5 Dinner Party Ideas That Make Dinner the Show
Dinner parties have come a long way in the last decade. Home cooks are no longer sticking to the roast chicken script. Instead, they're experimenting with interactive meal concepts that are much more memorable — and might actually inspire everyone to put their phones down. (Fact: One in three Americans use their devices during meals, and science proves that we enjoy the entire dining experience much less when we sneak in screen time.)
So next time you host a supper soiree, consider one of these menus that invite the guests to participate in the cooking or assembly. Your taste buds and your friends will leave the table happier.
1. Make Your Own Pizzas
Swing by your local pizza parlor or supermarket, and grab several batches of pre-made pizza dough, estimating about 10 ounces per person for a 12-inch pie each. Then mix up our Best Marinara Sauce Yet, and set out an array of toppings in bowls, such as chopped bell peppers, olives, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, pepperoni, cooked sausage, fresh herbs, fresh mozzarella, shredded cheese, and olive oil. Allow everyone to play pizzaiolo for the evening and assemble their own single-serving pie. Then cook each on a pizza stone in the oven, or for summer suppers, try baking them on a grill.
2. Build a Bruschetta Bar
For a more snackable solution, try toast! Slice up a few baguettes — aim for about 8 slices per person, depending on the diameter of the loaf — then suggest topping pairing ideas (while reminding guests it's A-OK to improvise). Some toast-worthy combinations to consider:
Fig Preserves, prosciutto, blue cheese, walnuts
Tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil, Balsamic Reduction
Goat cheese, blackberries, fresh thyme, maple syrup
Avocado slices, tomato, feta, fresh cilantro, lime juice
Basil pesto, arugula, grilled steak slices, shaved Parmesan cheese
Ricotta cheese, grilled peach slices, honey
3. Spread out a Waffle Bar
Sometimes, only breakfast for dinner will do. So, invite everyone to wear their favorite PJs to the party for a waffle fest. Mix up a batch or two of batter for one of our top-rated waffle recipes, and preheat your waffle iron. Don't own one yet? We love Cuisinart's 4-Slice Belgian Waffle Maker. ($44; amazon.com.) Ask everyone to bake their own blank slate, then serve with a topping buffet including maple syrup, chocolate syrup, dulce de leche, fruit jams, melted peanut butter, Greek yogurt, whipped cream, fresh berries, chopped nuts, dark chocolate chips, ground cinnamon, and powdered sugar.
4. Host a Poke Bowl-Palooza
Yes, you can DIY one of the biggest food trends of the past decade. Here's how.
- Source some stellar seafood. (This is the most important part of this interactive dinner party.) Try a mix of cooked and raw, such as raw ahi tuna, roasted salmon, and grilled shrimp, plus a vegetarian protein or two, like grilled tofu or beans. For the freshest catch, ask your fishmonger or supermarket seafood purveyor for what's been recently delivered.
- Prepare the foundation selections. Steamed riced cauliflower and steamed brown or white rice work well. Spoon out individual portions in serving bowls.
- Top your table with piles of herbs and vegetables. Try shredded nori (seaweed), diced cucumber, shredded carrots, diced avocado, sliced serrano peppers, pickled ginger, fresh mint, and fresh Thai basil.
- Get saucy and seedy. Finish your poke buffet with soy sauce, fish sauce, tamari sauce, sesame oil, chili flakes, furikake (a seaweed-based seasoning popular in Japanese cuisine), and sesame seeds.
- Hand everyone a separate bowl to mix their toppings together, then tell them to pile on their bed of rice or vegetable rice. Enjoy with chopsticks ($9/10 pairs; amazon.com).
Pictured Recipe: Chef John's Hawaiian-Style Ahi Poke
5. Warm Up With a Chili Bar
For the big game, bowl games, or the Olympics, this serve-yourself supper idea is trophy-worthy. Opt for a tested-and-true slow cooker stew such as Laura's Quick Slow Cooker Turkey Chili, Slow Cooker Chicken Chili with Beans and Greens, or Slow Cooker Game Day Chili, then share with an assortment of toppings. Your starting line-up could include shredded cheddar cheese, pickled peppers, chopped onions, sour cream, guacamole, cooked potato tots, Sweet Corn Bread croutons, fresh cilantro, and fresh chives. Leave the chili on "keep warm" all evening long so guests can grab a second bowl for the second half.