How to Throw the Perfect Dinner Party

Everyone loves a good dinner party, but hosting them is another matter entirely. These gatherings have a reputation for being stressful for the hostesses putting them together, but they really don't have to be such a hassle. If you're thinking of inviting some friends or family members over for a nice meal, there are plenty of ways to make the preparation process easier and ensure that everyone – including you – has a good time. Here are some tips to use next time you're hosting a dinner party and want the evening to go off without a hitch.

Choose the right guests
Not all of your social circles may seamlessly get along. If that's the case, it's best if your guest list includes people who you know can hang out together without any problems. Invite people with similar interests and things in common so there won't be any awkward lulls in the conversation. It's fine to introduce one or two people to the rest of the guests, but make sure they have personalities that you think will mesh.

Ask about special requirements
The last thing you want is to spend time making a delicious meal only to find out that half of your guests are allergic to one of the ingredients you used. Before you make any plans, ask each guest if there are any special dietary requirements that you need to keep in mind. You might need to offer vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free options, as well as foods that won't be a problem for those who have allergies. This will make sure that no one feels left out.

Come up with a theme
You can make the night a lot easier on yourself if you work together with your guests to come up with a theme. It can be seasonal if there's a holiday coming up, but otherwise it's super easy to choose a country or type of cuisine to plan your meal around. Think Mediterranean, Italian, Spanish tapas, Mexican or Thai. A potluck dinner can also be fun if your guests are open to bringing a dish to share with everyone and you can do a little planning to make sure everyone brings a different course.

Don't go out of your comfort zone
Although you might be tempted to try a new recipe that you saw on Pinterest, now's not the time to do any experimenting in the kitchen. Stick to dishes that you're familiar with and have made before so you're not stuck with any nasty surprises if something goes wrong. Chances are, your guests will be more impressed when they taste a delicious dish you've perfected rather than something complicated you decided to whip up that morning. If you really want to try a new dish, practice making it ahead of time so you can work out any kinks.

Set the scene
You don't have to go the extra fancy route for your dinner party – unless you want to, of course. Some of the trendiest table decor these days relies on a mixture of different colors, textures and patterns for a fun, quirky effect that helps put everyone at ease. Mix and match your favorite dinnerware for an exciting table setting that speaks to your personality, and don't forget a fun centerpiece. As for the lighting, turn down the overhead lights if you can and make your guests feel more glamorous by lighting candles that will emit a soft, flattering glow. Appeal to your guests' musical tastes by putting together a playlist that can play softly in the background for the duration of your party.

Make the focus on your guests
No one wants to sit around waiting for the food to be done knowing you're slaving over a hot stove, and they definitely don't want to sit awkwardly at the table while you whisk away their dishes and start the cleanup. Make sure the focus is on your guests by taking care of the majority of these tasks before and after they arrive. Prep all of the food as early as possible and set up the dishes so you won't have to worry about running around making sure everything is perfect at the last minute. When the meal is over, accept guests' help if you feel comfortable doing so, but otherwise wait until they've left to start the serious cleanup duties.

Don't forget dessert
No meal is complete without a nice dessert, and a sweet treat is a great opportunity to relax and relish one another's company while you digest the main course. Think about serving dessert in the living room away from the table for a more relaxed atmosphere that will help wind down the night.