5 Tips to Throwing a Killer Dinner Party without Breaking a Sweat

By: Devon O'Brien, Digital Food Editor

Dinner Party

You're throwing a dinner party—whoa. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Your parents threw them growing up and you love going to them now because what's better than chatting and laughing with your friends around a big ol' table of food? But now that the reality of hosting your own dinner party is setting in, it may seem a little overwhelming.

Don't worry; we've got your back. There's really only one tip you need to throw a dinner party your friends won't stop talking about—and that won't make you want to pull your hair out: write a game plan. These 5 steps will guide you through making a plan that will allow you to actually enjoy your party when the guests arrive.

1. Choose a build-your-own main (like tacos!).

Dinner Party

Pictured recipe: Chipotle-Lime Cauliflower Tacos

Tacos are my go-to dinner party menu main for two reasons: 1) along with all other millennials in this world, I'm obsessed with them, and 2) they're so versatile. Catering to picky eaters? Build a taco bar so everyone can choose exactly what goes in their taco. Have a celiac friend? (That's me!) Offer both corn and flour tortillas. Just make sure they don't come into contact with each other. Have vegetarian or vegan friends? Plan on making two fillings—one meat and one veg, then people who eat both can even mix and match their tacos.

Related: All the Taco Recipes You Need

2. Make a shopping list (and get your friends to bring some ingredients).

Dinner Party

Pictured recipe: Jason Mraz's Guacamole

Once you've picked out all the recipes you want to make for the party, make a list of everything you will need to buy. You might not be able to get everything at one store (for example, you may need to go to a large grocery store, a natural-foods market and a liquor store). By making your list several days before you actually need the food, you give yourself more time to get to each store without feeling overwhelmed, plus you won't overbuy if you have everything you need written down. And better yet, you can even delegate some of those items to your friends. You're feeding them dinner; they can handle picking up the drinks!

3. Prep what you can in advance.

Dinner Party

Pictured recipe: Carne Asada Tacos

Getting as much of the prep work done as possible before your guests arrive will allow you to actually enjoy the party. Start by marinating your meat, chopping up some of the vegetables so they are ready to go when it's cooking time, and putting any toppings and condiments in their serving bowls. Store prepped foods in the fridge until party time. You could even look for make-ahead recipes that can be cooked a day or two before and just need reheating at dinnertime.

Don't be afraid of taking smart shortcuts to save on prep and cleanup time. Stir up a pitcher of margaritas to serve a crowd, rather than made-to-order cocktails. If you're making tacos, buy fresh salsa at the store instead of making your own. If you're roasting veggies or meat, line your pans with foil to make cleanup a cinch.

Related: Delicious Make-Ahead Dinners

4. Don't be afraid to ask your friends to help.

Dinner Party

Pictured recipe: Roasted Three-Chile Salsa

If you come to my house for dinner, you better believe I've got an apron waiting for you the second you walk through the door. You don't have to force people to help, but definitely don't turn down any offers! You can even lay out a few simple, fun jobs (like being the bartender!) that your friends can help with so you're prepared when they offer to help. Plus, if everyone helps out, you can all socialize in the kitchen together while also getting dinner on the table even faster than if you were doing it all alone.

5. Have fun!

Dinner Party

Pictured recipe: Virgin Layered Strawberry-Mango Margaritas

Don't worry if everything isn't going exactly according to plan. I guarantee that your guests won't even notice, especially after a few sips of their margaritas. And even if they do, it will be a story you will look back on and laugh at for years to come. There's nothing you can do about it now, so just enjoy the time with good food and good company!

Related: Our Best Margarita Recipes

Video: How to Make Layered Strawberry-Mango Frozen Margaritas