4 Tricks for Hosting Your First Dinner Party in a New Place

How to pull off a night to remember.

There’s just something that says, “I’ve made it” when you finally have a space (and table) large enough to host your closest friends. But, playing host comes with a fair amount of stress, from planning your menu to making your new place look its best. Keep in mind: If you’re having a great time, everyone else will, too. But you won’t have fun if you’re stressed! Take the pressure off of yourself by making all the food beforehand and letting other people help out — you don’t have to do it all alone. Here are some tips on how to keep cool and throw a get-together worthy of your new space.

Add a little ambiance

It can take a while to make a space truly feel like yours. But there are a few tricks to give it an intimate, special feeling without having lived there for years. Dim lighting and a few flickering, tapered candles will instantly give the room a warm glow. You can also hang string lights if you want it to feel even more special. And don’t forget about the bathroom! Keep a large scented candle lit in there throughout the night so the ambiance extends everywhere your guests will be.

The right soundtrack can also turn a typical night into a celebration. This is your time to decide what atmosphere you want to provide to dinner guests and let your personality shine. Is your place somewhere they can let loose and party along to nostalgic pop, or do you want a more relaxed vibe with jazz or R&B? To avoid playing DJ all night, set up a playlist that’s a few hours long and forget it. Better yet, if one of your guests always has their headphones in, ask them to be the DJ! That way if someone asks what a song is, or for a change of tunes, they’ll go to them.

Keep things casual

It’s hard to know when to serve the appetizers at a dinner party. After all, there’s always that one friend that shows up right on time, and that other friend that thinks a starting time is just a suggestion. To account for both, have simple snacks set up in the living room so people can lounge while waiting for other guests to trickle in. If there isn’t enough room for everyone to sit on an actual chair (or your couch hasn’t arrived yet), have people sit on the floor with pillows and blankets, so no one is left standing up without a seat.

As for the food, this isn’t the time to overthink. Set out appetizers that are bite-sized, easy to eat, and taste great room temp or cold. Trays of olives, potato chips, nuts, and an array of dips or charcuterie will make everyone happy, but won’t fill them up before the meal ahead. Stock up on party favorites like Mediterranean spreads — hummus, tzatziki, muhammara, or baba ghanoush — or go with some classic American dips like spinach and artichoke, ranch, or onion. Buy some pre-cut vegetables and pita bread to go with it, or opt for a few kinds of cheese (alternate between hard and soft) and cured meats, paired with a jam like apricot or fig and crackers for a crowd-pleasing charcuterie board.

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Get guests involved

Once everyone’s gathered, have them choose their seats at the table so you can get ready for the main event. As with everything else, keep it simple. Make dishes you can cook beforehand, like a few salads featuring in-season produce, and a roast chicken or tray of baked ziti you can pull out once people begin to arrive. If any of your guests have a signature dish they love to make, whether it’s their mom’s famous mac ’n cheese or a secret salad dressing, let them! If everyone’s involved, they’ll be invested in the night going well, and guests will be able to ask each other for their recipes to help with conversation. Serve it all up family style so everyone can choose what they’d like and easily grab seconds.

End on something sweet

Don’t immediately begin to clean once everyone finishes their meal — it can make them unsure if they should help, and where the night’s headed. Instead, have people gather back in the living room, where they can relax and digest. After another drink and a bit of chatting, set out a simple dessert or two. You can always opt for a few pints of ice cream and an array of toppings, from crumbled cookies to sprinkles and gummy candy, so you don’t have to cook. Or to keep things light, you could also set out cut fruit, nuts, and chopped-up chocolate bars for grazing, so the conversation can continue.

Moving into a new place is a big deal. No matter what you serve, hosting a dinner party is about celebrating you and where you are in your life. Take it easy on yourself and relish the time you’re spending in your new home with your favorite people.