Hosting your very own dinner party can be daunting no matter what size your space is. But creating a memorable and cozy night in with friends—just hanging, noshing and sipping—is what makes it all worth it. If you’re hesitant to entertain just because you live in small place, don’t be. Why let your square footage dictate your social life?
You can throw a casual and chic dinner party anywhere. You might not have that designer harvest dining table you’ve been lusting for or a sprawling kitchen island for a lavish spread of mise en place, but there are ways to be strategic and creative with what you do have. In other words, you can still entertain big with a small space.
1. Focus on finger food
Just because you don’t want to do anything elaborate doesn’t mean you can’t be playful with a party menu. Want to give the appetizers an extra oomph? Serve them in mini mason jars, which are mess-free and easier to hold than big dishes while your guests are standing and chatting. Fill them with dip, like Sabra Hummus and veggies of your choice. Think: sliced carrots, red pepper slices, celery sticks or cucumbers and call it a day. No cutlery or napkins necessary! Your “mains” can be finger foods, too. “If you’re really tight on space, don’t underestimate the power of a crowd-pleasing sandwich, especially a grilled cheese,” says Jennifer Bartoli, food expert and co-founder of Sprig Creative. Buy some good quality cheese and bread, cut the sandwiches into bite-sized pieces and pass them around with napkins for an effortless dinner option. If you’re worried about time, make the sammies in advance and warm them in the oven once your guests arrive. This will ensure you’re not making them on the spot or spending precious time away from your pals.
2. Amp up a classic
“Don’t make something you’ve never made before just because you think you need to impress your guests, especially if you have a smaller space to work with,” says Bartoli. “Stick to one main dish you’re familiar with and amp it up a little to make it entertainment-worthy.” This will ensure your menu planning is much smoother, she says.
Are you used to making tacos? Take them to the next level, or simply add a couple extra toppings to make them feel special, such as different cheese options or a few hot sauces. If pasta is your go-to hit, serve it alongside focaccia from your favourite bakery and top it with a good-quality cheese. And don’t be afraid to embrace store-bought foods—they can be huge time-savers and take the pressure off, too. Bonus: you’ll get to free up the kitchen, where every great party ends up anyway.
3. Make it pretty
Worry less about the space you don’t have. Instead, focus on the space you do have and make it inviting and cozy, says Mandy Milks, design consultant and creative director at Tonic Living. Corral all the clutter before guests arrive so there is space for everyone. If you don’t have extra rooms to hide stuff, try storing it all in a few chic baskets to keep your place looking organized. Then, add some soft touches like these fabulous throw pillows.
This is also a good time to think about designating a space that’s accessible and out of the way to put your guests’ jackets and bags. Ikea sells a compact clothing rack for only $15. Alternatively, you can use your bed, or put up hangers on the shower curtain rod for a makeshift closet. And don’t forget to throw down a runner beside the door for shoes.
4. Serve food buffet-style
Create a buffet area away from where your guests are seated so you don’t crowd a tiny eating area with dishes. No kitchen island? No problem. The counter will do just fine. Have guests with food restrictions? DIY labels are a great way to let your guests know what’s in each dish.
Keep drinks at a separate station so guests feel comfortable serving themselves and know where to find everything. “If it’s all organized, you’ll keep the chaos and bumping into each other to a minimum,” Milks says. Serving trays can also provide a more styled way to organize your drink station or to place plates, cutlery and napkins.
5. DIY a dining table
If you don’t have the space for a dining table during regular living hours, grab yourself a cheap foldable one that you can keep stored away. When it’s time to host, cover it with a beautiful piece of linen. If you’re looking to save a little, opt for yardage from a fabric store instead of buying a tablecloth. “You can simply hem the edges if you are down to DIY, but if you’re not into sewing, wash the linen and let it rumple and fray at the edges,” Milks says. “It adds a rustic, natural vibe.” Want to take it up a notch? Add a few sprigs of greenery like eucalyptus and you have yourself an elegant table.
6. Think multi-purpose seating
Small ottomans can work as coffee tables, side tables with a tray for drinks and—most importantly—as extra seating for guests, Milks says. “Look for either round stool ottomans or square cubes that are very light to move around and covered with high-performance fabric that’s easy to clean.” If you want to get really clever, Milks has a pro hack: Flip your Ikea Kallax shelf over, add a bench cushion and you have storage plus a bench seat for four.
7. Rearrange furniture
Don’t be afraid to drastically move things around for one night to open up the space and create better flow. Do you have a TV stand in the living room? Lose the telly and cover the stand with fabric to turn it into a functional cocktail bar. Push the sofa closer to the wall. Get rid of those bulky breakfast bar stools and move unnecessary items to the bedroom. Swap your living and dining areas or designate the kitchen for the buffet. Just make sure to do all the heavy lifting the day before so you’re not sweating at the last minute!
8. Don’t forget to chill
Speaking of sweating, be sure to turn down the thermostat or crack open a window before guests arrive because your place will warm up fast. And above all, have fun! If you’re at ease, your guests will be, too. Ultimately, all the little details you could be stressing over won’t make or break the night. So crack open that bottle of wine and say cheers!