Dinner parties are great. In fact, I would go so far as to say they are the ideal evening. Dinner parties act as a great equalizer for all of your friends—a common ground no matter how you like to spend your evenings. Your friends who love clubbing, your friends who only hang out at craft breweries, your friends who like half a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine and several episodes of “Fixer Upper” all can enjoy a dinner party. Everyone is full of good food and conversation, are probably tipsy and the party finishes in time for everyone to go onto their respective pregame or self-imposed bedtime.
And guess what? Orchestrating this environment of delicious food and company isn’t hard! You, as a being who is vaguely approaching Real Adulthood, are capable of participating in this time-honored tradition. You’ll feel classy for throwing it, your friends will definitely enjoy it and your parents will feel as though you’ve matured into a functioning being of society. Moreover, please don’t give random news outlets the satisfaction of headlines about millennials killing the dinner party.
Because people my age won’t read anything that does not come in list format, I will walk you through an easy and point-by-point guide on how to throw your very own dinner party. (You won’t believe what happens next!)
Send out a vaguely official invite because your friends are flakes and will show up an hour late to casual plans. Make an event on Facebook or text all the people you want to come with a firm time and date. Do this a few days in advance so you aren’t passed over for happy hour.
2. Self-reflection time: How well can you cook?
Be honest. If you’ve only mastered scrambled eggs and pasta, maybe don’t plan on serving a complicated Moroccan chicken tagine that takes thirty-six hours of preparation. If you can’t cook at all, check out this conveniently placed article and then come back.
3. Prepare a menu.
When it comes to recipes for dinner parties, a good way to reduce some of the stress is to focus on foods that either require hands-off cooking or can be thrown together quickly. Aim to do all the cooking and preparation in advance so you can spend your time hanging out with your friends, not trying to hide the fact that you’re sweating while running back and forth between the kitchen and table. And when in doubt about serving sizes, make extra. Having enough for seconds or leftovers is far better than having too little.
The fastest way to give your guests a great first impression is having an attractive appetizer ready for them to munch on when they arrive. Here are some easy and impressive options:
Trader Joe’s appetizers: If you want to focus on your main course, let our beloved Trader Joe’s take over on the appetizers. TJ’s has a great selection of pre-made apps that require nothing more than heating and serving to the oohs and aahs of your friends (who don’t need to know they came from a box). My favorites:
- Vegetable spring rolls (serve with their sweet chili sauce): https://www.traderjoes.com/digin/post/vegetable-spring-rolls
- Spinach and cheese stuffed mushrooms: https://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article/2021
- Pastry bites with feta cheese and caramelized onions: http://www.whatsgoodattraderjoes.com/2012/01/trader-joes-pastry-bites-with-feta.html
- Mini meatballs (serve with Siracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ sauce): https://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article/1576
Cheese Board: A cheese board is a great and quick way to put out an impressive spread that needs zero cooking. Here’s a quick guide to the cheese board. Pick two cheeses, crackers and one additional element like nuts or jam.
When it comes to main courses, here are some great recipe ideas:
- https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/quick-easy/fast-dinner-recipes-0 – shrimp-leek-pasta
- https://www.buzzfeed.com/christinebyrne/very-easy-dinner-party?utm_term=.uiLrAaKYG – .oov8794xq
Last, but not least, on your menu is dessert. Dessert does not have to be fancy—feel free to scoop out ice cream with your favorite toppings or pass around the fancy chocolates your mom sent you. However, if you want to make something a little more complicated, just make sure you do it in advance. Here are some easy dessert recipes that are great for a crowd:
- My personal all-time favorite dessert: https://food52.com/recipes/29939-bill-smith-s-atlantic-beach-pie
4. The drink situation.
Whether you and your friends drink or not, an easy idea is to make a big batch drink for everyone to enjoy. My personal favorite for those who drink? Aperol spritzes. Serve it in a pitcher, or if you’re the crafty Pinterest kind, a hollowed-out watermelon. If you want to serve wine, plan on half a bottle per person. Here are more suggestions:
- Non alcoholic: http://www.delish.com/food/g2164/non-alcoholic-drinks/
- Alcoholic: https://www.buzzfeed.com/nataliebrown/big-batch-cocktails-for-summer-that-cost-30-or?utm_term=.sn82VdJax – .kdDxRW9j8
5. Plan out the timing.
Once you know what you’re going to make, figure out how to time it so your friends aren’t forced to play Cards Against Humanity because the chicken needs another half an hour and this is the only game you own. If any dishes can be made ahead of time, please do that.
6. Make sure you have enough seating.
This seems like an obvious one until all your friends come over and you realize Becky is going to have to use your crappy IKEA coffee table as a bench.
7. Have your guests help you.
Dinner parties can feel daunting when you’re trying to open the wine, find the one nice set of napkins you have and strain a boiling pot of pasta all at once. Dial down on the stress by outsourcing a few of the easy things to your friends. Feel free to ask if someone will bring a dessert or tell everyone they should BYOB. Resist the temptation to ask for appetizers or main courses because (1) the person you asked to bring appetizers will inevitably be late and (2) inviting someone to a dinner party and then forcing them to bring the bulk of the food isn’t nice.
8. Don’t freak out over cleanup etiquette.
There are a million different articles about how to throw a dinner party, including dealing with the mess left after. Some say you should never let guests clean up, some say that the mark of a good guest is someone willing to help tidy up. As you are likely a twenty-something student and not an etiquette coach, don’t worry too much. Plan on doing the cleaning up after (if you fall firmly into the camp of do-it-yourself, don’t start picking up until after your friends leave or they will try and help), and if your friends insist on giving you a hand, why not? Another completely acceptable strategy, assuming this wouldn’t bother your roommates, is to tell everyone goodbye, survey the damage and then deal with it in the morning.