The term tends to conjure panic.
Dinner parties can mean overflowing shopping carts, dwindling bank accounts, the stress of not only cooking but cleaning up before and after.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
If you can keep perspective and do advance menu planning, cooking for a large group of people can be a festive and feel-good affair.
Here are five dinner party menus to help suit a variety of needs:
I talked to local etiquette expert Patricia Rossi recently by phone, and she offered this sage advice for whenever things start to become overwhelming: "The whole goal of the dinner party is to build relationships, because relationships make our professional and personal lives better. That's the reason for having everyone over for a meal."
If the idea of cooking for a crowd is too daunting, Rossi suggests turning to her favorite kind of dinner party: the potluck.
"I don't like that word, but I like the idea," she says. "I do this a lot, I just say, I have the entree, which is pasta and shrimp, fill in what you like to bring. And it somehow always works out."
The interactive dinner party is certainly one way to go, if you think your guests are up to the task. (See Page 3E for some interactive pizza party tips.)
As a host, you're there to set the tone, whether it's a potluck or one of the other kinds of dinner party ideas we are offering. From an elegant evening to a meal made almost entirely in advance, we've got you covered.
Now, what about the guests?
Rossi says the primary job of a dinner party guest is to show up and have a good time. And this starts even before you arrive for dinner.
"You always want to RSVP, because when you don't, it looks like you're looking for the BBD: the bigger, better deal," she says. "Try to respond within three days."
Also, if you say you're coming, commit. Rossi says she gets a lot of emails these days asking about "ghosting" — leaving a party without telling anyone.
"If you know you'll have to leave, tell the host before the party, when you accept the invite," she says. "Don't tell them when you get there. If you can't stay for the whole experience, don't do it."
And never arrive early.
Also, it's important to come armed with conversation topics that you can take anywhere — topics that not only don't offend but that make people feel calm, and draw out interaction. Rossi often turns to the five F's: food, family, favorite teams, fun hobbies and festive travel.
Beyond that, following the host's directions and tone is crucial. The point of etiquette and manners (never let a used utensil touch the table; always pass salt and pepper across the table together; pace yourself so you're not the first or last one eating) isn't to be stuffy or fancy, Rossi says, but to avoid embarrassing yourself and others, and to facilitate conversation and connection as much as possible.
"It is the time to break out your best attitude."