How to throw your first dinner party

A guide to the basics of adult entertaining


Dinner parties don’t have to be stressful or fancy to achieve their goal — bringing people together. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

When I was six years old, my parents threw a huge dinner party at our house. I say huge because of the immense time and effort that went into preparing a spotless house, perfect meal and refined evening. I, of course, was not permitted to attend the exclusively adult event. Instead, I was sent to bed early. Like any curious child, I lied awake listening until guests arrived, then snuck down the hallway to peek at the gathering in all its glory. I remember standing and staring in wonder at the beautiful decorations, the candlelit dining room, the four course meal, the sparkling glasses filled with champagne and the slow jazz music playing in the background while dolled-up ladies chatted with men in suits. It was like that famous scene from “Titanic” was playing out in my house. 

That night I would have given anything to be a part of festivities. I never dreamed that being in the position of throwing dinner parties would actually produce dread and paralyzing fear. Throwing dinner parties is a part of being an adult and even if you have never entertained before, this list compiles five basics that will make you look like a pro even if it’s your first party. So pick a date and call up your friends. Let’s get this party started. 

The Drinks. 

This may not fly after college, but drinks is the area where I choose to save a little money and a lot of heartache for my college dinner parties. Instead of laboring to meet every single one of my guests preferences for drinks, I make the party bring-your-own-beverage. I would suggest buying plastic cups for guests to serve with, however. Chinet Plastic Party cups can be found at Walmart for just $3.96 and work really well for all kinds of wine, mixed drinks or just water and lemon. 

Pro Tip: In my experience these cups are indestructible so have your guests throw them in the sink and wash them for next time. 

The Ambiance.

Decorate with fresh flowers and candles around the room. Both are cheap and transform the feel of any room, no matter the decor or lack thereof. In addition, most college students have a few strands of Christmas twinkle lights laying around. Ask friends and roommates and compile some to give your central living space a lovely glow. 

Pro Tip: Ping pong balls can easily transform regular twinkle lights into festive lantern lights for cheap. Just punch a hole in the balls and put them over each light and you just upped your ambiance exponentially. 

The playlist is another key aspect. Spotify and Pandora both have Dinner Party playlists featuring Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé and the like. Any type of instrumental playlist would do the trick as well. Making your own on Spotify or adding your friends’ favorite songs makes the night even more fun. 

Even with my closest friends, there is a much different atmosphere since dinner parties are formal events. Plan an icebreaking activity using a Polaroid camera. I set mine out and invite guests to use it while they pour drinks and snack on appetizers. It has been a hit at all my dinner parties.

The Cheese Plate. 

Having an appetizer ready as soon as guests arrive is essential. Cheese plates require the least prep for the classiest effect. Three types of cheese with crackers and some type of fresh or dried fruit round out a good cheese board perfectly. 

Try not pick expensive cheeses in attempt to appear fancy. Wheat Thins with colby jack, pepper jack and for a soft cheese, a round of Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Garlic and Herb work really well together. Add slices of Granny Smith apple for a complementary sweet and tart flavor to the otherwise savory platter. A cheese plate similar to this one will costs around $15. 

The Entree.

Italian food is my go to for dinner parties. Ravioli with tomato sauce and a big salad is a bit fancier than plain spaghetti, but just as simple to make. I would suggest preparing a garden salad of chopped romaine lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes with store bought Italian dressing the night before your party. 

Cook the ravioli before anyone arrives and cover it to keep it warm while guests settle in. After greeting guests, start warming the jar of Prego traditional pasta sauce in a saucepan on low heat. A dinner party shouldn’t be so stressful that you forget to enjoy the company of the people you invited and this meal takes very little prep time so that you can do just that. 

Taking into account varying prices for produce, the meal should come out to close to $20 if serving a party of 10. 

Once the sauce is warm, place pasta, salad and sauce in three large bowls with serving spoons and invite guests to serve themselves, buffet style. Chinet clear plastic plates are only $4.93 for an 18 count at Walmart. They save the trouble of searching for matching dishes as well as washing up afterwards. 

The Finale.

It is important to choose a dessert that complements the level of class of the meal you just served. Cookies from pre-packaged dough or a cake from the bakery section of the grocery store simply won’t do. Strawberries and cream is a fresh dessert to pair with this meal. Use extra plastic cups and layer sliced strawberries sprinkled with granulated sugar and whipped cream. This dessert costs around $10 based on the price of strawberries. If strawberries are not in season, any other berry can be substituted. 

Dinner parties don’t have to be stressful or fancy to achieve their goal — bringing people together. You now have all the tools to start doing so in class. Anyone in college can throw a dinner party that would rival that iconic night of my childhood.

Hailey Eaves is a Food Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at

related stories