entertaining Food Life

Invite Someone Over! How to Host a Casual Dinner Party in 10 Easy Steps

October 14, 2015
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Sometimes it seems as though having people over for a casual supper or dinner party is a lost art.

And, believe me, I get it.  Most nights Dave and I opt for a quiet dinner at home followed by settling into our comfy chairs for an evening of HGTV and internet surfing.

Invite someone over! How to throw a casual dinner party in 10 easy steps

But I’d like to encourage you, if you aren’t already, to regularly invite people over for dinner.

I’ve found that even though it’s difficult to get up the nerve to extend an invitation, having people over for a dinner party or just a simple supper is one of the most gratifying things on earth.

There’s nothing better than creating a special evening of food and togetherness for the people you love.

After everyone leaves and I’m clearing up the last of the dishes, I’m often filled with a warm glow of satisfaction and gratefulness for the special memories that were just created.

Even if you’re a bit nervous, try to step out of your comfort zone and invite someone over.  You don’t have to be Martha Stewart.  Just be you.  Wonderful you.

Simply follow these 10 easy steps, and you’ll be amazed and how your dinner party magically comes together. 

Just keep it fun, casual, and simple.  And, before you know it, people will be clamoring for invitations to your home!

Invite someone over! How to host a casual dinner party in 10 easy steps

Step 1.  Invite someone over

This is often the hardest part of the entire process.  But once you ask, things are set in motion and tend to fall into place rather easily.  

Start by inviting only one or two people.  Make sure to invite people you really like who don’t make you nervous.

Step 2. Decide on your menu

Keep your menu very simple.  Try to think of meals that don’t involve a lot of last-minute hands-on time.  You want to be free and easy when your guests arrive; not slaving over a hot stove.  

Once you’ve decided on what you’re going to serve, write it all down, like a menu, and make a grocery list.  Don’t forget to add bread, flowers, etc., to your list.

When I have guests over for dinner, I tend to stick with the same easy-to-prepare menus that have worked well for me in the past.

Tried and true meal ideas for guests:

  • Spaghetti with meat sauce, fresh Parmesan cheese, a loaf of Italian bread from the bakery, salad;
  • Grilled steak and/or chicken with oven roasted potatoes , side vegetable, salad. (Perhaps your significant other will take over grill duty, freeing you up for other projects, like making yourself glamorous);
  • Chili or soup (try this or this), cornbread (make ahead), chips, salad, guacamole;
  • Taco bar (variations: taco salad bar or nacho bar), with cooked seasoned beef and/or chicken, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, shredded lettuce, sour cream, salsa, and chips;
  • Bistro chicken, spaghetti, salad, ciabatta or focaccia bread, olive oil for dipping.
  • Layered chicken enchiladas, guacamole, rice, beans, and chips.

Dessert ideas:

By the way, if any of your guests need to avoid gluten and/or dairy, I highly recommend Danielle Walker’s book, Against All Grain, which is filled with great recipes that will please everyone, whether they’re gluten-sensitive or not!

Step 3. Buy your groceries

Try to make a trip to the grocery store only a day or two in advance so everything’s fresh.

If you plan to use fresh flowers or greenery as a centerpiece, buy those, too.  Don’t feel like you have to use flowers to snazz up the table, though. 

I often use whatever I have on hand, such as potted plants, flower cuttings or greenery from my patio pots, or dried herbs. I’ve even used sprigs of curly kale nestled in mint julep cups and bowls of lemons as vibrant centerpieces.

Step 4. Pre-make anything you can

This includes desserts, sauces, salad dressings, etc.  

If you’re serving a baked good, like brownies, you can make it several days in advance, freeze, and set out to thaw the morning of the big day. 

Pre-chop, slice, and dice your vegetables and place them in the fridge in sealed containers.  This is a great chopping helper.  Also shred any cheeses you’re using. 

You want to do as much as you possibly can ahead of time.

Step 5. Get a head-start the night before

The evening before your dinner party, set the table, including glasses, plates, silverware, centerpiece, s & p shakers, candles, tablecloth, napkins, etc. 

In addition to giving you a head start, this also helps you to know in advance if you’re short on anything. 

You may need to run the dishwasher to make sure you have enough silverware, etc., for both dinner and dessert.

In addition, make a quick sweep through the house, picking up (or at least re-arranging) the clutter, cleaning the guest bathroom (don’t forget fresh hand towels) and running the vacuum cleaner. 

Don’t stress about things looking perfect.  Honestly, I never notice how clean or messy others’ homes are when I go over for dinner.  I’m just so happy I don’t have to cook that I’m oblivious to everything else.

Step 6.  Take care of last-minute details

On the day of the dinner party, refer to the menu you wrote out in Step 2.  Set the menu out on the counter so you won’t forget to serve a part of your meal.  (I’ve done this many times before.) 

Take anything that needs to be thawed out of the freezer. 

Set out any recipe ingredients that don’t have to be refrigerated and put them with the bowls/pans you’ll be using. 

Get out any appliances or tools you’ll need, such as a food processor, blender, or grater.

Step 7. Plan backwards

Review your recipes and note how long they take to prepare and cook and how long it will take your oven to preheat, etc., then count backwards from the time you want to serve your meal to determine the time to start preparing it. 

Give yourself a bit of leeway for unexpected interruptions, etc.

Remember, though, that even if your meal isn’t ready right on time, you can still take a few moments while you’re waiting to enjoy your guests or just take a little breather.

Step 8.  Get cooking

Now you’re ready to cook.  Clear a work area on the countertop and, to make clean-up easier, cover the area with some parchment or waxed paper.

Here’s a weird, but important, step I always take:  I put on an apron.  For some reason, this helps me get moving.  It’s kind of like slipping on a uniform.  It allows me to officially step into the role of chef.  (If you happen to have a chef’s hat, feel free to wear that, too!)  

I also like to get some happy cooking music going on Pandora.

Then start cooking!  Have fun with it!

Step 9.  Set the stage

A little while before your guests arrive, leave someone else in charge of watching the stove and take a break.  

Take off your apron, put on something cute and comfy, brush your teeth, put on some lipstick and a smile, take several deep breaths, and (this is the most important part) imagine the whole evening going beautifully. 

(If you need a little extra help to relax, two of my favorite homeopathic remedies are Rescue Remedy and Calms Forte.  You can also try one of these stress relieving essential oils.  Even though I entertain quite a bit, sometimes I still get nervous before my guests arrive.  When that happens, I reach for one of these natural helpers to calm my nerves so I can enjoy my guests and myself.)

Then turn on the outdoor lights and several lights in the house so your home looks warm and welcoming for your guests.

If you’re using candles on the table, light those now.  Now everything, including you, is glowing!

Step 10. Enjoy yourself!

Once your guests arrive, let loose and enjoy your own dinner party.  This helps everyone else enjoy themselves, too. 

Have fun!  Be sparkly and relaxed.  Remember, there’s a reason this is called “entertaining.”

Most important, have a sense of humor.  If things don’t go exactly like you planned, just go with the flow. 

Any mishaps will provide you with a new funny story to share at your next dinner party.  Because there will be more dinner parties. 

I promise, you’ll want to do this again.

 xo jane

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  • Jacquie
    February 13, 2016 at 2:57 am

    Thank you for a lovely post. I found you after googling “how to invite someone over”.
    Entertaining and socialising used to be easy but we have never managed to get in the swing of it since we moved away (12 years ago)
    It really doesn’t have to be that hard does it? Thank you for the confidence boost.

    • Jane
      February 13, 2016 at 11:03 am

      I agree, Jacquie! Entertaining can add so much joy to our lives, and it really doesn’t have to be intimidating. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

  • Empty nest? 30 things to do after the kids leave home
    August 18, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    […] Entertain more often.  Invite someone over for a casual dinner party. […]

  • Inês Walter
    October 29, 2016 at 5:15 am

    Dear Jane,
    I loved your blog and your tips!
    Lovely greetings from Brazil!

    • Jane
      October 29, 2016 at 8:42 am

      Ines, thank you so much for your sweet comment! I’m so happy you enjoyed the post and the blog! Have a wonderful day! Jane

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