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9 Dinner Party Essentials You Should Always Have, Etiquette Experts Say

Here's how to throw your best party yet, according to the pros.

For the host, throwing a dinner party can be a great source of pleasure, a great source of anxiety, or—perhaps most often—both. Yet etiquette experts say that with a little forethought, you can ensure that your guests feel welcome and well-fed at your table and that these are the most meaningful measures of any dinner gathering. By making sure you include just a few simple things, all of your efforts as host will be more apparent and appreciated. Ready to throw your best dinner party to date? These are the nine party essentials that will make your next event an evening to remember.

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



Invitations do more than request your guests' presence at your party—they also provide helpful hints about what to expect.

"They are the first clue your guests have about the style and theme of your dinner party," says Jules Hirst, founder of Etiquette Consulting. "No matter whether they are digital invitations or paper invitations, they should reflect the formality of the event and provide all of the important details."


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

At any given dinner party, someone is likely to arrive late. Having appetizers ready for those who arrive on time will keep everyone comfortable until the full party has arrived and dinner is served.

It may also help to put both the event's start time and your serving time on the invitation. "If you have called the dinner to start at 6:00, presume you will be inviting everyone to the table at 6:30. Time your meal accordingly," says Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.

Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette Academy, says it's also important to ensure that you have enough appetizers for everyone.

"Hosts need to calculate the correct number of hors d'oeuvres served," Windsor tells Best Life. "The industry standard is 10 per guest if you are being generous, otherwise, around six to eight. If you are offering sweet and savory, it is recommended to serve seven savory and three sweet."

A great playlist

Group of middle aged friends at outdoor dinner party laughing
Jack Frog / Shutterstock

Nothing stops guests from connecting with one another quite like awkward pauses in conversation. By creating a thoughtful playlist of music to serve as a backdrop, these inevitable pauses will feel far less glaring.

If you have the time, try curating a song list that sets the tone for your party and enhances your theme. In a pinch, you can use a pre-made playlist from Spotify or another streaming service—just make sure it's long enough to last the whole evening.

"It should be just loud enough to be distinct, but not drown out the conversation," notes Windsor.

RELATED: 6 Questions You Should Never Ask at a Dinner Party, Etiquette Experts Say.

Table settings

table settings, crazy kardashian facts

Serving dinner at a beautifully set table upgrades the experience from a meal to an event. That's why the experts agree that thoughtfully decorated place settings are a dinner party essential.

"The table is center stage for your dinner party. Make sure it is beautifully set using your best dinnerware, glassware, and flatware that suits the occasion. Cloth napkins add elegance and a centerpiece that complements the theme but is not overpowering helps complete the design," says Hirst.

A thoughtful menu

group of friends have dinner party on porch, everyone enjoy in food, drinking and smiling.

Food is a universal language, and feeding others communicates a great deal of care. The experts say that planning a thoughtful menu ahead of time can help that message hit home while ensuring that all of your guests have something tasty and nourishing to eat.

That said, if preparing a fully home-cooked meal proves too stressful for your large group of guests, it's OK to balance more difficult dishes with some low-labor additions.

"A home-cooked meal shows effort and care but it is okay to incorporate some store-bought items to lessen your load," says Hirst. She recommends tailoring your menu to the theme, considering both flavor and the meal's presentation.

Smith adds that you should always ask in advance about your guests' dietary restrictions. "Having gluten-free and vegetarian options as part of your meal plan eases the pressure. Plan extra sides in case you have a picky eater at your table or something does not come out as well as you hoped," she tells Best Life.

Non-alcoholic beverages

Variety of cold drinks in small bottles

When you throw a dinner party, many guests will show up with a bottle of wine or spirits to contribute to the event. However, it's important to also offer non-alcoholic beverages to your guests—even if there are no teetotalers on the guest list. Hydration (and moderation) is for everyone!

RELATED: The 6 Best Things to Ask Guests to Bring—If They Offer.

A show-stopping dessert

A piece of chocolate and raspberry torte on a plate
iStock / martinturzak

Next, Smith suggests putting some extra effort into serving a special dessert. "Even if the meal has been precarious (the food or the conversation), a tasty treat as you conclude the meal can make all the difference," she says.

Some guests may also often bring dessert as an offering to the host. Be sure to make those available to all of your guests and to acknowledge who brought them when you serve.

Extra toiletries

Bathroom sink with candles and eucalyptus
New Africa / Shutterstock

When you have many people in your home, providing extra toiletries in the bathroom and putting them in plain sight can help your guests get what they need without ever having to ask you directly.

Smith recommends always having extra toilet paper, soap, hand cream, hygiene products, tissues, and dental floss easily available at a dinner party.

A welcoming atmosphere and gracious attitude

Groups of Friends Hugging and Gathering
La Famiglia / Shutterstock

One of the most important additions to any party—perhaps the thing that shapes it the most—is the atmosphere created by the host. Focus on setting a welcoming tone and always striving to make your guests feel comfortable, Hirst says.

The etiquette expert says you can begin by making sure to greet your guests warmly at the door. "As you welcome them you can offer them a drink or begin to introduce them to other guests they may not know to help break the ice," she suggests.

"If something doesn't turn out correctly, remain gracious and composed," she continues, noting that your spirit of hospitality will overshadow any minor mishap. "What makes a memorable dinner party is the joy of gathering and the shared experiences"—not everything going off without a hitch."

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