When you say you’re holding a dinner party, it’s like you’re suddenly something out of The Great Gatsby. Dripping in jewels, surrounded by champagne while caressing your furs.

Back in the real world, this is usually not the case.

For me? It’s about the giving. I love just getting loads of lovely food and going really OTT with the puddings.

I’m not an experienced chef and I don’t have a big dining room, but I do love a strong cocktail and I’m very good at putting crisps in bowls.

Come around to mine and it’s all about the moreish nibbles, filling foods and possibly too much gin. Nevertheless, whatever your style and preference, I’m always more than happy to throw away tradition with the aim of relaxing with my closest friends and having the opportunity to make them happy.

What I lack in finesse, I make up with buttery mash, rosemary chicken, warm chocolate brownies and coffee that will keep you awake for at least a week.

I don’t mind if it’s ready-made because let’s be honest, if you’re entertaining, you don’t want to be cooking the whole time. Few people have the time and energy to spend all day preparing parsnip crisps for the winter vegetable purée.

I once went to a dinner party which turned out to be an evening of Tunisian cuisine followed by a Greek yoghurt and berry meringue. I’ll be honest with you, it’s not the first thing I’d choose. Sometimes you just need something that’s not greasy balls of lamb served up alongside a baking bowl of Tabbouleh.

Spaghetti Bolognese, sausage and mash, satay veggie noodles (a favourite of mine) and even pizza – they’re all great choices. Accompany with lots of sides as well as some sort of puff pastry-based dish, and you’re onto a winner. Also. It’s impossible to be unhappy while eating profiteroles.

Ready to get started?

Here are my top 10 dinner party ideas for you to get your teeth into:

1) Head outside - Al fresco dining is a favourite of mine. Even if you don’t have a garden, piling onto the balcony is a great excuse to grab the tealights and enjoy a summery evening under the stars. Adorn the chairs with fluffy blankets and squashy cushions for instant relaxation, comfort and fun. The best foods for this sort of thing are bowl foods. So, think Italian and Chinese and avoid the roasts. Out in the garden? Everyone loves a garden party so arrange to have sparkling drinks, dainty cakes and mini pavlovas.

2) There’s always brunch - dinner parties don’t just have to be at dinner time. Whenever I’ve had breakfast with my friends, I’ve always felt so warm and relaxed. There’s something about sharing time first thing, when everyone is sleepy, that makes it really special. And let’s be honest, Prosecco is always an acceptable accompaniment to brunch, so you can even celebrate with drinks. Grab the bagels, fruit, croissants, eggs, bacon and maple syrup for a lovely start to the day.


3) Gin tasting – now, I’m not a fan of wine. (I know I know…) But I make up for it with gin. Perhaps you love wine, gin, beer or even different types of tea. Having a tasting can make a real event out of your evening and people love trying something new. Have a selection of exciting and interesting drinks at the ready, whatever your tipple, and invite everyone to try them.

4) Work up an appetite – if you have lots of friends but all from different walks of life, then getting them all in one place can mean conversation doesn’t come so easily. Start the evening with a group walk. Maybe a ghost walk in town for fun (like the London Ghost Walks), a sunny stroll along the river or a quick blast around the block with flasks of warmed apple cider. Everyone gets to chat as they go and if you happen to have infused your hot chocolate with some Baileys, then no harm done. Mulled wine along the beach is also great for that seasonal edge.

5) Entertainment – I’m not a fan of entertainment at dinner parties. But only because I’ve seen too many episodes of Come Dine With Me, where someone’s decided a small dining room is the perfect place for a spot of falconry. However, doing something fun together is always a great way to infuse your evening with excitement and makes a great photo opportunity. Having afternoon tea? Get lots of goodies and let everyone decorate their cupcakes and biscuits with sweet hearts, chocolate stars and edible glitter. Or if pizza is your thing, get a range of toppings and let everyone create their own according to their taste. Gather round the breakfast bar, get some drinks and nibbles going with the music on and enjoy.

6) Spa day – Not everyone wants an evening of roasted meat, pudding and too much cheese. But this shouldn’t put you off from seeing your friends regularly. Health kick dinner parties – inspired by your favourite spa treatments – are great fun and ideal for people who are watching their waistbands. Pick healthy snacks, super foods and vegan alternatives, and get involved with the face masks, soothing creams, hair conditioners and eye gels. And yes, this includes male friends, boyfriends and husbands too. They might make a fuss at first but secretly they love it and will really enjoy feeling all pampered.


7) Head east – there are so many different types of sushi and it’s such a lovely way to enjoy food. Ideal for sharing, healthy and not too filling, it’s great for dinner parties. I’m not going to lie, it’s tricky to make yourself, but no one will mind if you get it delivered. And while you wait for your order to arrive, get some basic starter sets and have fun rolling your own nori-maki, with a sake on the side. Don’t forget the chopsticks and a quick squidge of wasabi for added heat.

8) Midnight barbecue – not necessarily at midnight and not necessarily the barbecue but creating a campfire style setting is a great way to snuggle up, have a drink and a chat as well eat lovely food. Get some jerk chicken and sausages on the go, add in some burgers and roasted vegetable skewers, topple in the brioche buns and crispy lettuce and smother generously in ketchup. And for afters? No, not endless renditions of Kumbaya. Melt marshmallows, break up some chocolate, add in some peanut toppings and you’re away. Garden fires are easy to get hold of at your local hardware store and are great for keeping everyone warm while you eat.

9) Let Christmas come early – it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Which is what makes it such a shame that it only comes around once! Break the rules and bring Christmas to life – no matter the season. Roast the turkey, perfect your potatoes and you can even include some Brussel sprouts with those little bits of crispy bacon. Stick on the playlist, get everyone to wear their favourite, festive jumper and you can even do secret Santa! Chocolate Yule log and a small port for afters and you’ve got yourself the perfect, seasonal soirée.


10) Virtual dinner party – when you’ve got children, it can be difficult to leave the house. Or if you’re like me, some of your best friends are dotted around the world. Bring everyone together and enjoy a fun, virtual feast by organising an online get-together. Arrange a time to meet and organise a Google Hangout for a dinner party with a difference. You can include games, share emojis, videos and best of all, catch up without the clearing up! You can dress up, dress down and no one needs to worry about getting a taxi home. You can pick a menu, so everyone makes the same things, or choose different things! It’s a great way to spend time with those you love and just share a meal together.

Of course, there are always little extras you can add in whatever the occasion. Goodie bags are always fun and playful, setting up a mixing station for cocktails is definitely a way to get the party started and everyone feels special when they have their own place nametag.

Dim the lighting, fill the table and pop open a bottle!


Feeling inspired? Check out our range of dining sets and plan a party of your own. And don’t forget to send me a pic on Instagram or Facebook @HartleysDirect.