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How to host your first dinner party

Hosting your first dinner party can be an exciting but nerve-wracking prospect. We know there’s a lot to consider from crafting delicious dishes to pairing them perfectly with dinner party cocktails.

However, with the right preparation and an injection of your own unique style, you can create an unforgettable evening for you and your guests. Follow our tips on how to host your first dinner party to ensure your soirée is a resounding success.

Choose a theme

It doesn’t have to come with a dress code or a plethora of decorations you’ll only use once, but selecting a theme helps set the tone for your dinner party and helps guide your food, drinks, and decor choices. Whether it’s a rustic Italian feast, a summer Southern BBQ, or a cosy winter gathering, put your stamp on the evening.

Curate your menu

Once you’ve chosen your theme, you now need to craft a menu that complements it and will impress the taste buds of everyone sitting at the table. Incorporate local produce, seasonal ingredients and diverse flavours. 

For example, if your menu is based on traditional Scottish fare, you’ll want to incorporate Scotch beef, root vegetables and fresh raspberries. Whereas if you are serving Mediterranean mezze, your ingredients are more likely to be fish and chicken accompanied by zesty lemon, ripe tomatoes, and homemade pesto. Consider offering a variety of dishes to cater to different dietary preferences and restrictions.

It’s also important to think about the drinks you are going to serve throughout the evening and with each course. There’s a knack to selecting elegant cocktail recipes. You want to find complementary or contrasting flavours that ensure notes aren’t overpowered or any one taste commands the moment. 

It also helps to think about the mouthfeel and weight of the drinks you are serving. For example, a whisky julep is a light and refreshing cocktail that works well as an accompaniment to a starter or as a palette cleanser between your savoury and sweet courses.

Create your guest list

A dinner party requires attendees, so you must decide who you are inviting. It could be a chance for extended family to get together, for instance, or you could aim for a mix of old friends and new friends with a variety of interests to keep the evening engaging. Your invitations can be sent out digitally but if you want to make them really special, design ones that can be personalised, printed and sent in the post.

Go shopping

After you’ve received your RSVPs and you know how many people you’ll be cooking for, you need to go and get everything you’ll need for your dinner party menu. Plan your shopping list meticulously to avoid any last-minute rushes or forgotten items. Shop for high-quality ingredients and beverages that will keep in advance and get your fresh ingredients closer to the day of the event.

Stock the bar

A well-stocked bar is a must for a dinner party, whether you’re going to be the mixologist for the evening or setting it up so your guests can self-serve. Feature a variety of premium spirits, including whisky, vodka and gin along with a selection of fine wines and artisanal beers. You’ll also want to include liqueurs, sodas, fresh juices, garnishes and ice.

Offer classic whisky cocktails like an Old Fashioned or a Whisky Sour, as well as new drinks for your guests to try such as a Coco Breeze cocktail or Elderflower Collins. Don’t forget to offer interesting non-alcoholic choices for the designated drivers and those who don’t drink.

Perfect your table décor

Set the stage for an elegant dining experience with thoughtfully curated table decor. Opt for simple yet stylish place settings, crisp table linen and fresh flowers to create a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Prep ahead of time

Minimise stress on the day of the party by preparing as much as possible in advance. Chop vegetables, marinate meats and set the table the night before to streamline the cooking process.

Make a playlist

Set the mood with a playlist that complements the ambience of your dinner party. Choose a mix of upbeat tunes and mellow melodies to keep the energy flowing throughout the evening. You could even ask your guests to suggest a song when they RSVP to create a playlist that reflects the unique personalities of everyone who’s coming.

Hit the lights

Adjust the lighting to create an intimate and cosy environment. Dim the overhead lights and opt for soft candlelight or lamps instead. If outside, use string lights to add a nice touch to the occasion.

Pour the welcome drinks

When your guests arrive, you don’t want to head straight to the table. Instead, you want to give them time to mingle and chat. Welcome your guests with a sophisticated whisky cocktail like a Boulevardier or Vieux Carre to help set the tone for the evening.

Serve each course

Pace your dinner party by serving each course with precision and grace. Start with appetisers or amuse-bouches, followed by a light salad or soup, a mouthwatering main course, and a decadent dessert. 

Pair each dish with a drink. For example, an oolong tea cocktail would complement steamed bao buns, steak goes well with a Maraschino Cherry Manhattan, and an Apple Spritz would work wonderfully with warm baklava.

Add extra fun and games

Once everyone has finished their meals, keep your guests entertained with a selection of fun activities or games. Whether it’s a whisky tasting, a board game tournament, or a quickfire quiz, offer something to spark conversation and laughter.

Offer a nightcap

As the evening winds down, offer your guests a comforting nightcap to savour as they linger and reminisce about the night’s festivities. The best whisky digestif cocktails aren’t too heavy and aid digestion. Serve The Glenlivet smooth scotch whisky neat or offer a whisky coffee cocktail to wrap up the party.

Say goodbye with a gift

Show your appreciation to your guests by sending them off with a thoughtful parting gift. Whether it’s a small token of appreciation, a personalised memento or a sweet treat they can enjoy the next day, it’ll leave a lasting impression that will remain long after the party ends.

Do the dishes

Once everyone’s gone, the only thing that’s left to do is tidy away the remnants of an evening that was enjoyed by all. Rinse your plates, stack the dishwasher, and leave any pans with stubborn stains to soak overnight – after all your hard work, they can wait until tomorrow.

Hosting your first dinner party is a rite of passage that allows you to showcase your creativity, culinary skills, and hospitality. You’re well on your way to holding a get-together that will be the talk of the town for years to come. However, if you are already thinking ahead to your next event, read our expert guide to hosting a brunch party or take a look at our tips on how to throw an outdoor garden dinner party for more inspiration.