How to Host a Fave Things Dinner Party

My friends and family will tell you: I live for dinner parties. I love planning them, I love hosting them, and weirdly, I even love cleaning up after them. (It’s my chance to relive all the little moments in my head as I sort recycling, fill the dishwasher, and place all the chairs and throw pillows into their pre-party stations, ready for the next party idea to start forming in my head.) The magic of a dinner party is time and space to truly connect with a mix of interesting people over great food and drink—without the noise and rush of a restaurant.

If you love the idea of having a dinner party, but are intimidated by actually pulling it off, I am here for you. I’ve got 10 tried-and-true tips for a dinner party that will have you hosting with the mosting. Let’s do this.

Start with a theme

Now let’s be clear, you don’t need a theme to host a dinner party, but it’s a great idea especially if you’re a beginner. This will help you stay focused, but also set expectations for yourself and your guests. Need a theme? I gotchu: A Fave Things Dinner Party! Guests are invited to bring one of their favorite things to share—each guest goes home with another guest’s fave. It’s fun, simple and personal, and people LOVE it.

Make a guest list with a mix

Personally, I love a 6-8 person dinner party. It’s small enough to still feel cozy, but big enough to feel like an actual party. Fave tip: invite people from your circle who haven’t met each other—keeps it comfortable but fresh!

Don’t overcomplicate the invitation

No need to overthink this or make it formal. Text individuals (or couples) directly inviting them on the date you have in mind and share the theme. Need a script? Here you go: Hey, I’m throwing a dinner party on [fill in the date]. The theme is “Fave Things” and everyone is invited to bring one thing they love and recommend. Each guest will go home with a new fave from someone else! What do you say, are you in? If the answer is yes (and of course it will be!), follow up with specific info regarding time and place and any important details for the evening.

Let! People! Bring! Things!

When people offer to bring something to supplement the dinner, say yes! Not only is it helpful for you as a host, it is often a way for guests to feel involved and invested. Some guests will offer to bring something they like to make (a salad or their famous pie) but others are looking for a specific assignment. If you don’t have a specific idea in mind, here are things hosts always need: ice, club soda or sparkling water, and ice cream. I guarantee you’ll be glad you have more of any of those items!

Keep the menu simple

I love to cook, but here’s the thing I’ve learned the hard way with dinner parties—the food isn’t the most important part, so don’t wear yourself out over it. Crackers, cheese, and a little fresh fruit are all you need for a crowd-pleasing appetizer. Drizzle honey over the cheese and you’ll get at least a thousand compliments.

For dinner in warm weather months, I like build-your-own poké bowls. Everything can be made ahead and stored in the fridge until party time. In cold weather months, a big pan of lasagna with salad and bread is always a crowd pleaser. And again, all the prep can be done ahead and lasagna keeps beautifully in a warm oven until go-time.

For dessert, a box of favorite chocolates and a few different pints of ice cream are easy and fun to pass around the table to let people indulge as much or as little as they like. All you need are some small bowls and fresh spoons. 

Clean this NOT that

Avoid the urge to deep clean every crevice of your home before a dinner party. It’s unnecessary and will cause you to never want to have a dinner party again. Instead, focus on a few key areas: the bathroom, the kitchen, and wherever guests will be seated. That’s it, I promise.

Fave tip: set out a small tray in the bathroom with thoughtful refreshment items like hairspray, face mist, and breath mints. 

Set the scene

Get your table set in advance and include a generous scatter of tea light candles in votives. Light them 10 minutes before guests arrive, or assign the early guest to do it while you finish getting things ready. Have a dedicated spot for guests’ fave things to be kept until it’s time to share.

Find a playlist that can be appreciated in the background, but won’t be intrusive, and get music playing well before guests arrive. My go-to playlists are “stations” based on fave artists like Melody Gardot, Nina Simone, Dave Brubeck, and Regina Spektor. 

Make guests feel welcome immediately

It sounds obvious, but it’s really all about the arrival. Within moments of greeting your guests, fill their hands with either something to sip or something to do. (Or both!) Invite the introvert with nervous energy to help you finish something in the kitchen. Let the extrovert gather the “fave things” as people arrive and set them in their spot for later. Your guests are instantly enveloped in your party and feel welcome!

Be present

The most important guest at your dinner party is actually YOU. Once guests start arriving, consider your to-do list off limits and attend your party! Don’t rush any portion of it—including the sharing of favorite things! Ideally this should happen after dinner and before dessert, when the group is relaxed and comfortable and ready to share. Clear plates and hand each person’s favorite thing back to them at their seat. Ask one guest to take a minute to talk about their favorite thing. The guest who wants to take that home is the next person to share what they brought, and on and on until everyone has shared and received a new fave. Fun, right? (You can also invite guests to share all their favorite things on HandsDown!)

Clean up tomorrow

Remember how I said I liked cleaning up? It’s because I leave it for the next morning, after a great night’s sleep, happy and full of great food and conversation. Nothing makes me grouchier than cleaning when I’m tired, so I don’t. I put food that will spoil in the fridge, I blow out the candles, and I relive all my favorite memories the next morning when I’m well rested. Try it!

These are my fave tips for a Fave Things Dinner Party (and I’ve made a list of my fave dinner party essentials too), but I’d love to hear from you! What are your tips, tricks, and fave ways to host? Share your thoughts in the comments and create your own list to share on HandsDown!

25 Prompts to Jumpstart Your Faves List

You’ve joined HandsDown, you’re totally pumped, and you’re ready to create your top ten list and share all your Faves with your friends when it strikes—Lister’s Block. You obviously have favorite things, but suddenly you can’t think of any. Ughhhh.

Do not panic, Lister’s Block is a common and curable ailment (unlike its distant cousin, Writer’s Block, which has no known cure but is often treated with expensive MFA degrees). All you need to cure Lister’s Block is a jolt of inspiration to bring you back to yourself.

Ready, set, go!

Your morning routine isn’t complete without _____________.

Your evening routine isn’t complete without _____________.

What’s something you’ve given as a gift multiple times?

Which website do you visit most often?

What do your friends and family consider you an expert about?

What’s something you’ve discovered that you love telling others about?

What’s something you own or use that is totally worth the hype?

What is your favorite splurge item?

What is your favorite money-saving hack?

What book(s) made an impact on you?

Which podcast would you binge on a road trip? 

What product(s) have you used forever?

What pantry items do you always have stocked?

What lesser-known TV shows have you binged or re-watched?

If you were among the first group populating a new planet, what creature comforts would you bring from home?

What’s your go-to recipe when company is coming over?

What is your go-to host gift when you are a guest?

What has been your favorite splurge item?

What is your favorite bang-for-the-buck discovery?

If a friend was impersonating you, what would they wear/carry/mention?

What’s your favorite form of exercise?

What’s your ideal weekend activity?

Which causes or non-profits do you love supporting?

If a tourist came to your town, where would you recommend they go? Eat? Shop? Stay?

If you were to suddenly become famous for something, what would it most likely be?

Simply review the following prompts and answer with the first thing that comes to mind—don’t think too hard. Your favorite things will start bubbling up to the surface, ready to be scooped up and added to your list. (Fun fact: these prompts also make great dinner party conversation!) 

Ok, Lister, your inspiration should be adequately jolted—time to create that list!