.

Friendsgiving lets you spend the day of gratitude with the people you are truly thankful to have in your life. These tips can help you enjoy the day with less stress and host a dinner party that your friends and chosen family will look back on with gratitude and joy.

Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.


Deb Powers is a freelance writer who specializes in home, education, and lifestyle topics. She draws on her experiences as a teacher, mother, grandmother, and all-around creative spirit to help others achieve their own goals.

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