Casual Dinner Party Ideas and Menus

The first thing you need to pull off a dinner party is a helper. David and I work together, and we’ve done it so many times now that we can pull together a party for 20 in about a day.

But I could not do it without him. He usually takes care of the tables and setting up everything while I’m cooking and sometimes he pitches in to help in the kitchen as well. And, he does most of the cleanup.

If you don’t have a husband or wife or partner to help, then ask a good friend to step in and help out at least on the day of they event.

It will make a huge difference in your stress level.

How to Host a Dinner Party

Decide on a menu. If you’re making an entrée, cook something that’s easy to make in large quantities. If you don’t have enough seating room then plan on mostly finger food.

Decide early on whether you want people to bring something or you want to do everything. If you’re doing it all, then you need to create a plan to go with your menu. Know exactly how long each dish takes to prepare and try to have most of your food completed the day before.

If you’re asking friends to bring something, be specific otherwise you might end up with 10 desserts and no sides.

If you’re serving alcohol then plan about 1 bottle of wine for every 3 people who will drink wine. Adjust by the number you know will drink beer or something else. Plan on about 3-4 beers per beer-drinking person throughout the course of the evening.

These are estimates, and I usually already have extra on hand. You can also make a drink in a large quantity, such as sangria or vodka lemonade, or you can just have wine and beer. We usually do the latter, but also have 2 full bars, one upstairs and one downstairs.

Our friends are accustomed to coming in and fixing their own drinks because that’s just the way we do it. But of course, you can have a designated person to serve as bartender.

If you’re having a full bar, then you need to stock it well: lemons, limes and plenty of mixers. You should also have non-alcoholic beverages: sweet and unsweetened tea, cokes and plenty of water.

Try a nice pitcher of spa water (add sliced cucumbers, slices of lemon and/or lime and some fresh mint or basil).

Dinner party ideas and menus for casual or formal occasions.

Figure out whether your food will be buffet style or plated. For most occasions, buffet works best and is easier on everyone, especially the host.

Can you lay out the buffet on your kitchen counter? Dining room table?

If not, you can purchase a long table from Target or Costco and use it for a food table. That’s usually what we do since trying to have everyone run through the kitchen creates congestion.

Dinner party ideas and menus for casual or formal occasions.

Also, think about where your guests will sit. For a large party, we put people at the kitchen table, the dining room table, and the bar stools in the kitchen. We’ve also placed card tables in the basement for additional seating for larger groups.

Have all the seating and tables set up and ready the day before or the morning of the event.

Dinner party ideas and menus for casual or formal occasions.
Dinner party ideas and menus for casual or formal occasions.

Plan your serving dishes and plates, utensils. Are you using real plates or paper plates? We do both, just depending on the event and how many people are expected. Costco has a nice set of heavy plastic plates that have a silver border which we’ve used frequently. They’re nicer looking than paper plates, but they are still disposable and you can purchase a set of 50.

But we also have two sets of our dinner plates, which are nothing fancy, and sometimes we just use those. And, quite often we use regular paper plates, again depending on the event and the number of people attending. We also have two sets of flatware, but for large parties we usually go ahead and use plastic.

You can stress about this stuff but the reality is that most people don’t care. They don’t care whether all your plates match or whether you use plastic forks.

They just want to spend time with friends or family and have fun.

Clean your house the day before and make sure your bathrooms are stocked with plenty of extra tissue, soap and hand towels.

Decorations should be simple—fresh flowers are nice but you don’t want a huge bouquet of flowers in the middle of the table (like the one in the first photo above – I normally wouldn’t have a bouquet like that) that people are having to look around to talk to each other.

Keep centerpieces short and relatively small. Candles are nice in various places. I love candles, so we have them everywhere.

Most important is to plan. Make a list of your menu and the ingredients you need and go to the store the day before you’re going to start cooking.

On your list, have your dishes in the order that you’re going to cook them, so you know what has to be done first, what needs to chill in the fridge for several hours or marinate overnight, what can go in the oven when and how long each dish will take—disaster can occur if you don’t plan this out well and have two or three things that need to go in one oven at the same time.

When I’m doing a really big event, like Thanksgiving or the sit-down Christmas dinner that we have every year, I have an actual time schedule of everything that I have to do.

Pie in the fridge by noon. Potatoes on at 4. Meat in the oven at 5. It works.

Casual Dinner Party Menu Ideas:

Pasta for 15-25:

Fall Gameday for 15-25:

Southern Standby for 15-25:

Dinner for 6-8:

Dinner for 6 or 8:

Dinner for 6-20:

Soup Dinner for 10-25:

Old-fashioned Country Dinner for 6-8:

Old-fashioned Country Dinner for 6-8:

Dinner for 6-8:

What’s your favorite dinner party menu?