The ultimate guide to hosting the perfect dinner party

Master everything from the food to the atmosphere.

If you’ve ever spent time watching the Food Network or browsing Pinterest, chances are you’ve dreamed of hosting your own dinner party. I would argue that good friends and good food are two of the best parts of being alive, so it’s no surprise that dinner parties are such a popular concept. If one of these weekends you and your friends decide to ditch a wild night out in favor of a classy night in, MOVE has some guidelines to help you plan the event. (P.S.: Check out our Pinterest board for dinner party tips at the end of this guide.)

The Food and Drinks

The food is arguably the most important aspect of a successful dinner party. Sure, burning all of the food might make for a funny story your guests can laugh about, but you probably want to avoid that.

When choosing the menu, start with a blank template. Most fancy meals have a soup and/or salad to start off the night along with some kind of bread. Salad is certainly the easier of the two to make in bulk and keep ready, since soup can be a little more messy and needs to stay hot. If you want to have a second appetizer, that would come out next. The main event then arrives: the entree. Make sure to include some form of protein (usually, a choice of meat, fish or poultry, but there are certainly vegetarian options), and at least two side dishes. Quite a while later, you’ll bring out the dessert. I’m sure most people would agree that dessert is a necessary course and one of the best ways to please your crowd. I personally love a good post-dessert touch, whether it’s a simple fruit selection to cleanse the palate or a delicious cup of coffee (if you can manage to learn how to make latte art, your guests will consider you a god forever).

While choosing which foods to fit into this template, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind. If you’re new to cooking for groups, consider making dishes that are easy to portion out between guests but easy to make in bulk. Pasta is the perfect example (plus, who doesn’t love pasta?). Another great choice is kebob-style foods. Putting marshmallows, strawberries and chocolate with chocolate sauce drizzle on a stick is simple, something you can prepare way in advance, is very easy to portion out, but it still looks pretty darn classy.

Remember to keep your drink menu in mind. Having several kinds of drinks on hand is always a good idea. Water, iced tea and lemonade are traditional “classy” options. You’ll want a decent amount of popular soft drinks, most likely, either Coke, Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, a lemon-lime drink and a diet soda. If you’d like to include alcoholic beverages in your selection, check out some of the alcohol-food pairing guides on the MOVE Pinterest page. Make sure to provide a variety of these drinks. Even if you’re set on drinking wine the whole night, don’t forget a non-alcoholic option in case one of your attendees isn’t up for it.

What the food is and how it tastes aren’t the only important factors at play. As everyone who has watched the Food Network knows, plating is everything. Peek at restaurant menus to find inspiration on how to plate your food in a way that makes it look appetizing and impressive. If you don’t want to get too artsy or formal, consider a buffet-style approach.

The Table, Setting and Atmosphere

A tablecloth instantly classes up a normal table, and it’s a must-have for a true dinner party. Once that’s down, a good centerpiece helps bring something eye-catching to the look. There’s a lot of freedom if you want to be creative, but flowers and candles are the traditional table decorations and centerpieces, so you can’t go wrong there.

Choosing a theme for the event helps bring unique flair to the party. Seasonal or holiday themes are always fun and fairly easy to accomplish. There’s countless other options, from rustic to nautical and everything in between. Want to celebrate the season premiere of “Game of Thrones”? Go for it with a Westeros-style bash! Love Halloween but still want to keep it classy? Find gothic inspirations for your decorations and atmosphere.

A good dinner party, like any good restaurant, should have a low-volume playlist that reflects the mood. A casual barbeque dinner goes well with country; traditional fancy foods couple well with a Panera-style classical and piano playlist. Unless you have a really specific theme, you can basically never go wrong with jazz at a dinner party.

As far as table setting goes, the MOVE Pinterest account has guides on exactly how to set up plates and napkins. For your menus, you should certainly take advantage of free printables: They bring beautiful design to your party on the fabulous college budget of zero dollars. I also love using printables throughout your venue for other purposes. For example, a “Welcome! The Wi-Fi password is: ____” printable is possibly the most calming sign a college student could see upon entry.

    <a data-pin-do="embedBoard" href="https://www.pinterest.com/movemaneater/dinner-party-tips/"data-pin-scale-width="80" data-pin-scale-height="200" data-pin-board-width="400">        Follow MOVE's board Dinner Party Tips on Pinterest.</a><!-- Please call pinit.js only once per page --><script type="text/javascript" async src="//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.js"></script>    

Edited by Katie Rosso | krosso@themaneater.com

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