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8 Best Things to Serve at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say

Here's how to be the host with the most.

When you're throwing a dinner party, your greatest goal should always be to make each person feel welcome in your home. As the host, you can help achieve this by being warm and attentive to each guest, helping them connect with others, and serving a thoughtful menu. In fact, etiquette experts say there are a handful of menu rules that can serve as a shortcut to dinner party success. Planning your next event? Here's exactly what to serve if you want to be known as the host with the most.

RELATED: 5 Worst Things to Serve at a Cocktail Party, Etiquette Experts Say.

A welcome drink

Happy friends group cheering mojito drinks at cocktail bar restaurant

When your guests arrive, you should greet them warmly, take their coats, and immediately offer them a welcoming drink, says Jules Hirst, founder of Etiquette Consulting.

"Upon arrival, treat your guests to a signature cocktail or a drink of their choice. Your guests will feel welcomed and a signature cocktail provides a conversation starter as they mingle with your other guests," she says.

A variety of appetizers

friends sharing some wine, fruit, and cheese at a dinner party
Shutterstock/Yulia Grigoryeva

It's also a good idea to provide your guests with a variety of hors d'oeuvres upon their arrival.

"You want to have a range of appetizers that are inclusive of different dietary preferences. Meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegan options ensure there is something for everyone," says Hirst.

"Smaller appetizers can be circulated allowing the guests to experience different tastes while not loading them down with carrying a plate of food with their drink," she adds.

RELATED: 5 Best Things to Ask Guests to Bring to a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say.

A well-balanced meal

Handsome young man wearing kitchen apron hosting dinner party and serving food to his friends at home.

There's no single meal that's sure to please every guest, but the experts say that you should always focus on creating a thoughtful balance to your menu.

"You can never go wrong with the trio of a protein, vegetables, and a starch. If served together plated, this allows you to wow your guests with your combination and artistry. If served family style, you can encourage your guests to share and engage while enjoying the meal," says Hirst.

Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette Academy, says you should also balance rich and complex foods with light and simple ones. "If you are serving a heavy soup or shellfish dressed in a creamy sauce you might want to balance this with chicken or fish baked in fresh herbs with lightly seasoned vegetables."

"The [dessert] could be a little richer such as a tarte… or chocolate cake served with clotted cream," she adds.

A meal that plays to your culinary strengths

A mature couple hugging while they cook a meal in the kitchen

Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, says that before you step foot in the kitchen to prepare the meal for your party, it's a good idea to get honest with yourself about your culinary skills.

"When planning a dinner party, know thyself. Are you a fantastic chef? Fabulous, let the cooking begin," Smith says. "But if you are not a culinary expert, play to your strengths. Pick your menu based on tried and true recipes you know well."

She adds that there's no shame in supplementing with store-bought items if you have known weak spots. For instance, if you're an accomplished cook but don't know much about baking, it's OK to pick up cakes or tarts from your favorite bakery.

"This frees up time in the kitchen and allows you to offer dishes beyond your expertise," Smith says.

RELATED: 5 Worst Things to Serve at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say.

Foods that meet your guests' dietary needs

Attractive young couple cooking healthy meal in their kitchen

If any of your guests has a dietary restriction, it's important not to leave them out of your planning, the experts all agree.

"Be sure to ask for dietary restrictions in advance. Having multiple side dishes (vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free) allows everyone plenty of choices," says Smith.

Thoughtful wine pairings

Group of friends toasting with rose wine at the dinner table
Drazen Zigic / iStock

Windsor also suggests giving some thought to which drinks you'll offer throughout the meal and notes that thoughtful wine pairings can go a long way, especially if you take the flow of the meal into consideration.

She suggests planning for "Champagne as an aperitif, then white wine, red wine, and still and sparkling water. Coffee is to be served at the end of the dinner together with port, brandy, and other digestifs."

RELATED: 6 Items You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen When Guests Come Over.

Non-alcoholic beverages

shirley temple with cherry and ice
Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

Not all of your guests will want an alcoholic beverage, and even some that do may wish to drink only in moderation. That's why it's important to have a range of beverage options that are alcohol-free.

Smith recommends having "sparkling lemonade and sodas at the ready for those who prefer not to imbibe."

A delicious dessert

a table full of various desserts

Finally, the experts agree that it's important to end the evening on a high note and that a delicious dessert can help you do just that.

"No matter what, have something fabulous and tasty ready for dessert. Even if the meal is simply average, ending with a delicious dessert will ensure a positive memory of the evening," says Smith.

Hirst agrees that getting the last course right can leave a lasting impression. She suggests serving "a decadent dessert, while also providing a lighter option like a fruit tart or sorbet, so that everyone can participate."

"If your meal was too filling, you still want your guests to be able to partake in dessert, which is why having a lighter option can help end the meal on a high note," she says.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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