Hosting a dinner party can be overwhelming. The biggest decision is what to cook. Today I am sharing 12 dinner party menu ideas that break down what to serve, including cocktails, appetizers, main courses, side dishes, and desserts.
I have organized the dinner party recipes by theme. Some are ideal for a large group, others have simple recipes ideal for a last minute event, and there is a budget-friendly option. I hope that these menus help you plan a fantastic evening with friends gathered around the dinner table.
Dinner Party Hosting Tips and Tricks:
Before we get into the dinner party menus, I wanted to start with some tips and tricks for dinner party success. There are a few things that make hosting friends so much easier:
Create a drink station outside the main kitchen space. I use a side counter. Have open bottles of wine, a large batch cocktail in a pitcher, and some beer (put it on ice in a large bowl) out and ready for guests. I also like to add a pitcher of ice water with lemons. Pull wine glasses and water glasses out of your cabinets and arrange them beside the drinks. This makes things so much easier for you; it keeps people out of the kitchen, and it prevents you from need to go into cabinets to get glassware every time a guest arrives!
Set your dining room table before guests arrive. You want to prepare as much as you can in advance. Fresh flowers and a tablecloth or table runner will give your table a more formal look. If you have a white wine chiller, put it in the middle of the table. This is the best way to make sure your wine will stay chilled so that your guests won’t be left with room temperature wine.
There is nothing wrong with mixing store-bought food with homemade. Just make sure to transfer store-bought food (like hummus) into serving bowls for a more sophisticated look.
Be ready for clean up! Make sure you have the essentials like paper towels and dish detergent on hand. And empty your dishwasher and your trash before guests arrive.
A thoughtful tablescape is a great opportunity to set the tone at your next dinner party. You might find inspiration from these table settings: White and Gold Tablescape, Coastal Inspired Table Setting, and Fresh Fruit Tablescape.
The other big question is how much food to purchase. There are a couple of rules that I follow:
How much meat to buy: You want to base the amount of meat that you purchase on the number of guests. I buy 1/2 pound of meat per person. I adjust this to 3/4 pound per person if I am buying a cut of meat with bones. I also get a little extra if there are going to be more men than women since men tend to eat more.
How much wine to buy per person: You want to have enough wine so that each person can have three glasses of wine; this is 1/2 a bottle per person.
How many veggies to buy: I like to buy one potato per person and a handful of loose veggies per person.
What about appetizers: If you are making bite-sized apps, make enough so that everyone can have 3-4. If you are making a dip, make enough so each person can have at least 1/4 cup.
Dinner Party Menus:
Tex- Mex Dinner Party Menu
Cocktail: Watermelon Lemonade Cooler – This light and refreshing citrus cocktail pairs well with foods that have a kick of spice.
Appetizer: 7 Layer Taco Dip – You can’t go wrong with this dip, I serve it at almost every party and my friends will eat every last bite. Or make (or buy) Guacamole!
Main Course: Chicken Chimichangas with a Poblano Cream Sauce – I served these at a party, and my friends haven’t stopped talking about the chimichangas or the “magic” poblano cream sauce.
Dessert: Strawberry Vanilla Cupcakes with Lime Icing – The light, refreshing flavor of these cupcakes seems like a nice contrast to spice.
A Dinner Party on a Budget
Cocktail: Apple Moscow Mule – I picked this because while it is easy and inexpensive to prepare, it will also pair well with pork tenderloin. If you want a glass of wine with dinner, I recommend a Dry Reisling.
Appetizer: Reduced Fat Spinach Artichoke Dip – This easy stovetop dip recipe comes together in just 10 minutes, and you likely have many of the ingredients in your fridge already. Or, Alouette, Prosciutto, and Asparagus Roll Ups – this three-ingredient appetizer is so easy and delicious!
Main Course: Shallot and Mushroom Pork Tenderloin – Pork tenderloin is one of the most affordable cuts of meat. It also happens to be delicious and quick and easy to cook! It is the unsung hero of the meat case. This recipe with shallots and mushrooms is bursting with flavor. Serve with Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Carrots or Green Beans.
Dessert: Indiana Sugar Cream Pie – This easy vanilla custard pie recipe relies on pantry staples you might already have.
Casual Easy Recipes Low on Prep Time
Cocktail: This menu is all about keeping it easy. I think the thing to serve is beer – a burger and a beer is a classic food and drink combination.
Appetizer: Guacamole – I think it is a fact that everyone loves guacamole, and I love to serve it with burgers because it tastes great on a burger. You can make your guac from scratch, or you can get store-bought.
Main Course: Cheeseburger Tacos – Putting burgers in tortillas is genius because it lets you add more toppings without the burger getting so tall that it is impossible to eat. Form the burgers in advance, mix up some animal sauce, cook some bacon, and arrange burger toppings on a platter. Serve the cheeseburger tacos with grilled corn, and Garlic Parmesan Grilled Potatoes, or for something lighter, a Shopska Salad.
Dessert: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie – This no bake pie is a delicious treat!
Make Ahead Recipes
Cocktail: Lambrusco Sangria – To prepare this fruity and effervescent cocktail, you marinate apple, tangerine, and cranberries in a mix of orange juice and brandy. You can prepare this the night before, and then just before guests arrive, pour that fruit mixture into a pitcher and add ice and a bottle of lambrusco.
Appetizer: Classic Artichoke Dip and Baked Goat Cheese can be prepared in day advance and then baked. Or, I am a big fan of a simple charcuterie board.
Main Course: Chicken Marsala – This recipe is perfect for dinner parties because it tastes even better the next day. Serve it over egg noodles. If you want to serve a veggie, Asparagus Wrapped with Cheese and Prosciutto would be perfect.
Dessert: Ice Cream Icebox Cake and Chocolate Pudding are both desserts that you can prepare a day or two in advance. The icebox cake is easy to customize using your favorite ice cream flavors!
The Christmas Dinner My In-Laws Loved
Cocktail: We sipped Gin and Tonics or Dry Riesling.
Appetizer: Figs with a Blue Cheese and Balsamic Reduction – This is an appetizer that is equally easy to prepare and elegant.
Main Course: Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese, and Sage – This recipe is a star. Pork tenderloin is butterflied and then filled with diced roasted butternut squash, goat cheese, and sage. The pan drippings make an incredibly flavorful gravy. I served this with Brown Butter Risotto, which soaks up the gravy beautifully.
Dessert: My in-laws are British so they had mince meat pies, but I would serve Snowmen Rice Krispie Treats or Mini Apple Pies.
My Mom’s Go-To Christmas Dinner
Cocktail: We always drink red wine at my parent’s house, and it is the best pairing for this meal. I like to start with a Pinot Noir and then move on to something a bit bolder like a Cabernet Franc.
Appetizer: My Mom has been making a Classic Artichoke Dip for decades. Other fun and fitting appetizers for this meal are Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Wrapped Breadsticks, Roasted Red Pepper and Caramelized Onion Dip, and Grilled Brie are all great holiday appetizers.
Main Course: Beef Tenderloin Tips with a Bourbon Cream Sauce – This beef recipe is formal, yet easy on preparation time, and it’s so delicious that we have been eating it for years. Mom serves with this Mashed Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts.
Dessert: We love to end a holiday meal with pie and some of favorites are Bourbon Butterscotch Pie and Chocolate Caramel Pie. The easiest pie recipe out there, and a personal favorite, is this recipe for Chocolate Walnut Pie. If you are feeling ambitious, make a Pielogen (it’s pie, cake, and cheesecake combine).
Healthy Dinner Party Menu
Appetizer: Grilled Pineapple and Mango Salsa or Mango, Avocado, Jalapeno, Yogurt Dip – These are light fruit-based appetizers that set a night of healthy eating off on the right foot.
Main Course: Crispy Chicken and Superfood Salad – I love a salad loaded with toppings. This salad brings together superfoods like spinach, beets, butternut squash, and chicken breast. Plenty of crispy chicken and a scoop of rice make this a filling salad. I like to let guests assemble their own salads so that they can customize their salads to accommodate any dietary restrictions.
Dessert: New England Style Strawberry Shortcake – when it comes to desserts, this is a healthier one. You can adjust or increase the amount of berries and decrease the amount of whipped cream to make this healthier. If you want to make dessert even healthier and easier, serve slices of angel food cake topped with berries and lemon curd.
Classic Italian Dinner Party Menu
Cocktail: Negroni Slushies or Aperol Spritzes – These are both classic Italian cocktails, and they are easy to make!
Appetizer: Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad – I love a cypress salad and roasting the tomatoes adds a depth of flavor. Or, make Italian Croquettes filled with prosciutto and parmesan.
Main Course: Braciole – This recipe for flank steak rolled up with herbs, cheese, and breadcrumbs and cooked in tomato sauce is the most popular recipe on this website! It is great for a dinner party because it needs to cook low and slow, which means that you can prepare everything and have dinner roasting in the oven or slow cooker (and filling your home with delicious scents) when your guests arrive. I like to serve this meal with pasta and Easy Creamy Spinach. The best part of braciole is that it is an easy way to prepare a meal for a larger guest list.
Dessert: Birramisu – This is tiramisu made with Vanilla Porter; it is a fun twist on an Italian dessert.
Sunday Roast Dinner Party Menu
Cocktail: Cucumber Lime Gin and Tonics – A flavorful twist on a classic gin and tonic that both men and women love. Or you could serve beer – which is fitting for a British-themed menu.
Appetizer: Deviled Eggs – a classic British snack seems like a fitting way to start the meal. Or make Cheese Veggie and Prosciutto Pastry Roll Ups, this appetizer of my invention is made with shaved zucchini and summer squash rolled up with creamy herbed cheese in pastry dough.
Main Course: A traditional Sunday Roast with Roasted Pork Loin or Roasted Chicken with Roasted Potatoes, Roasted Carrots, and Yorkshire Pudding, and Gravy. Just like you find at the pubs! Or, if you want to save time in the kitchen, buy chicken pot pie from a local bakery.
Dessert: Eton Mess or Sticky Toffee Pudding Skillet – both are traditional British desserts. The Eton Mess is the easier of the two, but my favorite is the Sticky Toffee Pudding Skillet.
Greek Dinner Party Menu
Cocktail: Rosé Sangria or Aperol Spritz – These lighter tasting cocktails won’t overwhelm the favors of the meal.
Appetizers: Whipped Feta, or Lemon and Roasted Garlic Hummus, or Honey, Fig, and Brie Phyllo Cups – These appetizers are easy to prepare and they use classic Greek ingredients. And the whipped feta and hummus can be added to the chicken pitas!
Main Course: Chicken Pitas – These pitas are made with tender yogurt marinated chicken, and then topped with a Balkan Salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and feta. When I hosted a Greek night for my girl friends, I made the chicken and hummus, but I ordered fresh pitas and some dips from a Greek restaurant nearby. Ordering part of the meal from a restaurant is a great way to save time while letting you focus on the rest of the meal.
Dessert: Strawberry Cake – The light fruity flavor of this cake is a perfect match for this menu!
Pasta Night Dinner Party Menu
Cocktail: Wine and pasta just go together. I would serve a Chianti or a Pinot Noir with this meal, but if you want to start or end the night with something fun, serve Prosecco Floats.
Appetizer: Cheesy Mushroom Dip – This dip is made with chopped mushrooms and cheese and seasoned with fresh herbs. And any leftover dip is delicious in a sandwich. Or, for a no-cook alternative, you can’t go wrong with a simple cheese board.
Main Course: Easy Beefy Pasta Skillet – This recipe has lots of beef and mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce. It is a complete meal – no need to make side dishes. If you want to make a vegetarian version of this recipe, omit the beef and add extra mushrooms and throw in a couple of handfuls of spinach just before serving.
Dessert: Angel Food Cake with Whipped Chocolate Frosting – Pasta fills you up, so you want to serve a dessert that is on the lighter side. This cake is one my mother has been making my entire life, and it is easy to eat a full slice even after a big meal.
Steakhouse Style Dinner Party Menu
Cocktail: I like to pair steak with a big bold red wine like a Cabinet Sauvignon or a Malbec.
Appetizer: Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing – This just might be my favorite part of going to a steakhouse for dinner.
Main Course: Steak with a Garlic Mustard Sauce – Serve with Sriracha Parmesan Broccoli and Steakhouse Style Twice Baked Potatoes with sour cream and cheese.
Dessert: Thin Mint Chocolate Pie – Steakhouses tend to be known for their decadent chocolate desserts and this fits into that category.
I hope that your next party is a huge success!
Sunday 30th of December 2018
This is a great collection of ideas and good tips for a fantastic dinner party! Thanks so much for sharing your special talent with us at Full Plate Thursday and may you have a safe & prosperous new year!
Helen at the Lazy Gastronome
Wednesday 26th of December 2018
Love those cheeseburger tacos! Thanks for sharing at the What's for Dinner party - hope your holiday was fantastic!! Have a great week.
Wednesday 26th of December 2018
They are a personal favorite - I like them more than a traditional cheeseburger!