Hosting a dinner party is a delightful way to both bring together friends and feel downright competent and sophisticated, but the idea can be daunting. What will the menu entail? Should there be a seating chart? And perhaps most importantly, does everyone have a cocktail? To ensure guests are welcomed and happy while you stay frazzle-free, check out our foolproof tips for throwing a successfully charming dinner party.

1. Set up a bar cart
Position a cocktail station near the entrance of your place with everything your guests will need to make themselves their drink of choice. Stock it with an ice bucket, barware, stirrers, and cocktail napkins, in addition to an array of booze. Beer, wine, and a few spirits and mixers are perfect, but as an added touch, jot down the ingredients for a simple signature drink your friends can make, or mix up a big batch in a pitcher pre-party.

2. Arrange simple hors d’oeuvres
Set out a straightforward lineup of pre-dinner snacks before guests arrive. Stay away from foods that need to be heated — you’ll likely be busy with last minute dinner prep — and instead opt for a cheese and charcuterie plate, crudite and white bean dip, olives, or wasabi peas. Use beautiful serving plates and trays so even the most unfussy spread will look like something an Instagram chef casually threw together.

3. Set the scene
Whether opting for a clean minimalist aesthetic or an over-the-top opulent tablescape, make sure to use real table settings and cloth napkins. (Nothing kills the “sophisticated” vibe faster than plastic forks and paper towels.) Dim the lights and use candlesticks or votives to impart a soft glow, and try using a cluster of potted succulents instead of a voluminous floral arrangement. Place cards aren’t necessary, but they’re a useful way to avoid any awkwardness when it’s time to find a seat at the table.

4. Serve dessert in the living room
It’s not a question of if dessert should be served, but where. Before the guests arrive, set up a dessert station on a side table in your living room, with a pretty cake stand, herbal teas, and small bites like macarons, chocolate-dipped berries, or petit fours. Moving from the dining area to the living room signals the end of the meal, and guests can more comfortably enjoy sweets and conversation.

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