Weeknight Dinner Parties: Tips, Recipes & Good Ideas

Earlier this month we told you why we think Mondays are the best night for a dinner party (guests are available, you have the weekend to prep). But even the most well-prepared cook finds it hard to come home after work and pull dinner together when guests are arriving in less than an hour. What are the best ways to have friends over on nights when you're racing back home from the office? Reader Tania wrote us with this question, and we have some thoughts for her. We'd love to hear yours as well.

The Challenge: Dinner Party on a Weeknight

Tania says:

I really like this month's focus on entertaining. My question is: what are some good options for weeknight entertaining? Thursday and Friday nights tend to be best for our schedule but having people over would typically mean the guests would arrive less than an hour after we get home from work. I would love to hear about some easy, quick and/or make-ahead choices. We've done salads, pizzas, and tacos but would love some fresh ideas!

This is a situation I've encountered many times! I love having people over for relaxed mid-week dinner parties. Folks in churches and community organizations with mid-week discussion and dinner groups also run into this.

A Few Practical Ideas for Weeknight Dinner Parties

So, what are some practical solutions and meal ideas? Here are some favorite tips and resources.

  1. Do a hands-on meal
    Ask your guests to get involved with the meal. Don't prep anything ahead of time — just have fixings for dinner salads, sushi, or pressed sandwiches available. Guests show up with the expectation that they'll help and even get to customize what they eat. I love doing this with pizza!

    Resources
    Sushi to Sliders: 5 Hands-On Dinner Parties - A few ideas for this kind of party
    A Weeknight Panini Potluck - A panini party!

  2. Go picnic-style, with sandwiches and salads
    This is a riff on the tip above, since you could have everyone make their own sandwich. But I love the idea of a cool, summery meal of make-ahead grain salads, pasta salads, and chicken salad on toasted bread. You could have literally everything ready the night before.

    Resources
    Casual Entertaining: BLTs for Dinner
    Picnic Salads & Beyond: 15 Recipes for Memorial Day

  3. Think small — really small
    You don't need a 4-course meal. Think pot of soup and bread, with storebought sorbet for dessert. Or a roast chicken with deli potato salad (good deli potato salad, mind you), and ask your friend to bring dessert.

    Resources
    Small-Scale Entertaining: A Roast Chicken Dinner
    Easy Entertaining with Ice Cream: 9 Ways to Dress up a Scoop

  4. And yes, think about make-ahead meals
    This is the predictable answer, of course — do a make-ahead meal! Need ideas? How about pulled pork or carnitas or short ribs. These meals actually improve when made a day ahead. Just add bread and a salad.

    Resources
    Entertaining: Make-Ahead Tips for Dinner Parties
    Just Add Salad: 5 Meals To Make Ahead and Reheat

We hope these ideas are helpful. Weeknight dinner parties are wonderful times to gather with friends; they tend to be more low-key, and they help encourage habits of casual hospitality. As Sara Kate said in her thoughts on entertaining, having people over doesn't have to mean placecards and elaborate flower arrangements. It can be as simple as a pot of soup or leftovers shared convivially, among friends.

What are some of your favorite ways to share a meal on a weeknight? Do you have any tips or meal ideas for Tania?

More Good Ideas & Tips
What Are Your Best Tips for Easy & Stress-free Parties?
Our Readers' Favorite Vegetarian Dinner Party Dishes
8 Simple Tips To Make Your Dinner Guests Feel Comfortable
Make-Ahead Dish for Entertaining: 10 Vegetable Gratins

(Images: Gregory Han; Faith Durand)

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