September typically signals a change in how we think about eating. Throughout the summer months, we tend to stick to lighter meals, less oven time, more low-maintenance cooking. Once the holiday buzz begins to build, that shifts to more cozy comfort foods, more roasting, more group meals.
Whether it's strictly at the major holidays, or festive one-offs the next couple of months, throwing a dinner party — that is, any dinner in which you invite guests to your home and cook for them — need not be a stressful, unapproachable affair.
We're going all in on that idea with five types of dinner parties that you can create based on how you want to celebrate: the Elegant Dinner Party, the Budget Dinner Party, the Make-Ahead Dinner Party and the Weeknight Dinner Party and the Mobile Dinner Party. The ultimate goal is to gather those you love most around a meal crafted with care. Everything else is just gravy.
For most of my life, cooking has come in a close second to my first favorite hobby: crafting. For me, throwing a dinner party combines both of those loves. Here are some suggestions for small, low-effort things you can do to send your meal over the top.
A super-sized menu
When I remember to do it, writing menus down at home helps me hew more closely to a weekly meal plan. I find the same thing helps when coordinating a large meal. Get a large dry erase board, a large piece of paper or, for maximum rustic charm, a chalkboard, and put your best handwriting skills to work writing down a simplified version of the night's menu. That way, guests know what's in store, and you make sure not to leave a side item off the table.
Place cards and silverware holders
Presented together as a way to designate who sits where at your dinner party table, these useful crafts make for a delightful souvenir. You can get as fancy as you like with place cards: Type them out on your computer then print on fun card stock paper and cut into desired shapes; hand-write on mini chalkboards or another surface. Try making your own silverware pouches if you're handy with a needle and thread. Cut any kind of fabric into a 4- by 12-inch rectangle, then fold up one-third of the fabric and, using large stitches, sew the outer edges of the fabric together. This will create a pocket for the silverware. I like to use burlap, and yarn for the stitches. And if you don't want to go the assigned seating route, place these on the drink table and let guests pick them up, then pick their seat.
Cans as vases
If you recycle cans anyway, you may as well put them to good use at your dinner party. Save your most vibrant, colorful or unique cans for this purpose; tomatoes often come in cans with appealing labels. Remove the can's lid completely, then rinse and dry the inside thoroughly. Fill halfway with water, then cut a handful of flowers to the appropriate height for the can; place four or five in and around your kitchen.
A cup for everyone
If you're going a disposal, more affordable route, buy a sleeve or two of plastic cups (try funky colors or textures) and place them on the counter with one cup full of Sharpies. Encourage guests to write their own names. Another option? Buy a pack of mason jars (often sold for around $1 if you buy them in bulk), enough for each guest. Then, label them with guests' names: Cut out 2-inch by 2-inch squares of card stock, punch a hole in the top left corner, then thread a thick piece of string through the hole. Tie string around the neck of the mason jar to fasten.