How to Host a Dinner Party for a Crowd in a Small Space
For most of my adult life—15 years, to be exact—I have lived alone in a handful of studios in the Bay Area. My first place had a Murphy bed and a virtually counter-space-free kitchen the size of a closet. My second had a kitchen with bar seating but no room for any sort of dining table. My current place is the biggest, with a galley kitchen, a dishwasher, plenty of cabinet space, and enough room for a rectangular table that can seat six. While some people may never think to host a dinner party in such cramped conditions, I love entertaining at home and have always invited people over for dinner.
At first, I hosted intimate gatherings with only a small group of three or four people. I kept thinking I would find a boyfriend who had a great house with a large dining room table, or get an amazing new job that allowed me to move into a bigger place. However, on the eve of my half-birthday at age 28, I realized I was sick of waiting for that handsome boyfriend and high-paying job and decided to have fourteen people over for a dinner party. It ended up being a fabulous fête, and since then, I haven’t looked back! I throw a dinner for eight to fourteen people every two months, and no guest has ever complained about my studio being too small. Wondering how you can do the same thing? Read on, hostesses.
Planning ahead is an essential step to any sort of party, but when you are dealing with a small space and large crowd, take the time to really think things out. Look at your studio and supplies. Do you have enough chairs, serving ware, and plates? If not, make arrangements to rent the necessary items or ask a couple of trusted friends if you can borrow some forks and platters.
If you’re having everyone sit at the same table, ask yourself where in the studio can you fit a table that’s big enough to seat 10 people. It’s probably the center of the room, which means you’ll have to rearrange your current living formation to fit the table. Don’t be afraid of pushing the couch against the window or putting your favorite armchair in the breakfast nook. Do what you have to do to make the table fit in your space. It’s a dinner party, so it’s okay if it is the focal point. When I host a dinner, I move my coffee table and armchair into the kitchen and turn my bed 90 degrees so that it’s blocking the door to my closet. This allows me to set up a table that comfortably seats 10 (and not-as-comfortably seats 14) in the middle of my studio.
When you are rearranging the room, get rid of any unnecessary pieces of furniture. No, I’m not saying you should bring your bedside table to Goodwill or sell your fur blankets on Craigslist: Simply move them into a closet or out of the way. Your apartment will fill up with people eating and drinking, so remove clutter and anything that you don’t need to use during the dinner (coffee table books, magazines, etc.).
If your table seats eight but you want to invite 10 guests, simply add two more place settings on the ends. People will have to sit closer together, but it will be fun! Make sure to have a couple of conversation starters in your back pocket to keep the dinner lively and people talking. Make a seating chart, put any smaller guests next to each other, and allow bigger guests a spot at the end, where they will have more room.
We all have friends who are more judgmental. If you know the married couple who lives in the ’burbs will complain about having to sit tightly at the table next to your rowdy cousin, don’t invite them to the party. Invite friends who have a good time no matter what they are doing.
When feeding a crowd, it’s smartest to serve a menu of foods that are easy to make in batches. Why grill 12 individual steaks when you can roast an entire beef tenderloin? You won’t have to be in the kitchen cooking while your guests are over. Other ideas: lasagna, roast chicken, or a whole side of salmon. If you’re dealing with a bunch of different dietary needs, serve something like tacos. Slowly braise pork to make carnitas, but also roast mushrooms and zucchini for the vegetarians. Set out bowls of radishes, limes, chopped onions and cilantro, queso fresco, and salsa, and let guests assemble their own tacos. The same technique applies for cocktails. Instead of shaking them up to order, make a big batch of margaritas or serve a festive punch.
For my dinner parties, I make one long rectangular table by placing a square folding table next to my regular dining table. The height is slightly off, by no more than an inch, but no one ever mentions it. Why? Because I’ve covered the tables with one long tablecloth and set the table beautifully with flowers, candles, cloth napkins, and place cards. You’re already rearranging your home, so why not go all the way and create a gorgeous tablescape as well? Or make the dinner a themed event. The first big dinner I did, for my 28-and-a-half birthday event, was Moroccan themed. I didn’t have a table that fit 14, so I made an area of the floor the table and had everyone sit on pillows.
Lots of dinner guests means lots of dirty dishes. If you can, clean as you go. Load the dishwasher with the first course’s dishes and turn it on while you eat the second course. Empty, then load again. Don’t have a dishwasher? Consider using nice paper plates (that match the theme and tablescape of your party) or ask a friend to come the next day and help you tackle the pile of plates in the sink. Entice them with leftovers and champagne!
Everything about a party, from the planning to the toasts at the table, should be fun. If you don’t like setting the table and rearranging your apartment, then don’t host the dinner. But if you do, more power to you! The time and effort it takes are worth the smiling faces, flowing conversation, and lifelong memories.
Any other tips for entertaining a crowd to share? Tell us in the comments.