5 dinner party hosting rules to break – according to entertaining experts

These dinner party hosting rules are simply outdated, experts say

A dinig room with light wooden table and four matching chairs, laid out with white dinnerware and piles of pancakes
(Image credit: Layered Lounge)

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

Pink table styling

(Image credit: Future)

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

New Year place setting with silver theme

(Image credit: Neptune)

Dinner parties are the best time to fetch out our best dinnerware sets, but Lisa Mirza Grotts, etiquette expert recommends switching it up and mixing and matching your plates for a more fun scheme:

‘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.’

Lisa Mirza Grotts
Lisa Mirza Grotts

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

dinner table set up

(Image credit: Anthropologie)

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! 

Palm Leaf Recyclable Serving Trays | View at Amazon

Palm Leaf Recyclable Serving Trays | View at Amazon
Disposable dishes and serveware don't need to be ugly, these palm leaf wooden trays are recyclable, biodegradable, and pretty for your Thanksgiving table. 

Marley Majcher
Marley Majcher

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

A kitchen with a white island and christmas decorations all around it

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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

Thanksgiving meal

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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.’

Just be sure to plan your Thanksgiving table decor and Christmas table decor around this so you have plenty of space and don't feel cramped.

Alexandra Shunk
Alexandra Shunk

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.

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, 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.