6 Dinner Party Styles

Life is full of opportunities and different ways to entertain over the holidays and all year round. Confused about how to plan for various situations? Our hosting hints will clear things up!

Formal Dinner

Dust off the china, clear off the dining room table, and go for an elegant sit-down meal. Set an elegant tone with festive table linens, cloth napkins with napkin rings, and place cards. Make sure to max out your glassware with water and wine glasses at a minimum, and a beautiful centerpiece to pull your look together. For the meal, serve an appetizer, an upscale main course that’s pretty and plate-able in the kitchen, plus baskets of warm bread or rolls to pass at the table. Feel free to serve dessert at the table or in another room, buffet style, with coffee.

Open House

Easily prepare to entertain a crowd with a casual open house buffet. The trick is to plan a menu with items that will hold at room temperature. Party hosting essentials like chafing dishes, beverage dispensers, carafes, and slow cookers are awesome for extending time between needing to replenish. Stick with dishes that can be made in larger quantities such as punches, salads, fruit salad, casseroles, stews, chilis, and braises. Or go for a holiday ham as a winning option, offered with accompaniments to make small sandwiches such as rolls, cheeses, mustards, or chutneys.

Dessert options in pre-portioned sizes such as cookies, brownies, or cupcakes are simplest. It’s totally acceptable to use pretty, disposable holiday cups, plates, and cutlery for this one. Enjoy the party with occasional sweeps of the buffet to pick up spills and replenish as needed, and don’t forget to stash a trash can nearby.

Family Style Dinner

It’s cool to keep things casual when entertaining, particularly where children are involved, so a heaping “pass the platter” style dinner is a winner. Choose a theme to help with menu planning, for instance, Italian dishes are always a crowd pleaser that work with a fun theme. Plan for only four or five menu items, with at least one vegetarian choice, at least one substantial meat-based dish, and side dishes. No need to get fancy with the table linens or place settings for this one, but feel free to use your pretty china—it’s still an occasion. And, don’t forget the dessert which you can serve family style as well.


Host out-of-town guests or squeeze in some holiday fun between busy schedules with an afternoon brunch. You can go either sit down or buffet depending on your table capacity and guest list. For a crowd, go with platters of pancakes or waffles, baked goods such as muffins or scones, breakfast meats like sausage, ham, or bacon, at least one egg-based dish, fresh fruit, and juices. Clearly, you need coffee and tea, and set up a Bloody Mary or mimosa bar to take things up a notch!

Cocktail Party

A great option to let guests mingle and chat is a cocktail party, and it gives everyone an excuse to dress up! Serve some bubbly or a signature holiday cocktail as guests arrive to set a festive tone. Go with bite-sized appetizers and dips for the mainstays of your menu, either passed on platters or buffet style. Include a gorgeous charcuterie and cheese board to round out your offerings. The bar is home base at this event, so be sure to stock yours with at least one red and one white wine, basic liquors and mixers, ice, and plenty of glassware.

Dessert Party

A fun way to celebrate post-caroling or post-holiday-concert fun, a sweets-only party will be a hit with all. And it’s the perfect opportunity to lighten your entertaining workload with a potluck. It’s easiest to go with a buffet here and offer as many options as possible, including cookies, pies, cakes, candies, and other small treats. Create a bakery-esque presentation with pedestals and other tiered serving pieces. Set up a second station with coffee, tea and cocoa then take things up a notch with optional add-ins such as liqueurs and whipped cream.

Just remember, at the end of the day it’s about having fun with your friends and family. So plan ahead and have a blast!

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