Overcoming Anxiety is a series where Cat shares tips for balancing a desire to be social with various phobias/fears. If your life is severely impacted and/or limited by your own anxiety, please consult an actual mental health professional. She is not one.
So, here’s the deal with throwing a dinner party in your own home: there are several decisions to make and a fair amount of prep work. Some choices will make for a lot of work (which can be enjoyable), some save you time (and leave more room to fix things if something doesn’t quite go as planned). Since it’s a LOT, let’s dive right in, shall we?
Decision #1: What kind of party would you like this to be?
Formal? Casual? Themed? Special occasion? What is the occasion? If you are just having a casual get together with good friends, you don’t necessarily need a theme, but it can help you decide on what to serve (Chinese food makes a great theme, as does French food, movie theater food, or a taco bar)! Formal events are usually substantially more time-consuming to execute, but can make for wonderful memories. Casual events are low-key, require less worry and effort, and can still provide memories that will last a lifetime (especially if you post pictures to your favorite social media channels). 😉
Decision #2: Do you want to cook?
You can certainly throw a dinner party without having to cook (and this can absolutely reduce some of the stress of hosting the affair!). If you don’t want to make food, you can either buy already prepared food (Costco and Sam’s Club have nice pre-made trays of things to eat), pick up some items from the restaurant of your choice, or have something delivered (there is no shame in an old-fashioned pizza and wings party). You can also get your guests to cook for you/eachother, pot-luck style.
Decision #3: Who do you want there?
Who would you like to spend some time with? Just one person and it’s more of a date (even if it’s a platonic one). Two or more help reduce the conversational stress of having to think up things to say (if you’re not naturally chatty). More than 6 becomes a lot of work and requires a lot of space. Think about whether the people who you want to spend time with have anything in common. You may want to avoid throwing a party where your conservative Republican pastor uncle and your best friend’s liberal atheist mom are in overly close proximity.
Once you’ve decided upon who you want there and what their chemistry will be like, you can send out the invites. Text, email, or a phone call should work fine, depending on the formality of the event. Just a casual get together? Pick whatever method of communication feels most comfortable to you. A highly formal dinner (for a special occasion or where you expect people to dress up) and you may want to consider actual invitations (Paperlesspost.com is great, but mailed invitations can be fun for *really* special occasions [formal New Year’s Eve parties, weddings, etc]).
Make sure you let them know the date, time, place and provide an indication of what the event will be like. “It’s just a casual get together with some friends.” “It’s Annie’s surprise birthday bash – we’re all dressing up for tea and make sure not to tell her ANYTHING!” Etc. If they cannot make it, do not ask why or make them feel guilty about it. Just respect that they are otherwise occupied at that time and leave it at that.
If they say yes, it’s polite to ask if they have any special dietary restrictions (allergies, etc.). If someone indicates that they do have an allergy, make sure to provide enough food options so that they do not go hungry. You don’t necessarily have to center the entire menu around one person’s needs (unless they are so allergic to peanuts that even being near them can be deadly – be extra careful with things like that!) , but do try and make them feel accommodated for and well-fed.
Decision #4: What will you eat?
Even if you decide to order pizza, you’ll want to think more about the menu. What kind of pizza? From which delivery place? Should you order a few different flavor combinations? Should you also provide an appetizer and a dessert? What will you drink? Alcohol? Soda? It’s usually expected that you will have a few options, including and other than water. For a more involved meal, you can check out some of our menu recommendations or hit up sites like Pinterest, FoodNetwork, and Epicurious for ideas.
If you are planning a potluck, it is generally convenient for the host to provide beverages and sometimes to even recommend the type of dish each guest should bring. That way you don’t end up with 7 desserts (not that I would personally complain about that, in all honesty). You’ll want to make sure an appetizer, main dish, side dish, and dessert are all represented. You can also suggest soup and/or salad. How many dishes you’ll want of each type will depend on how many guests you have. It’s better to err on the side of lots of main dishes, so that people leave with full bellies.
Decision #5: Where will you eat?
We’ve already established that you are hosting the event in your home, but it’s time to get more specific. Where in your home will your guests be eating? Will you sit around the coffee table in your living room? Seated at the dinner table? Outside on the porch/patio/balcony/lawn? You’ll want to consider what spaces will be the most comfortable and that there is a seat for every person. The patio may not be the best choice mid-winter, while your kitchen table may be too small if you’re not careful to limit your guest list properly.
Decision #6: On what shall you eat?
Make sure you have enough plates, bowls, forks, chopsticks, etc. for yourself and each of your guests. If you are low on dinnerware, you can always head to Goodwill for some low-cost options, or look for biodegradable disposable dinnerware. The added bonus of disposable dinnerware is that cleanup is a breeze.
Decision #7: What needs to be prepared in advance?
Consider the following – what rooms will your guests visit? You should make sure the entry, living room, kitchen, dining area, and guest bathroom are all neat, clean, and tidy. Also make sure that all of the required dishes (for cooking, serving, and actual dining) are clean and still in good condition. Do you need to shop or prepare any dishes in advance? Clear out space in your schedule to get as much accomplished as possible before the actual day of your event.
Decision #8: Do you need a backup plan?
Have you decided to cook a difficult dish from scratch? Just in case it falls flat (or catches fire), you may want to make sure to have some kind of a backup plan. This can be in the form of preparing a second dish (which may lead to leftovers – not the worst thing ever), or being emotionally ready to order pizza in a pinch. Did you plan to have your party outside? You may want to think about what to do if rain suddenly decides to drop by for a visit. Try and think over the variables that the evening will bring with it and prepare a plan or two to make sure there’s a comfortable place to be and food to eat. Everything else can be taken care of as it happens.
The last thing you need to worry about isn’t a decision, per se. What you need to do, once you think everything is taken care of, is revisit your to-do list and make sure you didn’t forget anything. Check your guest list, review their dietary restrictions, make sure everything really is clean, double check that you got all of the items on your grocery list ahead of time, etc. Make sure to take a moment to clear your mind and evaluate what has actually been done vs. what you *think* you have done. Then prepare to have a rockin’ good time!
She lives in the Bay Area and cites her diverse background as her biggest influence: her visual artist mom is half-Chinese, half-Greek, and from Hawai’i; her film-loving, world-music curating dad is from Montana; and she lived in both California and Montana while growing up. She loves at least a little bit about virtually everything (Pokémon Snap included) and aims to be a Jane of all trades. By day Cat is a multiple-hat-wearing media person.
She is also allergic to felines.