Dinner Party Ideas: Master the Art of Party Planning

Hosting a dinner party is one of life's true pleasures. The mix of good friends, conversation and food makes for a fantastic event, but do you know how to master the art of party planning?

Our guide to dinner party ideas covers everything, from tablescaping to picking the perfect theme. Click the links below to go to your relevant section. We've featured some of the best online tablescaping and hosting experts to help with your inspiration and asked them their tips on dinner party planning. Keep reading to find out more from PartyLite.

Planning Your Party
Party Theme Ideas
Who To Invite (And How To Send Invites)
Tablescaping
How To Plan Party Food
How To Dress Your Home For A Party
Party Favours For Adults
Your Final Party Checklist

Planning Your Party

Image of people at a dinner party

At the earliest planning stages for your party, you can start to think about how you want your home to look, how it could be fragranced and what ambience to set for your guests. It might seem strange to start thinking about these things so early on in the planning stage, but as soon as you've decided on the basics, everything else becomes a lot easier. Plus, we love home design, so this stage is the most fun.

So here's a basic checklist of what you should be thinking about before you come up with the perfect theme for your party:

What's the occasion? Every month of the year will have its own unique holiday to help spark your ideas on a party theme. These could be more traditional holidays like Christmas, New Year's Eve and Halloween. Or maybe you could theme it around some of the newer celebrations like Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day (24th November), Chic Spy Day (5th October) or even International Talk Like a Pirate Day (19th September).

Think about your budget - The average party costs around £20-£40 (25€- 50€ / $25 - $50) per person. This should cover food and drinks for everyone, as well as potential physical invitations and party favours further down the line. Always try to be realistic with your budget and wherever possible, set aside some spare money in case of unexpected costs.

The perfect colour - Bringing your party to life through a unique colour scheme will help elevate the whole event. You could choose to go for the glamorous black and white look for a more opulent event. If you're thinking retro, then an 80s style neon won't look out of place. For a more traditionally autumn look, pick natural, earthy tones of primary and secondary colours to fill your home with seasonal colour.

Don't forget your fragrance - For a truly memorable evening, planning your fragrance around your theme will ensure your guests have a full sensory experience at your party. Scent is one of our strongest ways to set the mood, don't neglect it.

One way to fill your home with the right scent is through essential oils and a diffuser. There are a huge variety of essential oil blends that will elevate your theme, here are examples of some of our favourites.

Dinner Party Ideas: Master the Art of Party Planning

Set the right ambience - It doesn't have to be just fragrance blends that set the mood. In the right setting, beautifully ambient candles can be the perfect accompaniment for your party.

Party Theme Ideas

Image of people at a 1920s themed party

This is everything you should be centering your party around. The theme will ensure your event is a night to remember, but always keep in mind that the space you'll be hosting in will dictate whether the theme you choose is possible to achieve.

You don't always have to choose a theme, but conversation starters are crucial, according to Kim Roberts who runs Canadian party planning blog Feed My Friends. “For dinner with friends, I would plan activities and conversation starters.” She says, “I'd likely organise a snake draft, an activity I've been playing lately with friends and family. It reduces boring small talk and brings out fun and heated discussions.”

Image showing dream dinner party from Kim Roberts

We spoke in the section above about theming your party around certain holidays, but you could choose a theme which is based on something you love. So if you're a fan of rom-coms, then host an extravagant movie night based around your favourite romantic film. Or if hot sauce is your one true love, a chicken wing (or plant-based equivalent) night serving a variety of dipping sauces could be the answer - just remember to have plenty of milk in the fridge in case of a chilli-related emergency!

You could go truly abstract and base your theme around a specific colour like all gold, or your favourite song. Whatever you choose, remember to stick to your vision to ensure an unforgettable evening. If you're in need of a specific party theme idea, keep reading to find our list of favourites below.

Themed Party Ideas

Colour Themed Party - Pick one or two colours to style your home and ask all your guests to come dressed in those tones for an extravagant monochrome or duochrome party. Surround everyone with >candlesin your chosen colour. Then it's time to impress all your attendees and test your gastro skills by serving food in a variety of the colours you've picked. Good luck!

Vegetarian Dinner Party - Introduce your guests to plant-based food with a vegetarian or fully vegan evening. You could serve some delicious junk food with plenty of carbohydrates and ensure any alcohol gets fully soaked up, or curate a three course meal that shows just how easy it is to replace meat with something equally as delicious.

Retro Disco - Whether you look back fondly on the 70s, 80s, 90s or 00s (lucky you!), a nostalgic evening where everyone dresses up in the fashion of the time while being served food from that era is always a party favourite. Don't forget to curate a playlist of all the best music to ensure everyone keeps their dancing shoes on all night. Then, if you have some budget to spare, you could dress your space with retro furniture for an extra touch.

Hyperlocal Wine/Beer Tasting - Theme your home around the area where you sourced your drinks from, whether that's quintessential Americana for Colorado craft beer, rustic countryside style for Basque region wine, or your own local brewery or vineyard. Once you're happy with your drink choices, serve complementary food from that region that pairs perfectly. A basic way to match is to always have the same richness for your food as your drink. So choose a light, sweet course for a fruity white wine or rich, bold flavours with stouts or porters.

National Dish Party - Pick a theme around a specific country, whether that's your favourite holiday or a dream destination. Deck your home with national flags and pick a playlist featuring only artists from that country, then serve traditional food and drink that's easily sourceable wherever you are. This can be an interactive theme with guests bringing a dish each from your chosen nation, or each guest could host their own national dish party from a different country every time. The possibilities are sure to be delicious no matter what.

Image of Farm To Table party

Farm To Table Rustique chic has never looked and tasted so good. Dress your home like a market or barn, have your guests dress in their best farmer's outfit (modern or retro, your choice!) before serving fresh, locally sourced food and drink throughout the night. Fragrance your home with fresh and crisp scents in rustic accessories for the perfect accompaniment.

Eco Party- This is similar in theme to the Farm To Table party, where you choose to serve food that's sourced locally and sustainably. Enhance this theme by dressing your homespace in recycled or upcycled materials and furnishings to show your guests the possibilities out there. Organise a clothes or book swap among your guests, this will be especially useful for any of them with children so any outgrown items or reading materials can go much further. Weather and season permitting, you could even sow some seeds in your garden together, just make sure it's well-lit for everyone!

Multisensory Dining - For safety reasons we can't recommend for you to recreate any restaurant in the dark experience (there's nothing romantic or fun about a fork in the eye!), but this is an on-trend theme. Curate a menu that will ensure all your guests get a sensory experience through smell, sound and taste. Serve your guests a seafood course with sounds of the ocean playing in the background, while they're surrounded by ambient light. A sure way to create a memorable evening.

Speakeasy - Art deco is one of the biggest current trends in interior design, so why not combine this beautiful style with your party. Evoke the roaring twenties with a Speakeasy party where everyone dresses in their best Gatsby-esque clothing for a glamorous evening. Guests should be served prohibition-era cocktails and mocktails as well as hors d'oeuvres like devilled eggs, sugar-glazed ham and almond stuffed olives for an authentic 1920s party.

Enchanted Forest - Green and brown curtains should fill your space to give the impression of a deep wood. Cover your ceiling with glow in the dark stars to give your guests that magical touch. Have your guests dress up as fantasy characters and surround them with ambient light and a pine fragrance blend for that finishing touch.

Who to invite to your party (and how to send invites)

The all-important guests for your party. This is where plenty of things like budgetary requirements and space become crucial to your plan. Take a look below to see how you create the perfect guestlist, then what you should include in the invitation to your party.

Image of person writing party invites

Who's on the list?

Step 1 - Write down everyone you want at your party - this could be everyone you've seen in the last week, friends and family, or your work colleagues. Always try and ensure that you're inviting enough people that know each other in case of awkward silences while glasses are being filled!

Step 2 - Narrow it down. Do you need specific numbers for your theme, how much space do you have where you're hosting the party, plus how many people can you realistically cook for within budget?

Think about whether you've invited a few people who are excellent at talking to strangers. Or maybe you know two people who you've been desperate to introduce and just needed the right setting. This is also where you gauge how many people will make it to your event, then you can try to accommodate for a potential decrease in numbers closer to the time.

Step 3 - Finalise it. How many plus ones will you allow, if any? Who could you potentially invite as a backup if someone can't make your date? Which of your guests may not want to stay up late if it's likely to go on into the early hours? Once you've thought about the little details, you're ready to send your invites!

Invitation Ideas For Your Party Guests

There are many options out there for you to invite your guests to your party. These include some of the easier options like phoning everyone on your guest list, giving them the added value of a personal touch - just remember to follow up with an email or text to confirm! If you're thinking of staying sustainable, emailing the invites not only saves on paper, but means you can keep the final guestlist on an easy-to-access spreadsheet.

Mailing is the old school way to send your invite, but why don't you think about elevating this option by mailing a themed package (you could think of it as a pre-party favour)? If you're doing drinks tasting, you could send a mini wine or beer glass to your guests (just ensure they've already said yes in their RSVP!). If it's a retro disco, why not make a physical mixtape for everyone that's coming to get them in the party mood? The potential for creativity is endless, and will help spread excitement and anticipation around your guests.

A PartyLite infographic showing what to include on a Dinner Party Invitation

Tablescaping

Much like sideboard dressing and shelf decorating in recent years, tablescaping is the on-trend art of elaborately designing and dressing your dinner table. This modern interior design form takes shape in a variety of ways, from heavily decorated tables full of flowers and ornaments to basic, yet picture-perfect colourful napkin arrangements.

We love finding inspiration from some of our favourite tablescaping influencers and bloggers online. These are the people who are showing us the art of table setting through their expert eyes for accessorising with the right accents, arrangements and style.

Choosing to tablescape for your dinner party will add an elegance to proceedings, thanks to knowing where to add pops of colour and texture. If you're looking to take influence from some of the best accounts online, below are some of our favourites.

Carolina Safi is a Montreal-based table stylist who goes bold on her tablescapes, whether that's through dazzling patterns or bright flower arrangements. In her example below, we can see how she's contrasted the pastels of her plates with deep purple, flower tablemats.

She's added a touch of complementary gold that pairs perfectly with the delicate colouring of her dishes. Take a look at her profile to see more examples of using complementary colours to fill your table with life. She posts regular videos with hints and tips on tablescaping and even offers online mentorship if you're looking to get some personalised, advanced advice!

From Staffordshire in the UK, Anna King runs @makinghomematter on Instagram. If you love the rustic chic of American farmhouse style, you'll be head over heels for Anna's homely arrangements.

Anna takes inspiration from the world around her and is obsessive about finding salvageable materials to decorate her home with. Her tablescapes are brimming with inspiration thanks to the mix of textures and sizes of her décor. By adding the height of her flower arrangements (which is a mix of fresh and faux plants!), she's able to show off a dramatic centrepiece that pairs beautifully with her terracotta tableware.

On her Herzallerliebsteideen (heartfelt love ideas) page, German Instagrammer Alex fills it with shabby chic and vintage interior design ideas. She takes inspiration from the outdoors when styling her home and this is reflected in her tablescapes. Muted, modern tones are a staple of Alex's style (including her Christmas setup). Check out her approach to tablescaping below.

By putting effort into choosing a consistent woody, neutral colourway through this table-setting with the tablecloth, cutlery and candleholders, the pops of colour she gets from the green and pink of the vase and flower arrangements is more dramatic.

Elaxelif creates modern-but-accessible tablescapes from her home in Germany. Using a mix of opulent accents and art deco glassware, her settings tend to feature a range of natural and man-made materials for a truly blended look.

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Much like her home, this tablescape by Elaxelif uses a selection of neutral shades, intense black industrial metals and marble pieces alongside the duochrome tones of her dinner plates. On-trend art deco glassware and gold cutlery complement this setting  and maximise the amount of materials used without over-cluttering the overall look.

How to Plan Party Food

Image of food setup at dinner party

One of the most important elements of your dinner party, it’s important that you try and plan your food around the theme of your event, so you don’t let it take up too much of your budget and use up all your energy!

Before we show you which foods could work in a party, take a look at our tips on how to plan the perfect menu for your occasion:

Go Seasonal - This will ensure your food is fresh, and can really help keep costs down (and will align with some of the themes we’ve recommended in the sections above).

Plan Ahead - Wherever possible, try and pick a menu that can be prepared before the day of your party. You’ll really appreciate less stress during the final hours, plus this means you can have a clean kitchen during your event. 

Where Are Guests Eating? - If your guests are more likely to be moving around as they eat, pick a buffet or light-bites option so it doesn’t get too stressful logistically for you or them.

Keep It Simple - If you want to show off your culinary skills, we recommend making one dish that is difficult to cook, and keeping the rest of them easy to make. This will save you having to be in the kitchen while your guests need to be entertained. 

Don’t Overdo The Drinks - Unless it’s a specific drinks tasting theme, pick simple options for your guests. One red, one white and one rosé wine, plus easy to open beers if needed! If you have time, you could create a signature cocktail for the night. This would stop you from having to buy a huge amount of ingredients for lots of cocktails. While you’re planning, make sure you’re thinking of any non-alcohol drinkers who may be attending too. Plenty of fun soft drinks or mocktails should keep them happy.

Remember The Children - If there are children attending, think about their needs. This could include making bite size versions of your menu or making a super simple alternative if you’re unsure of their palettes. 

Dietary Requirements - Always remember to ask about allergies and dietary restrictions of all your guests and tailor a menu for them, or choose a full menu that keeps their requirements catered to.

Presentation Goes A Long Way - Think of unusual ways to serve your food. Buy (or borrow) beautiful dishes and trays. Place canapés on long mirrors or pieces of glass and decorate with sprigs of herbs. Remember to try and wow your guests. 

Light Party Menu

Perfect for afternoon parties, casual cocktails or activity-led events. Finger food that won’t go to waste and will keep everyone full throughout your party, or starters and desserts that don’t require too much preparation. 

This is where you should serve static nibbles like chips and dips, stuffed olives and mini avocado toast as appetisers and balance your guests palette with some sweet servers like mini cheesecake, homemade macarons or miniature trifles. Take a look at our canape ideas:

Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Roast Beef Tortilla Roll Ups
Tempura Green Beans
Thai Shrimp Salad

Image of party canapés

Medium-Sized Party Menu

Perfect for slightly busier parties where there may be a bit more drinking. Focus on food that can help your guests soak up alcohol, can be made in advance and served quickly and easily. Don’t forget to add your hors d'oeuvres and desserts from the light menu as well.

Think easy but delicious pasta dishes (perfect if you’re doing a fully vegetarian course), plenty of bread on the side and a light sweet treat or mini cheese platter to finish. Check out our menu ideas below:

Portuguese Fish Stew
Vegan Slow-Roasted Aubergine
Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto
Braised Chicken With Grapes & Fennel

Full Party Menu

This is where you’ll need to do a lot of planning to ensure your guests aren’t left alone for too long while you’re busy over a hot stove. Ensure it’s a menu that is within the parameters of your theme, and think about how you’ll serve each course to make sure the clean-up job isn’t too stressful.  

If you want to go for a traditional three course meal, remember the key part of our advice and only have one dish that is difficult to make out of the three. To keep it simple, maybe choose to serve a variety of small plates or Spanish-style tapas. This will keep guests talking and ensure a diverse range of delicious food is being given to them, check out our small plates ideas below:

Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Goats Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
Vegan Bean and Aubergine Mini Casserole
Celery, Anchovy & Black Olive Antipasto

How to Dress Your Home for a Party

Now it’s time to dress your home for your party, no matter what your theme, this is the part of your planning stage that is sure to wow your guests. Everything from your bathroom down to your home accessories should be ready to impress your invitees. 

Simple tricks like matching towels with your bath mat and shower curtains ensure that your bathroom is given a purposeful look. Vintage decorative trays are an elegant way to show off your favourite bathroom items and free up counter space, especially if it’s a smaller room. And don’t forget to fragrance your washroom once you’ve accessorised it so that it’s pleasing for more than one sense. 

If you’re filling your home with candlelight or fragrance, ensure you’ve picked the right décor to enhance it and complement the rest of your theme. 

Now it’s time to think about plants, filling your home with colourful life for a party is a sure way to delight your guests. There are certain plants which can act as the perfect accompaniment for your home, just make sure you pick plants that align with your green-fingered skills.

Image of PartyLite infographic showing colourful indoor plants

Carolina Safi of @hosting.table believes in keeping it simple when she dresses her space for parties. “My dining table is always the main player when it comes to theming my house for hosting, I love to dress it with vases and flowers,” she says, “Home is home and that’s what people are expecting when they come to dinner with me so I wouldn’t ever add too many accessories unless it’s for a specific theme.”

She knows that pre-planning is one of the most crucial elements of hosting a dinner party. “If you can, hire some people to help serve your food (if it’s a big guestlist!). On the day, my outfit is ready early so I can set the mood with a good playlist. Pre-planning well in advance is all about making sure my guests have a good time during my event.”

Image showing Carolina Safi’s dream dinner party

Party Favours For Adults

Image of people enjoying a party

For a final flourish, you could give your guests some party favours on their way home to ensure they’ll never forget your evening. These could include:

Hangover Kit - Ideal for anyone who may have overindulged at your soiree and will be well received the next morning! Fill it with painkillers and vitamins to ensure no more sore heads.

Pickle Jar - If you’re especially green-fingered, send your guests home with a mini jar of pickled foods from your garden. An ideal going-home snack!

Mini Succulents - Beautifully elegant and cute, give your guests their own tiny plant to look after as a reminder of your party, especially if you chose a woodland or outdoor theme. 

Hot Sauce - Did you choose a food-based theme? Send your invitees home with a bottle of homemade hot sauce so they find out how much they really love spice.

Fragrance - If you themed your evening around a specific fragrance, then your guests will love going home with a mini sample of it.

Polaroids and Mini Frames - Take pictures of everyone during your evening. Then give them personalised memories of the party using a polaroid camera and themed frames. 

Retro Sweets - If you chose a retro theme, your guests will love going home with the confectionery they remember from that era. Fill a bag full of old-school candy for them. 

DIY Cooking Kits - Send your guests home with handwritten recipes from your evening and sachets of special spices or ingredients you cooked with for a tasty reminder of your party. 

Loose Tea - Fill up small jars with your favourite loose tea leaves and attach personalised labels to each one. Don’t forget tips for brewing the perfect cup!

Your Final Party Checklist

Just to make sure you know you’ve remembered everything in our guide to party planning, take a look at our party checklist below which will help you finalise all of your amazing plans.

PartyLite infographic showing a party planning checklist

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