Grab your Friends, We’re Having a (Dinner) Party! 

Here’s how you can host them with the limited budget and busy schedule of a college student. 

Elisabeth Bernard | Food and Health Editor 


The popularity of dinner parties has recently made a comeback thanks to TikTok, turning a once outdated concept into a growing trend among Gen Z and millennials.  


Thousands of people like these videos because of their picturesque video clips and good vibes; however, since Tik Toks only last up to a few minutes, we get glimpses at best of the setup for these dinners. This can make the concept of hosting your own dinner party, whether it is a girls’ night dinner celebration, patio picnic or dinner in the park, seem like a daunting task. The tips below serve as a guide to organizing and planning your own budget and time-friendly dinner party with your friends. 


Tips For Planning: 


1. Set a time, a date and a place for the dinner before you do anything else.  


According to party planner Fiona Leahy in the New York Times article “How to Host a Dinner Party,” figuring out who will attend the dinner and when/where it will take place is a crucial first step to solidify a few weeks ahead of time. This allows time to plan out accommodations for anyone with dietary restrictions so all of your friends are included and provides ample time to determine who can bring what to the dinner.  


Google Forms can simplify this process by conveniently allowing each person to send in what they want to bring as their R.S.V.P. 


After you have a rough estimate of how many people will be at the dinner, you can start thinking about a location that will be an appropriate size for the number of guests attending. Hosting a dinner party at someone’s house is common, but think about whether you are comfortable with and can accommodate several people if the group is larger than usual. Get creative; a dinner party does not have to take place at a dinner table. Patios, parks and outdoor spaces can be great options, and Tuscaloosa has several public spaces that make the perfect picnic-like venue, like the Riverwalk, Capitol Park, Annette N. Shelby Park or the quad. 



2. Decide on décor. 


When buying or setting up décor, think about what kind of experience you want to create . Adding simple décor like candles, blankets, flowers or fun plates can create an environment ranging from cozy to exciting and colorful. Most of these you likely already own, and if you’re in search of inexpensive flowers, Tuscaloosa’s Publix always has plenty of affordable options. 


3. Make a playlist to set the mood. 


Leahy also suggests making a playlist two days before to avoid having to take time out of your dinner to skip or queue songs. You can make your own or try “Dinner Party Essentials” by Filtr US, “Dinner Party for the Girls” by talliiam or “Fun Dinner Party” by coneill.  


4. Create a menu. 


If the host is cooking and providing most of the food and the guests are bringing drinks or dessert, they will need to plan their menu keeping in mind how much time each food takes to prepare.  


Lee Clayton Roper, a blogger for “A Well-seasoned Kitchen,” says creating a menu that consists of food that you can prepare ahead of time helps immensely with time management.  


Slow cooker recipes, salads that you can put together before guests arrive and recipes that you can set in the fridge and transfer to the oven later are all good options. For easy recipe ideas, read “English Tea Finger Sandwiches” by Aleka Shunk, “41 Super Simple Last-Minute Appetizers” by Sienna Livermore and Dora Villarosa or “20 Cheap and Easy Meals for College Students” by Bailey Fink. 


If multiple people are bringing food to the dinner party, suggest a variety of snacks, drinks, main course dishes and dessert to ensure that everyone brings something different.  


Using Google Forms to R.S.V.P. can assist with organizing who will bring what and ensure that someone signs up to bring the necessary glasses, forks, spoons, knives and serving utensils.  


If you’re in an outdoor setting, remember that access to utensils might be more limited, so including tea sandwiches or other handheld foods could be helpful. Serve or bring anything you and other guests will enjoy, but if you need a place to start, Roper also provides the following simple outline for a menu: appetizers, a main dish, two side dishes, bread and a dessert. 



5. Start setting up early. 


If one person is hosting the dinner, the host should start setting up décor, playlists and any foods or drinks they are providing a few hours before guests arrive. 


Planning a dinner as a group removes some of the stress and can turn into a fun bonding activity. Collectively hosting a dinner party in which everyone contributes either décor, drinks or food makes the process much easier for busy college students, and splitting expenses makes the cost per person more reasonable. In this case, make sure everyone accounts for the time needed to set up the contributions they are responsible for, and set a time at which people should arrive to set up prior to the dinner.