Hosting a Dinner Party (in a small apartment)

We love hosting our friends and family for dinner parties (or any time of day as long as it revolves around food). I’ll use any excuse to get loved ones together and cook amazing food, but at first it can be a daunting task. Throw in the fact that you live in a small home or apartment and the logistics can get even more tricky. Here’s how we do it.

  1. Don’t do it all yourself
  2. Send reminders in different forms
  3. Think about kitchen space / oven availability
  4. Reorganize furniture / closet to accommodate
  5. Start early
  6. Clean & decorate
  7. Think about the peripherals
  8. Have a cleaning process

1. Don’t do it all yourself

While it may be tempting to want to cook and provide everything, it’s going to be a lot of work. Think about items your guests can bring to lighten the lift on your end. We usually commit to cooking the main entrée and one or two other dishes. For our Friendsgiving, for example, we make the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and focaccia. We put together a Google spreadsheet and use it as a signup form.

The signup form has some notes at the top about oven space and how many people are coming so guests can plan accordingly. For example, making mashed potatoes for 4 is different than making mashed potatoes for 14.

The columns we use are below:

  • Item
  • Who’s Bringing It (“Your Name”)
  • Notes

We separate our sheet by food and drink and generally have the food items listed in chronological order of the meal (apps, main dishes, sides, then desserts). In the list we suggest some dishes and leave room for guests to add their own ideas. You want to make it as easy as possible for guests to commit to something and removing the need for coming up with a dish can help that.

Make sure the make the sheet editable by anyone with the link and add the link to your invite.

2. Send reminders in different forms

My friends are not all on Facebook. Similarly, not all of my friends reliably check their email. Sending invitations and reminders through various forms without overwhelming guests is important.

I like to start with a Facebook event where I post details about the date and time, location, a quick paragraph about what it is, and the link to the Google spreadsheet. I then move over to email and draft a note with all of the same information in it, referencing the Facebook link as a way to cross-post for those who check email and use Facebook. For any friends that I know do not reliably check email or use Facebook, I send a casual text message also making sure to include the link to the Google sheet. I don’t text everyone, only the people who are neither on Facebook nor check email frequently, as 3 forms of communication may be overkill.

My timeline for sending the invites and reminders is below (this example is for our Friendsgiving which is one of our more formal dinner parties)

  • 2 months out — send initial Facebook event, email invite, and text invites
  • 1 month out — post comment in Facebook group reminding people to sign up to bring something
  • 1 week out — send message via Facebook and send email reminding people to sign up to bring something
  • 2–3 days out — text or call individuals who haven’t signed up for something yet
  • Day of — send text with apartment information and last minute reminders to everyone you haven’t talked to in the last few days

3. Think about kitchen space / oven availability

Are you aiming to have your kitchen completely clean by the time guests arrive or is it going to be a cook-in-motion party where you are actively using the stove, counter space, and oven while guests are around? This is an important decision to make up front. I personally prefer to have 90% of the cooking done before guests arrive so I can clean the kitchen and have a nice space. Plus, inevitably, guests will bring big bags of food and drinks that take up lots of space so planning to have space for those items ahead of time will make your life a little easier.

This year, I discouraged guests from cooking at my place and I have to say it was totally worth it. You have enough to clean after everyone leave, why add more pots, pans, the stovetop, cutting boards, and more to your list if your guests can d that at home? Plus this way, you will actually get to enjoy the party instead of cooking or cleaning up after others.

If you choose to go the other route, try to get ahead of the game by understanding what everyone’s cooking needs are. For example, someone might need one burner for 40 minutes, another person may need one for 20 minutes, and three people need oven space. You’ll need to plan around who gets what heat source, when, and for how long. Hosting in your apartment like we do makes this option much more difficult, but it can be done with appropriate planning. Start a separate page in your spreadsheet that has a timeline and which dishes need which heat source. You can also use this for your own planning purposes for the whole day.

4. Reorganize furniture / closet to accommodate

Try to get rid of as much clutter as possible. As mentioned, when guests start arriving, they’ll be carrying bags of food, alcohol, and other things — on top of winter jackets, shoes, bags, etc. Removing clutter makes room for the random items that will be brought in. Try to clear some space in your closet by pushing clothes over so that guests’ jackets can be neatly hung out of the way. Making room for shoes is also a good way to keep things organized.

We live in a small studio where our bed is in the open. We never want guests to sit on our bed as we treat it as its own part of the room. We’ve tried a number of layouts of furniture arrangement to prevent this from happening (and have never had guests sit on our bed!). The point is, just because you have your furniture in one layout, does not mean it has to stay that way! Experiment! Spend 15 minutes moving your couch / seating around to suit you. We generally do this every 6 months or so to keep things fresh and see if anything works better.

We had 3 separate eating areas, which worked well to avoid crowding in any one area.

  1. The kitchen (we have 4 bar stools here plus guests stood around the counter)
  2. The couch (we have a 4-seater couch, a coffee table, and a carpet where some guests preferred to sit on the floor)
  3. The chair (we have a larger reading chair with an ottoman and we pulled over a stool from our desk to create another seating area with 3 seats. The chair and ottomans were placed around a side table.)

Of course it would have been great if we had a dining room table with chairs, place settings, centerpieces, and the whole shebang, but alas, NYC…

5. Start early

We are early risers so starting early is never an issue for us. After getting up and showering, we made breakfast, had our tea / coffee, relaxed, and then got started on our focaccia. It’s nice to not feel rushed at the end, but everyone is different. To avoid the rush in any case, see if there are things you can do to prep the day before or early in the morning. Cranberry sauce, for example, is actually better the longer it sets and is a great candidate for something that can happen in advance.

6. Clean & decorate

Removing clutter is the first step to a clean home as mentioned above, but spend 15 minutes and go a little further. Wipe the counters down, quickly wipe the stove, windex any mirrors, vacuum the floors / carpets, and dust. Your place will feel spotless and put you in a good mindset ready to go. You can do some of these things the day before to help spread things out as well.

For decoration we like to go to the local farmer’s market to pick out some greens and gourds. Eucalyptus is prevalent around November so we picked up a bunch of that, some berry branches, a small bunch of flowers, and some gorgeous dark purple leafy branches. We put together one floor piece (our eucalyptus was huge and unfortunately we didn’t have a tall enough vase so we kind of leaned the plants up against the wall but it looked great), one tabletop piece, and one vase for our windowsill. It was lovely having the greenery bunches around and the berry branches mixed in really gave them a pop of color.

We places our handful of gourds around the house and used a ton of candles of varying heights all around as well. We like to put a candle behind bottles of alcohol as it gives off a really nice flickering illumination. We put a scented candle in the bathroom, put up string lights in the closet (where guests were first welcomed to hang their coats), and had a small wooden box with some beautiful radishes in it that we had found at the farmer’s market as well. It all came together nicely.

7. Think about the peripherals

Heat — With the oven on all day, candles glowing, and plenty of warm bodies, your apartment or home is going to feel very warm to anyone walking in from the cold. Plan for this by cracking open the windows an hour or so before or turning the heat down earlier in the day to cool things off. Candles and open windows are generally not a thing in our home, so we try to keep a window open only a crack once the party has started.

Music — We usually like to curate playlists with a good mix of everything for a relaxing and fun evening. We didn’t care to do that this year and went with a mix from our Starred Spotify playlists and filtered in a couple of songs from our wedding playlist when we felt like it. You know the people who are coming over and what they like, make sure people will be comfortable, the music is at a reasonable level (so people can talk and hear each other), and keep it fun (Mark usually says “no” to my metal playlists ^_^).

8. Have a cleaning process

Two or three times during the party, I try to make a round of collecting trash. We used paper plates and plasticware to make cleanup a breeze (we also don’t have 14 dish / utensil sets!). I grabbed empty plates, bottles, and cups and tossed them in the trash to keep things a bit cleaner and help with cleaning at the end of the night.

Once everyone is gone, we get to work.

One person is on dish duty, while the other transfers leftover food to containers to put in the fridge and does everything else. We freeze as much as possible as we know we’ll have a ton of other things to eat. We save the turkey carcass to make stock the next day and depending on how tired we are we’ll put the whole thing in the fridge or finish carving it up the night of the party (usually the former).

Once the food is all put away we do a quick wipe down of the counters, put all the candles out, sweep the floors, and take the trash and recycle out.

Finally we relax, and usually go straight to bed!

Summary

We successfully hosted our 3rd annual Friendsgiving and will continue the tradition for years to come, hopefully upgrading space, seating, and new recipes as time goes on. I’d love to hear about your dinner parties and any tips you have to make your night a success!

Stay tuned for another article about all of the delicious foods we cooked!