Perfect Dinner Party Order of Events

dinner party order of events

Dinner parties are a great way to spend the evening with friends or to celebrate a formal occasion. No matter what style of dinner party you’re hosting, it’s really important to think about the order of events and the timing to make sure the night runs smoothly.

Planning a dinner party may seem a bit stressful at first, but don’t worry! We’ll go through all the timings, from how long to wait between serving courses, when should you start serving food and how long should the party last.
 
Here’s a good example of the best order of events at a dinner party.
 
  • 0:00-0:30 Arrival window and prep starters 
  • 0:30-0:45 Serve the starters
  • 0:45-1:00 Prepare the main courses 
  • 1:00-1:20 Serve the main courses 
  • 1:20-1:45 Short break 
  • 1:45-2:00 Prepare the desserts 
  • 2:00-2:15 Serve the desserts 
  • 2:15-2:30 After dinner drinks 
  • 2:30-3:00 Relax or have some activities  
Don’t worry if you can’t stick to this exactly, use it as a guideline to keep you on track. 
 
If you’re looking to make your night a complete success, then take a look at our ultimate dinner party planning guide. It’s full of great menu ideas, games, drinks and much more! 

How Long Should a Dinner Party Last?

We think a dinner party is best when it lasts around 3 hours. This is the perfect amount of time to let your guests relax between courses, enjoy your menu fully and gives you enough time to prepare without rushing. This is a party after all. It’s not a hectic celebrity chef’s kitchen (not naming any names). So take your time and relax. 

What Time Should a Dinner Party Start?

With the 3 hour guideline in mind, aim for your dinner party to start between 7-8PM. We prefer 7PM because it’ll give you more time to serve the food and allows for a longer wait between courses. It’s not too early that your guests won’t be hungry and it means the night won’t end too late.
 
Try not to start any later than 8PM. It’ll put the pressure on for you to serve the food really quickly because your guests will likely be starving by this point. Only host this late if you know your guests won’t be able to get home from work and get ready in time for 7PM.

0:00-0:30 Arrival Window

You’ll want to create an arrival window in the order of events for your dinner party. You should be completely ready for your dinner party around 15-30 minutes before you tell your guests to arrive though, just in case anyone shows up early. 
 
Aim for around a 30 minute arrival window, but that doesn’t mean you should tell your guests about it. Give your dinner party guests a specific start time. The 30 minute window simply accounts for any late arrivals and gives you time to prepare. Although, guests do tend to be punctual at dinner parties.
 
Spend this first half an hour taking coats and bags and sorting out everyone’s seating arrangements. Serve some light snacks, such as cheese and crackers, bread and oils, or nuts, but don’t put out too much. You should also offer some arrival drinks. Sparkling wine is perfect for a celebration but speciality cocktails are great if you want to be a bit different. Take a look at our list of the 10 best party drinks for some ideas! 
 
Once your guests are settled, use the rest of the arrival window to prepare your starter. You hopefully should have done all the prep earlier in the day, so it should just be a case of cooking and plating up at the 30 minute mark.

0:30-0:45 Serve the Starters

Plan to get your appetizers on the plates half an hour after the official start time of your party. If some guests still haven’t showed up, don’t let them delay you any longer than 5-10 minutes. Instead, you should be focusing all your attention on the guests that have arrived on time! 
 
You should usually give your guests around 10-15 minutes to enjoy the starter, depending on the portion size. When you can see your guests have finished eating, collect the plates and get ready for the main course. 

0:45-1:00 Prepare the Main Course

Of course, you don’t want to keep your guests waiting ages between courses at a dinner party, but a short wait is necessary.
 
Again, you should’ve done most of the preparation before the dinner party, so aim to get the main course on the table roughly 15-20 minutes after your guests have finished their starters.
 
This should give you enough time to prepare everything. Try to leave at least 15 minutes between each course, otherwise your guests will be too full from the previous course. 
 
You definitely shouldn’t be serving the main course later than 30 minutes after the starter. So do your prep before the party to make sure you can work efficiently. 

1:00-1:20 Serve the Main Course

If you’ve managed to stick to the timings we talked about before, then you should be serving your main course roughly 1-1:15 hours into your dinner party. Give your guests plenty of time to enjoy this course, around 20-30 minutes is perfectly fine. 

1:20-1:40 Take a Break

Chances are, your guests will already be pretty full after enjoying their main course. This means you should opt for a slightly longer wait between courses than you did with the starter and main.
 
You can relax and enjoy the conversation or choose an activity or game to keep your dinner party guests entertained. Head over to out ultimate dinner party guide for some great game and activity ideas! 

1:45-2:00 Prepare the Dessert

Again, your dessert should be pretty much ready to go if you’ve been organised and prepared everything beforehand.

Once you’ve taken a break to let the conversation flow or enjoy an activity or game, then start preparing your dessert. This shouldn’t take any longer than 10-15 minutes, but if you think it might, then excuse yourself earlier to start prepping.

2:00-2:15 Serve the Dessert

Aim to leave around 30-45 minutes between serving your main course and dessert. This will give you plenty of time to relax between courses and then get prepared in time without your guests getting to hungry again.
 
Of course, you can serve the dessert earlier, but make sure your guests are ready. You want to make sure they will be hungry enough to enjoy it properly and finish it without being too stuffed! 
 
It should take around 10-15 minutes for your guests to enjoy their dessert usually, but don’t worry if it takes a little longer. 

2:15-2:30 After Dinner Drinks

It’s a nice idea to serve some drinks after the dessert at a dinner party. Coffee or a shot of limoncello, amaretto or Irish cream can work really well. You can even serve a speciality dessert cocktail if you’re feeling adventurous! Take a look at our ultimate dinner party guide for some after dinner drink ideas. 
 
Your after dinner drinks should be served around 5-10 minutes after your guests have finished their dessert. 
Once you’ve finished your drinks, feel free to relax or enjoy some more games and activities! 
 
If you want all the best advice, tips and ideas, then check out our ultimate dinner party guide to make sure you plan a successful night without any of the hassle! 
 
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