How to Host a Socially Distant Dinner Party for the Holidays That Won't Break the Bank

November 1, 2020
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The holidays are here and that means more fun, more food, and more time with family and friends. But it can also be panic-inducing with all of the gift-buying and party-planning that needs to be done—and all of this is on top of your end-of-year work schedule. Not to mention the current COVID climate, which calls for planning a whole new kind of virtual, socially distant gathering.

But as you know, the Create & Cultivate team has hosted a few dinner parties (and virtual events!) in our time so we’re very familiar with the preparation required to put on a successful evening. We know that sitting down to plan a party can sometimes feel scarier than putting together a business plan! So, we’re here to help with a few tips, short cuts, and ideas to keep it simple and exceed your guest’s expectations at the same time, whether you’re getting together via Zoom or safely gathering outdoors.

Due to COVID, we recommend following the CDC’s guidelines, as well as any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, when planning any holiday celebration this season.

Gather the Guest List

A great dinner party (especially a great virtual dinner party!) is all about the mix—of guests, that is! You want to make sure that there is a variety of diverse thinkers, movers, and shakers from the introverted to the outspoken, the flamboyant, and the shy. This keeps the conversation interesting and ensures your guests feel entertained throughout the night and want to stay the three courses, plus dessert! And don’t just invite people you know. Pull people from all aspects of your life, of different talents, and all ages. Perhaps your childhood friend would really get along with your new office colleague, so sit them next to each other and watch them hit it off.

Timeline: 3 weeks out.

Create an Invitation

It’s often overlooked but you don’t want to miss this essential party planning ingredient. The design of your invitation will set the tone for the evening and is an opportunity to build intrigue and excitement for your dinner party. It is also a great way to keep yourself accountable. Once the invitation is sent, there’s no backing out. You can go old school and send printed invitations or you can use a digital invite such as Paperless Post which also conveniently tracks all of your RSVPs and responses too. Include all the important information such as time, location, occasion, dress code, Zoom link, etc. and any other details—don’t be afraid to have fun with it.

Timeline: 2 weeks out.

Design the Tablescape

This is the fun part. There are so many directions you could take but before you decide, start collecting inspiration for the tablescape from the napkins to the vases. We highly recommend setting a festive table even if you’re hosting a virtual dinner party to get into the spirit of the event! We love to use Pinterest or create a saved folder on Instagram. One of our favorites is Athena Calderone’s EyeSwoon for ideas and recipes. The goal is to transform your space into something that makes your guest’s jaws drop, even if it’s just serving as a Zoom backdrop. And it doesn’t need to cost you an entire paycheck either. Think fresh flowers (or garden clippings!), candles, napkins, vases, and a pretty tablecloth. (Pro tip: purchase linen from the local fabric store for the tablecloth and the napkins, wash them, and leave the ends unsewn so they have frayed edges. Choose to iron them or leave them crinkled for a cool, unkempt look).

Timeline: 2 weeks out.

Curate a Delicious Menu

A dinner party is all about the food so don’t forget to plan a delicious spread with enticing appetizers and tasty treats that keep everyone happy all night long. You don’t have to be a top chef either. Why not order it pre-made and ready to go? Whether you’re having an intimate gathering with the people in your household or preparing a virtual holiday feast for the whole extended family, our go-to specialty grocer is The Fresh Market. They have everything you need to elevate entertaining for a memorable and delicious holiday including tons of fully prepared offerings so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time connecting with loved ones. You can even arrange to send meals to friends and family from a distance if you’re gathering around the table virtually, or each household attending your Zoom dinner party can order the meal of their choosing!

Timeline: 1 week out.

Put on a Killer Playlist

If you want to good vibes all night long then compile a killer playlist on Spotify with a mix of old and new to keep the tempo upbeat and exciting. Be sure to plan a playlist that features several hours worth of music too and keep the cadence of the evening’s events in mind. Start the night off with lively tunes as you welcome people, then songs during dinner should be calming and mellow as people are eating and conversing, then pump it up again as guests move from the dinner party to the dance floor.

Timeline: A few days out.

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This story was originally published on November 1, 2019, and has since been updated.

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