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  • Writer's pictureAine Dougherty

Hosting a Sit-Down Dinner Party: My Top Tips

Most birthday celebrations go a little bit like this: surprise party, cake and candles, brunch or a bar crawl, hot dinner reservations, a relaxing spa day... But I decided to do something a little different for my 25th birthday bash.

I've always wanted to host a sit-down dinner party – several individually plated courses, printed menus, creative food and good drinks. So for my big day this year, I took the plunge, cooking a four-course dinner for myself and five of my family and friends.

Here was my menu:


Amuse Bouche

Candied figs with bacon and chile


Summer salad with butter lettuce, halloumi, grilled peaches, balsamic and pistachios


Scallops with a caper, olive and tomato salsa over polenta


Chocolate-orange mousse with Grand Marnier and homemade whipped cream


If you want to try it for yourself (for a birthday or otherwise), I'll give you some of my beginner's top tips that I learned, trial by fire-style. Let's go!

1. Be prepared... be very prepared

Obviously, first-and-foremost, be prepared. I ended up shopping the day-of my dinner party, in the morning, but I definitely recommend provisioning pre-D Day. That way, you can wake up in the morning ready to go. (Wear comfortable shoes, by the way! My feet and back were killing me at the end of the day.) Print out any recipes you're using, if need be.

I planned out my to-dos by time of day – a list for the morning, for the afternoon, and for the evening. Think about what can be done ahead of time. For example, I made my chocolate mousse in the morning so it had enough time to chill and set. I also pulled silverware and glassware in the afternoon and set the table (fresh flowers are a must), and designed and printed some simple menus, too.

Then, the real cooking began. Again, think about what can be done ahead of time and factor in how you're going to keep things hot so your guests don't get a plate full of cold food. Set out your mise-en-place (prepped and measured ingredients) so you're not searching frantically for a knife to chop your parsley garnish when serving rolls around. Have some ideas ahead of time for what you want your dishes to look like – a little drizzle of sauce or an artistic sprinkling of pepper goes a long way when it comes to making your plates look even more appetizing (and more professional).

2. Hire a sous-chef

Well, maybe not hire. I requested the services of my aunt, who helped me clear and load the dishwasher, plate the food, clean up a little bit behind me, and more. One person can't feasibly be expected to do absolutely everything – it's just not possible! So, don't be afraid to ask for a sous-chef. A helping hand will make everything run a lot more smoothly.

3. Don't be too ambitious

Thirdly, keep your expectations measured. You want to toe the line between taking some risks and making sure everything is executed well. If you bite off more than you can chew, you'll have trouble pulling it off. For example, I made a few things I had never tried before – like polenta. I had originally planned on doing fried polenta cakes, but after a few hours in the fridge, the polenta was still far from being set enough to hold. So, I had to switch up my plans, and kept the polenta creamy. In addition to being realistic, you also have to be flexible.

4. Have some activities on hand

Finally, dinner parties are a lot of work. It can get a little awkward when your guests are sitting between courses, watching you struggle – I mean, cook – and waiting for the next plate. So, you could have some little games or activities to keep them busy as you clear and prepare the following course. Card games, word games, questions for conversation, a little wine tasting, a fun competition of some sort, etc. It will make the time pass quicker and keep the attention off of you! Make a good playlist, too – or have your guests contribute to a shared one. Lastly, I didn't go this route, but a theme is always a fun idea.

I can't wait for my next dinner party! I hope these top tips were helpful. Happy hosting!

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