10 Dinner Party Themes Your Guests Will Love

printed invitation to dinner party
A special theme can take your dinner party from merely a get-together to an exciting evening among friends and family.

Throwing a dinner party can be stressful. What do you make? Should you decorate? Will your guests have fun? Add a theme to your party, and suddenly everything falls into place. It's a snap to figure out your menu and decorations, and chances are your guests will enjoy a themed event more than a standard party.

What theme you select is limited only by your imagination. More traditional themes -- say, a Mardi Gras dinner on Fat Tuesday -- are perennial favorites, while creative ideas such as an animal theme (all foods come from a particular animal or are shaped like it) are fun surprises.


To spark your creativity, here are 10 dinner party themes, both traditional and unusual.

10: Ethnic

One of the most popular dinner party themes is ethnic food. If you've got guests with finicky palates, stick with cultures whose foods are more mainstream (at least by Americans standards), such as Italian, Mexican or Chinese. Adventurous diners can sample Thai, Ethiopian, Indian or Japanese cuisine.

Decorations can be simple -- a red-and-white checked tablecloth topped with a candle in an old Chianti bottle for an Italian theme; paper lanterns and a big bowl of fortune cookies for a Chinese theme; figurines of elephants (sacred to the Thai people) and banana-leaf placemats for a Thai theme.


Play music from those cultures to add to the ambience; just make sure the volume is set on the low side.

9: Unusual Holidays

A Valentine's Day party can be lots of fun, but it's hardly a novelty. So try picking a lesser-known holiday or day of note from which to create your dinner party. The sky's really the limit here.

If you choose Groundhog Day, for example, you can serve all brown foods, foods shaped like the furry critter, or plan your evening according to the popular 1993 comedy movie of the same name, dining on dishes referenced in the movie, playing the soundtrack in the background, etc.


And why not even create your own holiday -- or steal someone else's. Throw a party to celebrate Festivus (every Dec. 23), courtesy of Frank Costanza on the TV show "Seinfeld." The Feats of Strength, one of the hallmarks of Festivus, would make for some great after-dinner entertainment!

8: Movies, Books and Plays

Everyone has a favorite movie, book or play. So why not plan a dinner around yours? It certainly helps if your favorite has a strong food component, such as "Eat Pray Love," a movie which initially centers around pasta, or "Chocolat," a story about a female chocolatier.

But even if your favorite is the "Harry Potter" book series, it's not a problem. In fact, it might even be more fun. The books' butter beer, pumpkin juice, treacle tarts and cauldron cakes, just to name a few, would be fun to invent if you like to tinker in the kitchen. But you wouldn't have to do that; the series is so popular, lots of Web sites, including YumSugar.com, already created the recipes for you.


Still other movie/book/play themes -- "Casablanca," for example -- could center more around the decorations and ambience than the actual food served. With the movie playing, a sign reading Rick's Café over your dining area and classic cocktails ready upon guests' arrival, you'll be all set.

7: Historical Eras

Certain times in history have left strong images in our minds, whether we were alive during the period or not. What do you think of when you hear about the Prohibition Era or Flower Power? What about the Victorian Era, the Renaissance or the Roman Empire? Translate that into a dinner party idea.

A 1960s Flower Power party can mean tie-dyed placemats, beads in the doorway and endless music choices (think the original Woodstock Festival). If you tie in the food from that era, you're probably talking comfort foods like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, with whipped cream-topped gelatin for dessert. Add to the ambience by purchasing nostalgic toys for guests to tinker with before and after dinner. It doesn't hurt to dress the part, either; bell bottom jeans and a fringe vest would be right on, man.


6: Color Palettes

Dinner party themes don't have to take their cues from food or drink: Color themes are a popular and fun way to make a meal unique. A Lemons and Limes party features yellow and green decor, and guests at Black and White dinners (which are increasingly popular) are often asked to wear only black or white.

Of course, it's easy to slip a little of the color theme into the food and drink -- lemonade, lime vodka cocktails, lemon bars and key lime pie are all easy items to add to your Lemons and Limes party. Similarly, a Black and White dinner can conclude with, say, vanilla ice cream accented with chocolate syrup, followed by White and Black Russian after-dinner drinks.


If you decide upon a more unusual color for your theme, like purple or yellow, don't dye your mashed potatoes or other foods; guests might find that a bit unpalatable.

5: Signature Dish

Love pizza, tacos or pasta? Take a signature dish and make a few variations of it. For a pizza theme, make one standard pizza (but use quality ingredients), then go wild. Make a baked potato pizza: Top the crust with thin slices of potato, crumbled bacon, onions and cheese, and add a few dollops of sour cream when it's served. Assemble a Thai pizza with shredded beef, grated carrots and cabbage, sliced onions and peanut sauce. Leave one crust plain for guests to toss on whatever they'd like for the final pizza.

Into Mexican food? Set up a taco -- or burrito, nacho, fajita, whatever you like -- bar with a mix of hard and soft shells, a variety of meats and beans, salsa, avocado, cheese, sour cream, cilantro and any other toppings you and your guests will enjoy. Don't forget coordinating side dishes, beverages and dessert!


Remember to select your theme according to foods you're comfortable cooking. If you've rarely or never made barbecue, for example, now isn't the time to experiment.

4: Go Green

wooden sign for farmer's market
When shopping at the farmer's market, develop your menu from whatever ingredients look and smell the freshest.

Being green is increasingly becoming the norm, so why not throw a sustainable dinner party? Start by shopping at your local farmer's market for as much of the meal's components as you can. Or, if you belong to a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization, use whatever's in your weekly box. Talk to the growers to glean any stories about your food that you can share during dinner, or simply ask the farmers about their growing practices, location and history of their farms.

When preparing your table, use fresh flowers from your yard as a centerpiece, rather than buying some from the florist. Fruit and veggies from the market can also make an attractive decoration. Set the table with cloth napkins, and light beeswax candles.


3: Potluck from the Past

Even if you grew up in the days of canned vegetables and over-boiled meat, you still probably have several favorite meals from childhood. So do your friends. Plan a potluck dinner where everyone shares his favorite dish, which you can divide up in any number of ways. For example, the host will supply the entrée, and each guest brings a side dish or dessert. Or you can assign everyone to a category (appetizer, sides, salad) and the final dish will be revealed at the party.

During dinner, guests can explain how their dishes were created, and tell any favorite family stories associated with it, such as the Thanksgiving when Aunt Dorothy pulled out this very gelatin mold from her fridge and it slid onto the floor. Extra points go to guests who bring the recipe with them or a photo of them as a child during the time they typically ate the dish they brought.


If everyone at the party is roughly the same age, play background music from that era, or create a mix with songs popular from every guest's childhood.

2: Soup's On

soup in a bread bowl
Don't have enough bowls to accommodate several varieties of soup? Use a crusty, round loaf of bread as the serving dish -- it'll be doubly delicious!

Not a big cook but still want to throw a dinner party? Serve soup -- it'll be a cinch! It's easy to whip up a few pots: broccoli and cheese, chicken noodle, minestrone, just to name a few. Throw in something more adventurous, too, like beef borscht, crab bisque or tortilla soup. You can also make a few variations on one soup: think chili with and without beans and white chili. And while it's great if everything is homemade, you can certainly mix in some store-bought creations.

Fill in the dinner with salad, a few bread choices and a simple dessert (fruit crisps can be baked in advance and served warm or room temp). Foster the cozy ambience with a fire, if you have a fireplace, or dim the lights and use lots of candles. Not surprisingly, this type of dinner party works best in the fall and winter months, and because of its intimate nature, it's also better to have a smaller group of guests.


1: Vegetarian/Vegan

While a growing number of people are adopting vegetarian and even vegan lifestyles, most Americans still eat meat and dairy products and aren't well versed in the foods these diets accommodate. This makes vegetarian foods great choice for a dinner party, as everyone will learn a little about these eating patterns.

Web sites like Vegetarian Times and PETA offer a wealth of information on what it means to eat a vegetarian and vegan diet, and plenty of recipes are included. Just be sure to select a variety of dishes for your dinner party. At the start of the meal, explain the two types of diets and point out which dishes are which, and why. If any of your guests are vegetarians or vegans, ask them to share why they adopted this lifestyle and what they most enjoy about it.

We hope we've given you a few original ideas for your next dinner party. Happy cooking!

Dinner Party Themes

What is a themed dinner?
A special theme can take your dinner party from merely a get-together to an exciting evening among friends and family.
What are food themes for a dinner party?
Some food-related dinner party themes are vegan/vegetarian, a specific ethnic food (ex. Italian, Indian, Japanese, etc.) and soup night. Being green is also increasingly becoming the norm, so why not throw a sustainable dinner party?
What are good dinner party themes for adults?
A 1960s Flower Power party can mean tie-dyed placemats, beads in the doorway and endless music choices (think the original Woodstock Festival).
What are some good potluck themes?
Plan a potluck dinner where everyone shares his favorite dish, which you can divide up in any number of ways. During dinner, guests can explain how their dishes were created, and tell any favorite family stories associated with it.
How do I make my party more fun?
Purchase a murder mystery party game! Guests at a murder mystery dinner are first assigned identities, then become suspects in the crime. During the meal, clues are handed out, and guests quiz each other to determine who the fictitious killer is.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • DeLong, Kat. "Top Dinner Party Themes." Life Script. March 31, 2008. (July 12, 2011) http://www.lifescript.com/Food/Articles/Article_Archive/T/Top_Dinner_Party_Themes.aspx
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  • Party Pop. "Dinner Party." (July 12, 2011) http://www.partypop.com/Themes/party_themes_DINNERPARTY.htm
  • PETA. "PETA's 'Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit'." (July 15, 2011) http://features.peta.org/VegetarianStarterKit/index.asp
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  • Seinfeld Fan. "Celebrate Festivus." (July 19, 2011) http://www.seinfeld-fan.net/festivus.php
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  • Yum Sugar. "Top 10 Harry Potter Related Recipes." July 20, 2007. (July 14, 2011) http://www.yumsugar.com/Top-10-Harry-Potter-Related-Recipes-383049