Hosting over the holidays is undeniably fun as family and friends gather in one spot – but it can also be stressful. Especially with so many formal rules and expectations people put on at a dinner party.
This holiday season, however, entertaining experts are suggesting that we do away with some of these ‘stuffy’ dinner party hosting rules in favor of a more relaxed approach to hosting.
Here are the rules they want you to break when getting a kitchen ready for hosting and setting your dining table – and why they make for a bit more fun.
Dinner party hosting rules to break
These five rules may have been dinner party staples in your grandparent's house, but experts suggest that they can break up the fun – and even make it harder to host and clean up after a dinner party.
This is what to try instead.
1. Assigning people seats
When setting a table for any occasion, it is customary to put out placeholders and assign seats for your incoming guests. Genevieve Dreizen, COO at Fresh Starts Registry, suggests that this should be a thing of the past, however:
‘I'd love to see hosts allowing people to sit where they are comfortable and not where they are assigned. We have no idea what someone's drive over to our house was like and maybe the only place they feel comfortable is by their partner's side.’
2. Having all matching dinnerware
‘Gone are the days of owning one registration set from your engagement,’ she says. ‘Have fun and make your china a conversation piece! That way you don't need to pick dinnerware to match every occasion when out shopping. Simply pick out what speaks to you.’
This classic dinnerware set is the traditional option when it comes to dining essentials, but this elegant set from Fable rewrites the rules and delivers a classic set with finer details.
Looking for a modern dinnerware set that looks expensive? This collection is made with raw porcelain mixed with colored clay swirls and gives these marbled plates a truly elegant look.
Lisa Mirza Grotts, also known as 'The Golden Rules Gal' is a renowned etiquette expert, author, and public speaker. She has 23 years of experience in helping individuals navigate social situations to present themselves with confidence and poise.
3. Having all formal dinnerware
Similarly, it might be a thing of the past to use ‘proper’ dinnerware for every dish, adds Marley Majcher, celebrity party planner and founder of The Party Goddess.
‘It would be great if every event could have real glassware, dishware, and flatware, but for all kinds of reasons that's often not possible. I say go hybrid and have disposable plates, flatware, and napkins (eco-friendly if possible) but serve wine and other beverages in real glassware. The real stuff definitely makes a difference and is worth the hassle.’
Working in this way will also make Thanksgiving clean-up simpler too. It’s a win-win!
Marley started The Party Goddess in 2000, a full service catering and event planning company that has catered to everyone from A-list celebrities to everyday home owners.
4. Doing all the work yourself
Genevieve Dreizen, creative director, urges us to step away from the idea that everything needs to be done by the host before guests arrive for a luxury hosting experience. ‘Let's outsource this holiday!’ she says.
‘No more are the days when one person is running around their kitchen like mad trying to get the whole dinner on the table in ample time and then being completely exhausted by the time the meal is ready.
‘Ask for help, ask for side dishes, ask someone to bring ice. The reason for the holiday is connection – let's prioritize that over running around like a turkey with your head cut off.’
5. Pre-portioning everything
One of the most stressful parts of being a host is working out who wants to eat what, and how much to put on plates. To avoid some awkward portioning blunders, Alexandra Shunk, entertaining expert, chef, and founder of Aleka’s Get-Together, recommends serving dinner up family style, laid out down the center of a table:
‘Serve the food in large serving platters and have your guests pass around what they like. This way your guests can help themselves to more of what they want rather than be forced to ask for seconds or scarf something down they don't like.’
Alexandra has been testing recipes and entertaining tips for over 10 years in hopes of sharing everything she has learned about entertaining and hosting get-togethers at home.
Do I need a formal dining table for a dinner party?
While a large formal table is helpful when it comes to hosting a dinner party, it is possible to host without one. Either put a few tables together and cover the surface with a large tablecloth to make it look more uniform, or go for a less formal arrangement with finger foods and family-style dishes that people can help themselves to as they mingle and chat.
Does a dinner party have to be formal?
Not all dinner parties have to be formal, especially if you are hosting close friends and family. If formality is not your thing, set a relaxed dress code and serve less refined meals – perhaps family-style, to encourage conversation. Putting on some fun music and allowing guests to seat themselves and enjoy one another's company is a great way to set the scene, too.
If you are hosting a dinner party without a dining room, it is far easier to break up some of the more formal rules and have more fun with your hosting. Rather than having a set place to sit and eat, encourage guests to mingle and chat, or all gather around in the living room or kitchen for snacks and laughs for a relaxed get-together focused on catching up.
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Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.
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