Elegant Dinner Party Ideas

Planning your first dinner party? These dinner party ideas will give you creative inspiration… from delicious recipes, beautiful table decorations, to the best dinner music to make your party memorable.

While I love hosting big events, I really enjoy smaller dinner parties. It is a more intimate affair, usually limited to the number of chairs you have around your dining room table. It is a wonderful time to gather a few close friends and serve up some of your favorite recipes. With a smaller group of people, you can spend more time (and money) on the food you prepare. It offers more time for conversation, so you can catch up with friends. Dinner parties can be used to introduce friends to one another (play matchmaker), network with colleagues (find a new job opportunity), or simply to share your cooking talents with others!

table set for dinner partyHere I share some of my dinner party ideas, covering everything from invitations, table decorations, menus, music, and wine selections. I hope you’ll find these dinner party ideas help make your event memorable and stress-free.

Dinner Party Ideas: Who to Invite?

Begin the planning by deciding who you will invite. You cannot plan the rest of the party without knowing who will be there and how many you will be serving. Dinner parties work best for 6 to 12 people. Meal planning for more than 12 people is definitely possible, but it starts to get more complicated. You’ll need larger cooking vessels and more stove top and oven space! So stick with a reasonable number of guests, and make sure they can all fit comfortably around the dining table where you will serve the food.

Thanksgiving table As I mentioned above, dinner parties can be an excellent way to have your friends meet one another if they have never met. However, it is a good idea to make sure each dinner guest knows at least one other person besides yourself. This allows your guests to mingle while you are doing last minute dinner prep, and they will not feel uncomfortable. You can then arrange seating by placing two guests you would like to meet right next to one another.

Dinner Party Ideas: What to Serve?

The next step is to figure out exactly what you would like to serve. You canbison keep dinner parties relatively simple, but I think it is fun to use this opportunity to serve up more fine cuisine for your guests. Since you will have a smaller amount of people to serve than a big party, you may have more to spend on ingredients. If this appeals to you, be sure to see my list of gourmet dinner party recipes. It includes appetizers, salads, main courses, and wonderful desserts!

It is traditional to serve the dinner in courses, beginning with an appetizer, a soup, a salad, the main course, and dessert. The dessert can be served with coffee and an after dinner drink (if desired).

risotto Will you be cooking? Or will you need some help? Go through your menu and create the shopping list. Next to each ingredient make a note if you can buy it ahead of time or if it needs to be bought the day of (like fresh produce or bread).

Dinner Party Ideas: Menu Cards

menu card I always think it is nice to print out menu cards to place at each table setting. Not only does it look pretty, I think guests like to see what types of food to expect and look forward to. Guests can also take these home as a way to remember your party.

If you have a Word Processing program you can easily type up a menu card. Use a nice font; there are so many pretty ones to choose from! If you are making this an elegant affair, choose cursive. You can then print them up on heavy card stock.

There are so many fun possibilities at the online photo printing website now, such as Shutterfly. These sites allow you to design invitations (and menu cards) using their pre-designed templates. They print off the quantity you need and send them to you in the mail. In many cases, you can also pick up their prints at your local store they are affiliated with as well.

Dinner Party Ideas: Table Decorations

For an elegant dinner party, you will need a nice tablecloth, and cloth napkins. This is a great time to use your china! You can keep it simple too, of course. But I think it is fun to make dinner parties a bit fancy. Here is an example of how you set the table, if you need a reminder of placement:

how to set a place setting

As I mentioned above, I think menu cards at each place setting is a nice touch. It is also nice to have place name holders, so everyone knows where they will be seated. These can easily be handwritten or printed out on card stock that is folded in half so it stands as a little tent at each place setting. Think about the people you are inviting and who would like to sit next to one another to talk. It is easiest to talk with those on either side of you and right across the table.

There are so many fun ideas for beautiful centerpieces. Here are some of my favorites:

candle centerpieceCandle Arrangement: On a large decorative plate, arrange different sized pillar candles. You can keep them all the same color or in the same color family. You can add a few fresh flowers to the base on the plate, or put colored marbles on the plate.

Fresh Flowers: What can be simpler? Grab a bouquet of fresh flowers while shopping that morning for your fresh ingredients. Add them to a vase and you have the perfect centerpiece.

Vase filled with Nature: Choose a large clear vase, and fill it up with something from nature. I’ve seen beautiful vases filled with seashells, rocks, or pine cones. Vases filled with fruit look beautiful too. Lemons look great as a summer table centerpiece, or vase filled with real cranberries looks beautiful as a winter centerpiece.

seashell centerpiece

Dinner Party Ideas: Set the Mood with Music

Sometimes music is not thought of or planned for. But every event benefits from some background music. If you don’t plan for it ahead of time, you’ll be scrambling through your CD’s or MP3 files when guests are already there. Pre-plan for it, and have it already playing (at a low level) during the cocktails and mingling, and during the dinner itself.

With all the new technology it is so easy now to have a variety of music at your fingertips. If you have access to Pandora (Internet radio), either through your smart phone, computer, or Smart TV, you can play channels of music throughout the entire night (of course, be prepared for commercials if you do not have the paid version). If you type in “Easy Listening Radio” you will find many great artists. Or check out a few CD’s from the library to play throughout the evening. Piano and instrumental music works out nicely for a dinner party. Try out Kenny G, Jim Brickman, David Crain, or Michael Dulin, to name a few.

Dinner Party Ideas: Games and Icebreakers

You'll probably only consider an icebreaker if you have invited guests that do not know everyone else. As I mentioned above, it is always a good idea to make sure every guest knows at least one person besides yourself. But that doesn't mean they will know everyone in the room.

An icebreaker is a nice way to get people talking at the beginning of the party while you are busy finishing up the meal. It is also a nice way to ensure you have some interesting conversation going on during the meal!

What Celebrity Am I? - This game gets your guests moving around, mingling, and talking. As each guest arrives, tape a piece of paper on their back (without them seeing it) with a famous celebrity written on it. All guests should walk around the room, asking others questions about the celebrity on their back until they can figure out who it is.

To make it extra funny, once the guest has figured out their identity, they can impersonate them for the rest of the cocktail hour!

Which Statement is False? - This one can be played during the mingling time or during dinner itself. Each guest makes three statements about themselves. Two are true and one is false. Guests then try to guess which statement was a lie.

What Would You Do? - This makes for interesting dinner conversation. Think of a question to propose during dinner, then have each guest take a turn giving their opinion. You can think of your own questions, or try one of these:

  • What is your dream vacation, if money or time wasn't a concern?
  • What four things would you save from your house, if you could, if you had a fire?
  • If you could go back to college and pick a new career, what would it be?
  • What are the top 5 things on your bucket list?

Dinner Party Ideas: Make a Schedule

Your dinner party will be much more organized and stress-free if you have a schedule with the order (and time of events). This is really a must when cooking and serving the food yourself, to be sure everything is done cooking at the same time and is served hot.

Your schedule should include the time to begin each part. Keep this somewhere for you to see and refer to, then keep an eye on the time and keep the party moving along!

Here is an example of a dinner party schedule:

4:00 PM - Prepare the salad and place in the fridge; get the bar and drinks ready.
4:30 PM - Shower and get yourself dressed and ready
5:30 PM - Preheat the oven; butter the garlic bread and place on baking sheets.
5:45 PM - Place chicken in the oven, begin to cook the rice. Light candles and begin the dinner music.
6:00 PM - Guests being to arrive. Greet guests, show them to the cocktail table/bar. Explain the icebreaker activity.
6:30 PM - Start the brussel sprouts.
6:45 PM - Remove chicken; allow it to rest. Add bread to the oven to broil.
6:55 PM - Remove bread, place in bowl and keep warm. Invite guests to be seated.
7:00 PM - Serve dinner
7:45 PM - Start coffee
8:00 PM - Serve dessert, coffee, and after dinner drinks
8:15 PM - Move into living room for conversation and/or games.

Dinner Party Ideas: The Invitations

Now that you have all these dinner party ideas, you are ready to make the invitations. You'll have a good idea of what type of party this will be (formal, casual, ethnic flair, etc) and you can make your invitations reflect that accordingly.

It is really easy these days to make up invitations on your own using your computer. There are so many pretty fonts available. You can print them out on heavy card stock for a professional feel.

Invitations give the guests an idea of what to expect. They will know how formal it is going to be, and therefore, how to dress. If you have a colorful invite with bold printed letters inviting them to an outdoor summer barbecue, they will know that shorts or a sun dress is appropriate.

If on the other hand, the invitation is formal with cursive lettering it suggests a more elegant affair, and they should know to dress accordingly.

Be sure to include the date and time, and an idea of the cuisine you may be serving. Also be sure to ask for an RSVP by a certain date so you can plan for food.

I hope you enjoyed my dinner party ideas. Do you have any other dinner party ideas you would like to share with us? We would love to hear your special dinner party ideas.

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