Some of the best memories are made at the table. That’s definitely true of the dinner party when friends gather to share a meal and laughter. But a dinner party can also strike dread in the most experienced host or hostess — because there’s so much to think about.

From the guests, to the vibe, to the food, here are six tips for throwing an unforgettable dinner party and enjoying yourself too.

Curate the Guest List

Who’s on the guest list? It’s easy to just text invites to your squad, but think about your guest list carefully before issuing invitations. Things to avoid? Guests who have a serious beef who will cause tension in the room. You should also steer clear of inviting a group that has a lot in common — for example, people you work with — and just one person from outside that realm. Instead, invite just your friends from one group. If you want to mix things up, invite people from different parts of your life who might have something in common with each other. Think of it as matchmaking your dinner party.

Create Atmosphere

Unforgettable Dinner Party

Let’s start with the venue. Are you planning on a buffet in your living room? A seated formal meal in your dining room? Or a dinner al fresco under the stars in your backyard? Each of these settings has a different vibe, and you should create your dinner party’s atmosphere accordingly. If it’s inside, consider hiring a housekeeper to come do a deep cleaning the day of your dinner party. If you’re hosting a backyard shindig, get your lawn mowed, trimmed and watered ahead of time. Trim the bushes and shrubs and treat for backyard pests. You want your yard to look as pristine as the inside of your house, and you don’t want your guests leaving with bug bites.

Make a music playlist that will enhance the mood — maybe hits from your college years for a get-together with old friends, or some chill vibes for a relaxed evening. Lighting is also important. Consider turning off any harsh overhead lights in favor of soft, warm lighting to set a mood. String lights and candles always look good!  And this is where you think about your decor and theme. Everything from your table linens to your flatware to your centerpieces — whether you are going for romantic (think roses!) or a luau, the atmosphere sets the mood of your dinner party.

Engage Your Guests

Unforgettable Dinner Party

One of the fastest ways to get people talking is to get people involved. Serve cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres right away — but make it interactive. For example, have a fondue bar set up for your appetizers. Guests can pick and choose their breads, veggies, and fruits and dip them in melted cheese or chocolate of their choice. It can be a mini taco bar or anything else that gets people using their hands — and gives them something easy to break the conversational ice.

Prepare Ahead of Time

The last thing you want to do is spend your whole dinner party in the kitchen, cooking. Prepare as much of your food and drink ahead of time to prevent stress. Not only does it free you up to greet your guests and chat, your house will smell amazing the moment they step inside. Or consider buying prepared food, even if it’s just the side dishes. No one will know that the salad came in a bag, or that you had a little help with the dry rub on the meat. If you’re calm and relaxed, you’ll make a much better impression on your friends who have come to spend time with you.

Time Things Out

It’s important to keep things moving to keep your guests from getting bored. Have cocktails and small bites ready to go when they arrive — and then serve your first course about 30 to 45 minutes in. Make sure everyone not only has enough time to eat, but they also have enough time to savor the food and the conversation. Dessert can be tricky. Serve it too soon, and people might be too full. Serve it too late, and people might leave before you can dish up your bread pudding or buttermilk chess pie.

Leave Things on a Sweet Note

And we’re not just talking about dessert! If you want to preserve sweet memories, send your guests home with a memento of the evening. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Ideas include a small favor box of candy or even a recipe of the evening’s main course or dessert handwritten on a card. Or your guests might enjoy herb seeds to plant in their own gardens later. This promises your dinner party will be remembered months later when the plants mature.

There is no one-size-fits-all guide to hosting a great dinner party. You have a lot of room to express your imagination through all the different elements, but the one unifying the theme of these six tips is this: What is your intention? As long as everyone goes home feeling good about the evening, your dinner party was a success!

The blog post was contributed by Peter Goldberg. Peter Goldberg is a gardening and landscaping writer, and outdoor extraordinaire. He likes to fire up the grill to cook for family and friends, as well as using his organically grown garden produce to create mouthwatering meals.

unforgettable dinner party