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Loose guidelines for a 20-something’s budget-based dinner party

The dinner party isn’t dead — it’s just different.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter
MNDaily table with food

The dinner party isn’t dead, even if it no longer resembles more formal affairs of the past (think etiquette enthusiast Emily Post’s dinner party tips). There’s an art to the modern dinner party, a gathering meant to be thrown with a certain degree of abandon in an era of tableside technology.

Sure, most of Gen Z might not spend their time throwing themed soirées complete with five-course tasting menus and elegant wine pairings. But some of them do, and the rest of them could be doing something that looks a little bit like that — or maybe not even remotely like that, depending on your preference.

Consider these loose guidelines for the next time you decide to host a dinner party.

First things first, you’re going to want to figure out a theme (if that’s your thing) and create a menu. The simpler these aspects are, the less stress you’ll feel. I like to choose a broad cuisine — American, Greek, French, etc. — and then move from there to a theme. Cuisine type will easily guide the complexity of your menu, decor and overall ambiance. Paging through a cookbook (or referring to the Internet and its multitude of readily-available recipes) tends to spark ideas for me if you’re drawing a blank.

Determine whether you’re dealing with any dietary restrictions as soon as you decide who’s coming over. Come up with your grocery list and get what you need within a few days of your party. Keep it cheap and shop where you’re going to get the most for your money; odds are, no one is going to care where exactly the bag of rice or box of pasta you’re serving in a dish came from. Buy what works for you.

Take the shame out of the pre-made game — for example, buy your baklava in bulk because it’s easier and will taste just as good as the painstaking process of phyllo dough prep you’d undergo at home. If the Aldi cheese selection won’t cut it, head to Whole Foods and snag something from the odds and ends bin in the cheese section. Take a step up from a Total Wine trip and stop at Henry & Son, where you can grab a nice bottle of wine from their sale shelf. I’ll always advocate for a trip to the Minneapolis Farmers Market because there’s a chance you’ll find reasonably priced produce, and you can also pick up a cheap bouquet of fresh flowers for your tablescape.

Speaking of tablescapes, keep that simple too. Cover the table in a bed sheet if you want, or take the liberty of using mismatched plates and napkins if that’s what you have on hand. I tend to like consistency and a certain degree of symmetry in settings; think opposite settings mirroring one another, similar size plates, etc. Head to the thrift store for a funky vase or pitcher to shake things up a bit. Take a page from TikTok dinner-party guru Mya Gelber, who hosts monthly dinner parties for her friends and family, and try your hand at designing your menus.

Final touches
Ask yourself the question your future self will always thank you for: what can you do ahead of time? Whether it’s slicing some veggies, setting a table or getting your dining area clean, do what you can. It’s worth saving yourself the day-of stress.

Take a deep breath — you’re a 20-something university student, not a highbrow socialite under any sort of pressure to put together a picture-perfect evening. The only necessary bit of cleaning that I tend to adhere to is the leftover rule — put away the perishables and wrap up the bits that can survive on your kitchen counter for the rest of the night. Dishes can sit in the sink until you’re ready to face them. Let yourself enjoy the food, revel in your chosen company and take a photo or two if you please.

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