white flowers

After living in small spaces for so many years, I never thought I would have a breakfast room and a formal dining room.  It is a luxury that I don’t take for granted, so now that we are a little more settled in Georgia I wanted to have some new friends over for dinner.  I’ve never had that many people over for a seated dinner and happily accepted the challenge!

Many of you asked for the menu, tablescape details and so on.  And I definitely learned a few things along the way I thought I would share.  So much of this was a learning experience and now I’ve learned some things I’ll incorporate for next time, like purchasing a linen runner for the dining table, insisting guests take home extra dessert, etc.  But let’s get into the top tips I found helpful –

1.  When recipe planning, think of one pot dishes.

There are so many articles out there with outlined supper club recipes (like this and this), but I really wanted to try to find something that would be a one pot dish and delicious.  I wanted to feel confident in what I was cooking and not have to keep my eye on several different dishes.  I went with this penne with shrimp and herb cream sauce, a big salad and french bread.

It’s also thoughtful if you can ask the guests ahead to make sure you aren’t missing any allergies or dietary restrictions.  In California we had friends who were gluten-free, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, kosher… it’s best to ask upfront so you are prepared!

2.  Do a trial run.

The week before I made the main dish for Christian because I had never made it before and you do not want to try a new dish at a dinner party.  Always do a trial run so you can know to add a little extra of this, a little less of that, etc.

3.  Make your dessert (and anything else you can!) the day before.

I made pies for dessert because I knew I could make them the night before, including the whipping cream.  One less thing to think about!

4.  Write out your timeline.

This was a suggestion from my mom and a really great one.  I wrote out a timeline for the day that went along the lines of:

12PM – peel the shrimp

3PM – chop herbs, chop salad toppings

5PM – work on cheeseboard and setting out appetizers, light candles, turn on all of the lights, preheat oven

You get the drift.  Down to lighting the taper candles on the table, I wrote it all down on a small sheet of paper because when everyone is at your house and your chatting and having wine… it’s so easy to forget to light the votives or warm the bread, etc.  You know how it goes!

5.  Pull out all the fancies.

I have had our formal china sitting in my childhood closet for six years, I couldn’t wait to pull it out!  These kinds of occasions are literally why you have all of your entertaining pieces.  The platters, the salad bowls, the silver… use them and enjoy them!

I literally didn’t even mind doing the dishes while listening to podcasts because it meant I was using all of these beautiful pieces as they were intended to be used.

6.  Label the trash can.

In the future, I will make or buy a pretty sign and temporarily put it on the drawer.  For now I just put a very classy sticky note on the drawer that is the trash can and it worked like a charm.

7.  Do you have an extra sink?  It could double as an ice chest.

I didn’t have the time to photograph it, but I filled the bar sink below with ice and put the Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, Topo Chico and beer in it.  Easy and a little extra fun.

8.  Check the water pitchers!

At the end of the night I noticed all three water pitchers were empty.  It was so busy (in a great way) that I never thought to refill them with ice and water.  Next time I’ll know to keep my eye on them and refill them more often.

dining roomtiffanys vasekids tablewet bar

dining room featured and linked here (including china) | bar to be included in den reveal coming soon!

breakfast room featured and linked here | water pitcher and s&p shakers – McCarty Pottery, also love this one and these | dinner plates | salad plates – discontinued, love these | linen napkins | water glasses | flatware – discontinued, love these

One last element I haven’t yet perfected – figuring out how to move guests out of the kitchen.  Our downstairs is basically a big, open circle between the foyer, dining room, powder room, breakfast room & kitchen, den and living room.  Yet everyone still tends to naturally gather inside the kitchen.  Perhaps because this is where the hosts typically are?  I’m still trying to figure out how to set things up in a way that takes guests into the den and living room to sit and relax.  I’d love any suggestions from those of you who are seasoned entertaining pros!

Thank you so much for reading! And if you have any dishes that have worked well for a large dinner party, I’d definitely love to hear.  XO –

12 Comments|See Comments

12 thoughts on “Hosting a Dinner Party | 8 Things I Learned

  1. Hi Carrie, I’m 57 years old so I’ve had a few dinner parties. Like your mom, I also make a schedule with times of everything that needs to be done. I love your question asking how to get everyone out of the kitchen. If you get answers, please share.

  2. Katheline, as a woman who entertains large family and friend gatherings, (think 25 people at a time) I have the same kitchen gathering situation. For one, I accept it and put people to work, they love to help. But in that rare instance I want everyone to feel comfortable and relaxed I place trays of food around the house with plates and napkins (on the living room table, dining room table), and as people wander about to eat, I join them and my husband does the same. It keeps people out of the kitchen, and gets them wrapped in conversation, so they don’t realize when I snuck away. Works every time

  3. Glad to know I’m not the only one that does a full timeline to do list. They’re so helpful! I event do them for my kids birthday parties or really anytime I host anything! As for moving guests it’s totally because it’s where you are! My husband and I try to alternate who’s is the kitchen/living/dining areas to keep things spread out and the guests usually follow

  4. Your comment in the timed out to do list is the best. I do it for all holidays and parties. I dont know how people do it without it !!!

    To get people out of kitchen i put food in living room or at my second table. Like cheese tray. Also drinks. You can also u urself go sit elsewhere get people in a convo then slip out. Often they will not follow. Or your partner or designated family member can also be appointed for this job. Even if its a big….hey everyone lets go watch the game or Come see the vacation photos. Im with u. I cant concentrate with people all around me in the kitchen.

  5. Fantastic tips!! I had a small dinner party recently and also opted for a one pan meal, but turned it into a crock pot meal. It was perfect! Just a can of tomato sauce, fresh green beans, chicken thighs, a healthy amount of fresh minced garlic and some Italian spices. Cook for 8 hours on low and it’s absolutely delicious.

    Additionally, I totally know what you mean about trying to get guests out of the kitchen. I hosted a rather large dinner party a few months ago and everyone grouped up in my tiny kitchen while I was finishing up the final things on the dishes. So, naturally, I had to scoot by everyone a thousand times saying “excuse me, sorry, excuse me” until finally, I wanted to be like “EVERYONE OUT OF THE KITCHEN!” (Don’t worry. I didn’t) but there must be something about kitchens that makes people want to stand there.

  6. Great tips and yes, most of guests congregate in the kitchen too. I think it’s because it’s where most of the food are as well as where most people standby. It’s a great spot to chat with everyone! I always planned ahead but have not tried a timeline. I will keep that in mind for our next gathering. I hope you had a great weekend and happy Monday!

    Maureen | http://www.littlemisscasual.com

  7. Can I add one to your list? Keep a file with your notes including the date, names of guests, what you served, what worked, what didn’t. You think you’ll remember…but you won’t! So when you invite any of those guest again, you won’t serve the same thing. AND if the menu worked well, you can duplicate the menu with different people. I’ve found over the years that these saved notes make entertaining so much easier. XO

  8. I never thought about writing all the steps down that way you don’t miss anything in the chaos/fun of having everyone over. Very sensible, thank you for the tips!

    Keri Elaine

  9. Even when I put the booze in the other room, people tend to drift back to the kitchen so I’ve told my husband his one and only job is to herd people into the living room and entertain them with his sparkling wit while I finish up in the kitchen. Since I’m doing the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating, he can’t really complain about having one task and it’s the only thing that’s worked!

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