Help! I Invited Some New Friends Over. What Do I Serve for a “Grown-Up” Party?

updated Oct 3, 2019
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Hi, Kitchn!

I’ve recently moved to a new city for a new job, after finishing grad school. To give me an excuse to invite some new friends over and socialize a bit more, I’ve decided to host a (29th!) birthday/housewarming party. Due to my grad-school hiatus, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve hosted a “grown-up” party and I have no idea what’s expected food-wise! Do I have to feed everyone dinner? Or make some sort of appetizers? Or just chips and dip? I love to cook, and have done big dinner parties in the past, but I also don’t want to be frazzled in the kitchen instead of spending time with guests. I would love some suggestions!

– Chandana

Chris: Hello, Chandana! One of my favorite ways to host a party is to make it a potluck! Especially if you’re celebrating your birthday and a new house, guests will be looking for some kind of way to contribute. To make it more fun, consider making it a themed party of some sort: If your guests all like to cook, you might consider, say, a pie party, and assign everyone either a savory or sweet pie (this cuts down on the chances that it’s all dessert). Another option is to make a big centerpiece-type dish (perhaps a nice lasagna or other baked dish you can assemble ahead of time) and ask guests to bring sides/salads/desserts.

Arie: Oh that’s fun! I love that idea — I recently made Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom lasagna for a dinner party. You can assemble the day before, too. It felt super special, but it wasn’t a hassle!

Meghan: Another option is to create a build-your-own dinner of some kind, so guests can eat as little or as much as they want. We do family-style spring rolls a lot in the summer — setting out platters of chopped veggies and protein with a little rolling station nearby with water and rice paper rolls. Someone also recently suggested hot pot as a build-your-own-dinner idea, and I loved that! Makes me want to buy a burner/pot just for that.

Sheela: Also, a soup party! Either everyone brings a soup or you just make one big pot of your favorite soup (or chili!) and everyone brings the accompaniments — bread, salad, wine, dessert. I’ve always wanted to do a party like that (or be invited to one, haha) because it just sounds fun and casual.

Arie: Also, can I just say, if you’re really stressed and don’t want to put pressure on yourself to cook, make a couple salads, and then BUY PIZZA. You could also make yourself a cake if you like baking (happy birthday!).

Lauren Masur: I was going to say, if you’re having new friends over on a grad school budget, feel free to cater with Trader Joe’s dips. They have a huge selection of extremely reasonably priced dips and an excellent cracker selection. Also, every party is better with Unexpected Cheddar — feel free to trademark that.

Grace: Yes! And you can always scoop their hummus into your own bowl and drizzle with olive oil to fancy it up a bit. I think it’s always a good idea to have a few appetizer-y things on hand for when people arrive — even if it’s just store-bought dip or a bowl of mixed nuts or olives — then you don’t have to stress that everyone’s hungry!

Arie: Lauren, Grace — would you serve anything for a main or just go all apps?

Lauren Masur: I would take the pressure off and just make it an appetizer party, to be honest. If everyone hits it off, you can level up next time!

Grace: I think you only have to serve a main thing if you call it a dinner party. If it starts at 8 p.m. or later, just do apps!

Lauren Masur: BUT! If you want to make it a dinner party pick a cookbook you’ve been dying to cook out of. My friend Olivia did this for her bday — she made a Chrissy Teigen-inspired dinner of coconut rice with broiled salmon from Cravings. Everyone was so impressed that she cooked her own bday dinner.

Arie: Impressive!

Christine: We did a housewarming party eons ago and it was a biscuit party! All I made were a ton of mini biscuits, then I put out things like honey, butter, strawberry butter, thinly sliced ham, pimiento cheese, etc. People were so excited to make their own snacks! And besides making biscuits, there wasn’t a lot to make beforehand but it was substantial enough. (And you can bake biscuits from frozen if you want warm biscuits throughout the party).

Patty: I can attest to these, from our resident biscuit whisperer, Meghan.

Arie: You are all so impressive. Can you invite me over for your next party, please?

Your turn, readers: What would you make for food in this situation?