Never Break This Timing Rule When Hosting A Dinner Party

While impromptu get-togethers can be a lot of fun, advanced planning makes hosting a dinner party less stressful and chaotic for everyone. Factors like who to invite and what food to serve are obvious considerations, but the timing of your event is just as important.

When entertaining, elements will always be out of your control. For example, you could face last-minute cancellations, or even lose power and not be able to cook. A good host is adaptable and can roll with unexpected changes. Managing expectations and allowing guests to prepare for the event begins with a detailed invitation to set the tone, including when the party starts and ends. 

While no one wants to be the first guest to arrive, they also don't want to be the reason dinner has yet to be served. Starting a party too early or dragging it on too long can ruin the vibe, so adhering to proper timing is essential.

During the week, dinner parties should begin by 7 p.m. to allow guests time to finish work, take care of family responsibilities, and commute home. Hosts should serve cocktails and small hors d'oeuvres as hungry guests arrive and plan to sit for dinner around 8.

On weekends, the start time is more flexible once you consider the age of your guests and whether they'll be busy at soccer games all day or ready to get the party started early. Generally, weekend dinner parties should begin between 6 and 8 p.m., expecting to serve dinner an hour later.

Specify a start and end time

While it may seem rude to have an end time, sending guests home before the party fizzles is like your favorite series ending before it jumps the shark and everyone is disappointed. Not only does your event end on a high note, but guests aren't left stressing about when to go home. Providing an end time on the invitation also keeps people from showing up late if the party only lasts two or three hours. As the host, keeping to a schedule gives you time to decompress and clean before bed so you don't have to wake up the following day to a mess.

Unlike cocktail parties or happy hours, which should be two hours long, dinner parties have a more fluid end time and depend on how many courses you are serving. For three courses (appetizer, entrée, and dessert), expect the party to run for about three hours, allowing 15 to 30 minutes between courses so guests don't feel rushed.

Dessert is a gentle indication that the evening is drawing to a close. It provides a sweet conclusion to the meal, and whether it's an elaborate cake or a simple fruit platter, it's a tradition that shouldn't be overlooked. You can expect guests to leave an hour after dessert is served, so plan accordingly and keep to your timeline. Serving dessert in another location gets guests up from the table and mingling again, which keeps conversations fresh and the evening moving.

Other factors to consider

Plan a menu around dishes you are familiar with that can be prepped in advance, and avoid any recipes that require last-minute cooking. You shouldn't be stuck in the kitchen as everyone arrives. This is not the time to show off or try new recipes. Simple, delicious food works best. Even serving pizza from your favorite delivery place can feel intimate and special in the right atmosphere. Your dinner guests will have more fun if the host is relaxed and enjoying themselves, so stay out of the kitchen and spend time catching up with friends.

Limit the guest count to 6 to 14 people. Anything less pressures the guests to talk, and larger groups are hard to manage. Round tables are more inclusive to keep the conversation going but can be challenging with 14 guests. If serving a sit-down meal, use place cards to let guests know where to sit and seat them near someone they know for comfort and to limit awkward small talk.

Create a playlist that echoes the theme of the evening and caters to everyone's musical taste. Candlelight is flattering, so dim the bright overheads and light a few candles 30 minutes before your guests arrive. The more you can plan ahead, the smoother the party will run and the more enjoyable the evening will be for your guests.