5 Tips for Hosting a Multi-Course Dinner Party

Hi friends, it’s Emma. This post is a little random maybe, but last week I was preparing to host what is now becoming an annual Valentine’s wine-pairing dinner party at our house and as I was thinking through all the logistics, and grocery lists, and prep I needed to do, I realized that over the years, hosting a coursed dinner has gotten a lot easier for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still plenty of work and if you’re the kind of person that just doesn’t enjoy cooking or hosting I totally get it. But I love cooking and getting to host people at our house now and again is a real treat for me. But I don’t like to spend the whole week before stressed, and I also don’t like spending the entire party in the kitchen. So with that in mind, I thought I might share my top five tips for hosting a multi-course dinner party in case anyone else out there likes to cook for others as much as me. 😉

First, maybe a few of you are wondering what I mean by a multi-course dinner. There are probably a million different ways you could do this but what Trey and I usually do is have five small courses (appetizer, salad, soup, main, dessert) that each get paired with a small glass of wine. Usually I will plan the menu and Trey will go to our favorite local wine shop to get recommendations on wine pairings based on the menu flavors. It’s really fun and feels special, so I love it for a group dinner, like having friends over for Valentine’s or hosting my family for Christmas Eve. Here are my tips.

1. Plan your menu wisely.

Planning the menu is usually my favorite part, other than actually getting to hang out with the people I love. I just love planning food! I love trying new recipes, making things up, trying others’ recipes that I’ve seen but haven’t had the occasion to make yet. I’m sure it’s the food blogger in me, but planning the menu is a lot of fun! But before you get too committed to that dish that will require 30 minutes of last-minute hand whipping, here are some things to keep in mind. First, does anyone in the group have allergies or dietary restrictions? Sometimes you can’t accommodate everyone for every course, but it’s at least good to keep in mind the needs of your group because more important than making a meal you’re proud of in a culinary sense is making a meal that people can actually enjoy.

Second, plan a menu that allows you to make 90% or more of the meal ahead of time. Yes, that’s right. You want to basically have ALL the food ready by the time your guests arrive, or at least pretty dang close. You also want to plan so that courses won’t overlap your kitchen’s utilities, like being able to make some things on the stovetop or a slow cooker, and not every item has to go in the oven at the same time. But for me, the majority of the meal is made the night before the party and then I’m mostly warming things, putting things together, and plating. This is how you avoid spending the entire party in the kitchen, although you will still have to be in the kitchen some. 🙂

2. Plan your serving items wisely.

Personally, I am not opposed to a mix of real and disposable dishware. There are certain kinds that can work well with certain dishes, and others that don’t. For me, I like to use real silverware, real wine glasses, and some real dishware—especially for hot dishes like soup. But if you serve a chocolate mousse to me in a cute plastic flute or give me a decent looking plastic water glass, personally I’m not bothered by that at all. So this is kind of up to you, but being able to mix is helpful both for clean up (you’ll be washing dishes for days if you’re not careful) and possibly storage issues. Our Valentine’s dinner has had 16 guests two years in a row now and when you think about that many people plus five courses, it’s a lot of dishes. And although I don’t prefer disposable for a number of reasons, I also don’t necessarily have room to store all the extra dishes I would need just to host this one party a year, so I’m good with a mix. But that’s just me!

Other than that, you just want to make sure you have counted and know you do have enough for everyone. And that you know what course will go with what dish so that once it’s go time and you’ve already had a glass of wine yourself, you don’t mix up things and all of the sudden not have enough dishes for the last course.

3. Prep throughout the week.

I like to spread out the work of getting ready. It makes me feel prepared and not overwhelmed. I usually make a list of everything I need to do and designate what I will do each night leading up to the party. So usually there is a night I will go buy all the groceries and other items I need. One or two nights I’ll prep all the food. You might also want a night to clean and maybe even partially decorate (like the night before) so you don’t feel any last-minute rush and you have time to curl your hair before the party just like everyone else. Ha!

4. Spread out the cost.

Hosting can become expensive fast. Of course, this is part of the joy of hosting, because it’s a gift to give of your time, your space, and your money to feed and spend an evening with loved ones. That being said, we all have budgets, and probably none of your friends or family would expect you to foot the entire bill (I know many of my friends would feel a little uncomfortable if I didn’t involve them, and I get it!). What I usually do for our wine-pairing dinners is we have all our guests buy the wine. We will figure out what will pair well with the menu (since our guests won’t know the menu necessarily ahead of time) and we’ll text them what to bring and how many bottles based on our group. Another option I’ve seen is I’ve been to dinners where we all just chipped in with a check or cash to the host to cover the cost of the night. I’m sure there are lots of other ways you could spread out the cost of hosting, but I would just keep in mind that you don’t have to put all that pressure on yourself—people love to help out, so just ask.

5. Enlist the help of others.

I am sometimes the worst at delegating or asking for help. Maybe it’s the middle child in me? I don’t know. But I’d like to think I’ve gotten better over time. Maybe? If your partner or roommate likes cooking, get their help. If not, they would probably be the perfect partner to help clean and decorate for the party. I will also have Trey design and print a menu of the courses with the wines for each seat because I love to have this so guests can see what we’ll be eating, and if someone really loves a particular bottle of wine they can make note of it to buy it again.

This also applies during the party. You don’t have to be the one to pass out all the plates of food, clear all the dishes, and refill the waters. Everyone at your party is probably more than willing to lend a helping hand, so just ask! I also have quite a few friends who will help clean up or even take out the trash before leaving, and although I don’t expect it, I always appreciate it.

In summary, you should host a dinner party. It’s honestly easy. Just plan ahead and get your friends to help and things will go well for you. And if they don’t for some reason, just order pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza? 🙂 Thanks for letting me share. xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photography: Laura Gummerman.
    • Ha! For this one (which was on Friday) we did:
      -Bacon Wrapped Pineapple and Dates
      -Caesar Salad with Shrimp
      -Creamy Leek and Cauliflower Soup
      -Stuffing Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes
      -Chocolate Mousse with Cocoa Nibs and Strawberries

      Three of these are recipes from the blog. Normally I am a little more adventurous but since I had the flu most of the week I didn’t get to test out anything new in time, but it turned out well anyway. I think everyone’s favorite was the meatballs. 🙂

  • If you don’t want to have disposable dishes, but don’t want/need to own that much china, you could always rent them from a party rental place. They have tons of styles/sizes/colors. Of course, you still have to do the dishes afterward, unless you get your party guests to help. Win-win!

  • This is fantastic – thank you! Just yesterday I reorganized my kitchen so I could have a party cabinet full of things I use for hosting. This guide is a major help – right now my apartment is not large enough for a big sit-down meal, but some day!

  • Think renting dishes is a good idea, or if “disposable” works better how about rinsing the plastic wear out and recycling it? Better than going direct to landfill. I worry about all the plastic waste in the world! Or often in Scotland we have a large soup like bowl, and you have your starter and then maincourse in it, cleaning it out with bread from your soup. You eat all your food and save on washing up! Also a fun idea could be each guest brings a glass and a plate then takes them home, a hodge-podge of crockery! X

    • You should certainly recycle anything and everything you can. Here in the USA I find there is a LOT of packing that our foods come in from the store that can be easily recycled if you just give it a rinse. Same goes for disposable plates or cups, even if you don’t use that kind of thing often (I pretty much only do for parties like this now and again).

  • It truly surprises me that you with such a platform can recommend buying plastic stuff that after one evening ends up in the landfill and takes forever to break down. There are compostable options, if washing is really too big of a deal. You guys experiment with ‘eco-friendly’ cosmetics and other things, plastic one-use glasses seem like such a no-brainer for people that are the least bit eco-conscious.

  • I’d love it if you would put together a few different menus that you’ve done (like the one a few comments up). That would be super helpful! Such a fun idea!

  • Great tips! I’m so intimidated by having a multi-course dinner party. I love to cook and have always wanted to do something like this for my friends but it seems really overwhelming. Thanks, Emma!

  • Love your post but don’t like disposable dishes suggestion. I know you’re taking heat for this but we have to be more conscience of our waste. If you don’t have enough dinnerware just borrow some. I have 25 ikea dinner plates I bought for .50 cents each. There’s always a better way than single use.

  • I love this- I’d also love to know what your dinner menu was (with the wine pairings of course!). Sometimes I have a list of many too complicated things to make and remembering the simple but crowd pleasers always seems to evade me when coming up with a menu!

  • I love giving dinner parties, too! Sharing dinner menus would be a great idea. This past weekend we had one and here is my menu:

    Appetizer: a selection of cheeses: Caprichio de Capra cheese (Spanish goat cheese found at Whole Foods), blue cheese and brie cheese served with Bella Maria Seville Orange Torta (kind of a semi-sweet orange flatbread (Spanish cracker)

    Main Course: choice of baked salmon with creamy dill sauce or oven slow-baked ribs

    Sides: baked sweet potatoes done in the crock pot and sautéed spinach with garlic, Craisins and slivered almonds

    Dessert: fruit plate with cookies from Whole Foods

    Everyone loved the dinner!

  • I love hosting friends for large dinners, but have never braved a multi-course dinner quite like this! I usually do something super simple like turkey tacos with rice and beans, or slow-cooker BBQ chicken with potato salad & baked beans. I loved this post though, and it honestly inspires me to host a “fancy” party like this – complete with paired wines! I love the idea of asking your friends to help out by buying/bringing the specific wines. And I also like someone’s suggestion above about borrowing plates and things – mostly because I personally love the look of mis-matched dishes!

    {And the people getting high & mighty about one-use plastic-ware should probably just calm down a smidge… We all know you are already conscious of stuff like this, and you’re not suggesting this as an every day solution. No need to judge so harshly… but that’s just my personal opinion 😉 }

    • i don’t think it’s harsh to make other suggestions. it’s great to hear what other people do! saying ‘calm down’ about single-use plastics is ignorant, especially in this day and age. i know you’re just trying to let emma know it wasn’t such a big deal, and i get that. still, i think we all appreciate that ABM is such a champion of eco-friendly options—so it makes perfect sense to bring this up, too. (sorry to sound like i’m calling you ‘ignorant.’ you don’t sound ignorant, i just dislike feeling shamed by people who tell me to calm down about the health of our environment, when honestly, there is nothing more important.)

  • I absolutely loved this post and all your ideas! I have done a couple dinners now for friends, but never a 5 course. My friend group is awesome about chipping in and helping, or everyone bringing an app or desert! Also- I am loving some of the disposable dish ware now a days… they look really nice and arn’t Too expensive!!! I bought some after Christmas and around New Years to just have for whatever party I may think up next!

  • Random idea: what if you host an online dinner party? What I mean by that is, you set a date (or maybe a particular weekend), and you set a menu (or maybe a couple choices for each course). Then invite readers to have their own dinner parties on your date with your menu. It seems like it would be a neat way to have community across a broad spectrum, and may entice some readers who were timid to host enough of a push to do it! And of course, people could come back in the following week with photos and stories for how it went. It sounds like fun to me!