Dinner parties are one of those rights of passage you experience as you get older. In the place of boozy evenings down the pub and crazy nights hopping from club to bar, you suddenly find that most of your social invitations are to dinner at the homes of friends. But while eating good food and drinking fine wine in the company of your nearest and dearest can be a great alternative to expensive nights out, it can be stressful when your turn comes round. But don’t panic! Here’s our guide to hosting a fantastic dinner party that’s sure to impress your friends.

Set the scene

If you’re more of a dinner in front of the telly type household, you might need to make some minor adjustments before inviting friends round for a meal. If you don’t have a permanent dining table, buy or borrow a drop leaf table to make the most of space. Even in the smallest flat, sofas can be pushed aside and room made for a small dining table and chairs – then after the meal you can pack it away and relax. If you do have a dining or kitchen or table, it’s worth going to a little effort to make it look special for the occasion. A simple table cloth and nice wine glasses can go a long way, as can a pretty seasonal flower arrangement – though steer away from anything too elaborate lest it distract from conversation and the quality of the food. Finally, some music creates a nice ambience – although you won’t want anything too loud. Soft classical music on in the background is a great choice, as is anything folky or jazz.

Dinner is served

Fancy recipes and modern cooking techniques can only go so far – if you really want to impress your guests you’ll need to start with the very best ingredients. These days, even carnivores are fussy about where their food comes from, so if you’re serving meat make sure it is local and free range to avoid any awkward conversations around the dinner table. Of course, good ingredients cost more but they make the work in the kitchen so much less – quality food speaks for itself and requires minimum fuss. To make sure you enjoy the evening, keep things simple and cook as much as you can in advance. Something like a pie or a lasagna is a great idea, as you can make it the night before and just pop it in the oven when your guests arrive. If your budget’s not too tight you could save even more effort by buying in gourmet treats from a company like Chocolate Trading for dessert – because who doesn’t love a fine chocolate or two?

Raise a glass 

Of course, no dinner party is complete without a glass or several of your favourite tipple. If most of your guests drink wine, it’s worth buying in bulk from somewhere like Laithwaites to get a better quality drink for your money. You should pair your selection with the food you’re serving, but make sure there are other options too. For example, not everyone likes drinking white wine even if you’re serving chicken or fish. There’s more to life than wine, too – why not get a selection of beers and ales from a local brewery to serve up to your guests? You can even go all out and treat them to some after dinner cocktails. A Prosecco-based cocktail is sure to impress, and easy to make as well – just pick your favourite fruit liqueur, top it up with fizz and then serve.

Try a theme

Bored of the same old dinner parties? Find yourself repeating the same conversations over and over? Why not spice things up a bit and pick a fun theme for your dinner party? Murder mystery evenings are always popular, and you can buy kits to help you plan them online. It does mean a bit of work on the part of the host, but it’s great for breaking the ice and works particularly well in groups of people who don’t know each other that well. Other good ideas for themes include 1950s or 1960s themed-evenings with music, entertainment and drinks from your chosen era, or gaming evenings where you can settle down after dinner and play your favourite games. Don’t fancy going the whole hog and dressing up? Why not choose to serve a themed menu instead? You could treat your guests to 1970s-style menu with dishes like prawn cocktails and trifle for dessert, or a medieval banquet with meat and on the bone and other hearty dishes.