How to Plan a Romantic Dinner at Home

Couple cooking in kitchen.

Getty Images/ katleho Seisa

When was the last time you had a romantic dinner with your partner? If you can't remember, perhaps now is the perfect opportunity to whip one up; no special occasion required.

Whether you're looking to treat yourself or do something thoughtful for your partner, let these tips below be your guide to at-home dinner bliss.

Clear Your Schedule

Set the stage for your romantic dinner by making sure the two of you will be alone. If you have children, arrange for babysitting at someone else's home. If you've got a roommate, call in a favor for some privacy. It's also a good idea to set some ground rules, like agreeing to a no-tech evening, which may include making sure cell phones are out of sight and the TV is turned off. "Scheduling might sound forced, but it's a great way to protect your relationship from the huge amount of 'life' constantly coming at you," writes Melissa Orlov, author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage, for Psychology Today.

Go a step further and send an invitation. Design one with user-friendly software like Canva, whip up your own hand-lettered invite, or go completely no-frills and digital by blocking out time on your shared Google Calendar.

One Week Before

Confirm the date of your special meal, and plan the menu. Be mindful of what's in season which can affect how easily you'll be able to source desired ingredients. Other things to consider include your dinner companion's dietary preferences and restrictions, like someone who prefers a plant-based diet or who has a nut allergy.

Then, it's list-making time. Consider how you'd like to present each dish, and consider any particular cooking tools, garnishes, and dishes you may need. Make a list of décor you need for the occasion, whether it's something you already own (those special linens that haven't seen the light of day in a while), or something you'll pick up before the meal (like fresh flowers—get these the day before).

Regarding the table setting, we've got ideas, from the practical to the stylish.

The Menu

If the kitchen isn't your natural habitat, choose a recipe with ingredients and preparation techniques you are familiar with. A few other suggestions might be our picks for one-pot meals for meat eaters and plant lovers alike (less clean-up afterward!) Or, why not plan to cook the meal together? "To really make your romantic meal a night to remember, create a menu around your shared experiences," suggests relationship expert and life coach Orion Talmay.

"Memory and the senses go hand-in-hand, and the taste, smell, or sound of a dish can evoke happy memories stronger than a photo ever could. For instance, the smell of fresh mojito might transport you back to your favorite bar when you were first dating, or the taste of linguine might remind you of a romantic Italian holiday you once had," Talmay adds.

Two Days Before

Shop for the ingredients needed to create the menu you planned the week before; and note any substitutions you could swap for in case you can't find exactly what you need.

Check your details to avoid any last-minute trips to the store: Ice for cocktails, a corkscrew for wine, a lighter for candles, for example. Place any frozen proteins in the fridge to defrost.

Create a playlist to stream, dust off that old iPod with nostalgic favorites, ready the record player, whatever your tune delivery of choice.

The Day Before

Prepare as much of the planned menu as possible, which includes chopping vegetables and measuring ingredients, to locating the sauces and garnishes you need to finish your dishes. Season or marinate your proteins, make the dessert.

Take out serving dishes, cooking utensils, cutting boards, and everything you need, as well as any small bowls for seasonings and garnishes and set up your cooking station. In culinary speak, this is called mise en place, a French term meaning "everything in its place."

The Day of

Pick up flowers, set up the table and any décor. All linens, table settings, glasses, candles should be laid out at this point. Then, all that's left to do is turn on the tunes, cook the meal and bask in each other's company.

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