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The Essential Guide to Throwing a Dinner Party in a Small Space

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Table of Contents:

  1. Start With a Plan
  2. Prep Your Space
  3. Get Guest-Ready
  4. Throw Your Party

Hosting a party can tax the nerves, especially if you’re working with a small space. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to entertain guests at home, from creating a plan to prepping your space and more.

Start With a Plan

Good planning is the key to just about everything in life, and hosting a party in a small space is no exception. Here are a few key tips from folks who regularly invite guests to party in their small apartments.

You Can Always Make Room for People

In other words, don't limit your guest list to the number of chairs at your dinner table. There are always ways to creatively make space for one — or a few — more people. Storage ottomans and chests make great extra seating or tables for guests who pull up a square of carpet. If you're really in a pinch, you can put out a call to friends to BYOS — bring your own seat. You'll get extra points for creativity, and your friends will have a blast.

Have a Vision

Imagine the experience you want your guests to have. Laura Fenton, who writes the No Space Too Small column for foodie site Food52, says you either have to plan a sit-down dinner or stand-and-snack party — anything else is too complicated for a small space. This doesn’t always have to be true — the keys to making it possible are timing, organization and excellent spatial arrangement. Ask yourself these six questions to help you figure out the flow of your party.

  • Where will your guests put their coats and bags?
  • Where will people stand and sit before the food is ready?
  • How and where will they get their food and beverages?
  • Where will they put their food and beverages down?
  • How will you handle clearing away plates, etc?
  • How will they move from space to space?

Whether you're hosting a sit-down dinner, a buffet or a hangout with snacks, those basics will help you figure out how to prep your space and get everything set up for a stress-free hosting experience. 

Plan the Menu

Planning the menu will help you refine your party vision even further — and help guide a bunch of other decisions, including: 

  • What kind of plates and bowls do you need? 
  • How about eating utensils and serving ware? 
  • How do you arrange your furniture around the room (or move into a different room)?

Decide Where the Party Is Happening

If you've only got one free room, that decision is pretty much made for you — the party is obviously happening in that room. If you can spread out a little, though, do take advantage of being able to spread the crowd out a bit. Turn on the lights and open the doors to the patio, weather permitting. Turn your bed into a sofa for the evening and add a couple of chairs, or turn on the TV in there for friends who are keeping tabs on the game. Likewise, put a few chairs and side tables in the backyard, or start a fire in the firepit to encourage people to wander out for a breath of fresh air. Giving people a choice of places to congregate will encourage them to move around and mingle, making it more fun for everyone.

Prep Your Space

Whatever type of party you're planning, you're going to want to prep your space for your guests. The bigger your party, the more important these steps are.

Declutter

The more clutter you get out of the way, the more space there will be for food, drinks, decorations and (of course) guests. Clear off coffee tables and end tables to make space for chips and dip, or for setting a drink down. Get your bike and sports gear out of the way. In your bathroom, get personal grooming gear out of sight. Clear off counters so you can use them as serving space. You can tuck things into closets and under beds, or store them in a room that won't be used for parties. 

Tip: Check out more tips for maximizing space in small apartment, with space-saving hacks for your kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom.

If you're clearing out a room or backyard for a big do — like a wedding — consider a short-term storage unit rental. SmartStop has units in all sizes available with no long-term contract, making it an affordable option to store big furniture items — even boats and trailers — out of the way for your big day.

Deep Clean

One of the nice things about getting clutter out of the way is that it's so much easier to do a real deep cleaning — and that's pretty major when you're inviting a whole crew into your house for a party. In addition to basic cleaning (sweep and wash floors, vacuum rugs, dusting and the like) this is a good time to wash down window sills: people will likely put their drinks on them. Get tips for deep cleaning your whole home, as well as some eco-friendly cleaning solutions you can make at home.

Move Stuff Around

One of the quickest ways to make more usable space in a room is to move as much furniture up against the walls as you can. That gives you the entire center of the room for standing, dancing, mingling and moving through. 

Don't just shove furniture around willy-nilly, though. Remember those questions about where and how people will get food and put it down? Now's the time to plan for that. Here are a few tips that will help you avoid congestion and make sure everyone is comfortable.

  1. Put a bar cart where people — or a designated bartender — can serve drinks in a fairly central location.
  2. Scatter snack stations around the entire party area, and stock them with finger foods — chips and pretzels, a charcuterie board or veggie tray. People can easily grab a few bites on their way by, though you'll probably find that they attract little clusters of people hanging out and socializing.
  3. If you're planning a sit-down dinner, place the table in the center of your biggest room and allow as much room as possible to move around it. 
  4. If you're serving buffet style, move the table a few feet from the wall so people can serve themselves from either side. 
  5. Make sure that there's somewhere to put down a drink or plate within reach of every seat — a coffee table in front of the couch, an end table between two chairs and three chairs in front of a window sill. Get creative: turn a wooden crate on its end to serve as a table, or pull out a set of TV trays.

Gather Your Gear

Finally, make sure you have everything you and your guests will need to dish up and enjoy their food and drinks. Here's a short list of items we find most useful.

  • Baskets lined with napkins for chips, pretzels, and other snacky stuff.
  • "Crystal" serving trays from the dollar store. They're versatile enough for any holiday or theme, so you won't be laying out a summer feast on a Halloween platter.
  • The best paper napkins you can get. Trust us, you'll be glad you got the good ones.
  • A variety of serving ware, including ladles, salad tongs, forks and spatulas.
  • Toothpicks or cocktail picks. In a pinch, they're just what you need for charcuterie boards, cheese trays, and hors d'oeuvres. 
  • Sturdy disposable plates and bowls. Opt for compostable ones if you're trying to be green.
  • More forks, knives and spoons than you think you'll need.
  • A cooler or bin for ice and canned/bottled beverages.
  • Disposable cups and/or a set of stemmed glasses for fancier events.
  • A bottle opener and a corkscrew because the best drinks don't come in pop-top cans.
  • A trash barrel.

5 Pre-Party Tips

It's almost party time — and your stress levels are probably high. You can take the stress down a notch with these tips.

  1. Enlist one friend to show up early so they can help with last-minute tasks — and answer the door if you're not quite ready when guests start arriving.
  2. Get the food prep done before guests arrive so they don't feel obligated to get in your way in the kitchen as you try to finish up.
  3. Conversely, reserve one task for early arrivals that will keep them out of your way. Send them to fill chip bowls or take the wraps off the prepped food trays, for example.
  4. Turn off the oven and turn on the AC for an hour or so before guests arrive. Small apartments can heat up pretty quickly.
  5. Nip into the bedroom or bathroom to do a quick refresh so you're feeling your best when folks start arriving.

It's Party Time

Finally, mix and match these miscellaneous party tips to help you keep things flowing all night long.

  • Designate a coat storage area. You can clear out a hall closet and make sure there are plenty of hangers. If the weather is nasty, put a boot tray by the door where folks can leave their outdoor shoes.  
  • Or, greet guests at the door and offer to take their coats so you can put them in the bedroom.
  • If you're serving wine, invest in some inexpensive wine charms so that guests always know which glass is theirs.
  • Keep the music going, but the volume low enough for conversation.
  • Clear away empty plates and utensils — but stash them in the kitchen for later cleanup.
  • Gauge the heat level as the party progresses so you can crack a window or turn up the AC if it gets stuffy.
  • Flowers! Need we say more?
  • Need a bigger table? Lay a piece of plywood across two sawhorses and cover with a tablecloth. After dinner, you can disassemble it, stand the board against the wall, and clear the floor for dancing.
  • Take advantage of nice weather to move the party outside. 

Final Thoughts

No matter the size of your digs, you absolutely can throw a dinner party or entertain guests in your home with a little planning and a few small space entertaining hacks. Thinking of hosting guests after the party? Check out our tips for hosting overnight guests in a small space.

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