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 kitchen the size of a closet with almost no counter space. My second place had a kitchen with bar seating but no room for any sort of dining table. 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. But ultimately I got sick of waiting for that handsome partner and high-paying job and decided to have 14 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 14 people every two months, and no guest has ever complained about my studio being too small.
This is how to host a killer dinner party in a small space.
Planning ahead is an essential step for any party, but when you're dealing with a small space and large crowd, it's particularly crucial. Take time to consider your space and supplies. Do you have enough chairs, utensils, and platters? If not, make arrangements to rent the necessary items, or ask a couple of friends if you can borrow some items.
Rearrange the Room
If you’re having everyone sit at the same table, ask yourself where you can fit a table that’s big enough to seat all of your attendees. 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 to push the couch against the window or put your favorite armchair in the breakfast nook—it's just temporary!
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 in the middle of my studio.
Omit Needless Furniture
When you're rearranging the room, get rid of any unnecessary furniture, decor, and miscellaneous clutter. No, I’m not saying you should bring your bedside table to Goodwill or sell your 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 any clutter can seriously cramp your party's style.
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 and cozy! 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, putting any smaller guests next to each other and allowing bigger guests a spot at the end where they will have more room.
We all have friends who are more judgmental than others. 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.
Make a Big Batch
When feeding a crowd, it’s smartest to serve a menu of foods that are easy to make in batches. This way, you won’t have to be in the kitchen cooking while your guests are over. The same technique applies to cocktails. Instead of shaking them up to order, make a big batch of margaritas or serve a festive punch.
If you’re dealing with a bunch of different dietary needs, serve something like tacos that allow people to DIY their meal to their preferences. Set out bowls of shredded beef, veggies, queso fresco, and salsa, and let guests assemble their own tacos.
You’re already rearranging your home, so why not go all the way and create a gorgeous tablescape as well? 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, 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 can also make the dinner party a themed event to help inform your decorations and arrangments. The first big dinner I threw 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.
Anticipate the Cleanup
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. Don’t have a dishwasher? Consider using nice paper plates that match the style of your party or ask a friend to come the next day and help you tackle the dishes. Entice them with leftovers and champagne!
Everything about a party, from the planning to the toasts, should be fun. Even when you're working hard to prepare, take time to enjoy every step! Your time and effort will lead to smiling faces, flowing conversation, and lifelong memories.
This story was originally published on July 21, 2015, and has since been updated.