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How Long After Guests Arrive Should You Serve Dinner?

How Long After Guests Arrive Should You Serve Dinner?

Serving dinner to your guests is an important part of any gathering, but it can be a tricky balancing act. You don't want your guests to wait too long for their meal, but you also don't want them to feel rushed or uncomfortable. So how long after they arrive should you serve dinner?

You should serve your guests dinner about 1-2 hours after they've arrived. This gives them time to mingle and get comfortable before the meal starts while ensuring their food doesn't get cold. If your guests are arriving at different times, you can set a "serving time" for everyone to aim for.

In this comprehensive guide, I will go in-depth into the nuances of timing your dinner service, so your guests are comfortable and happy. I'll also share tips on executing an unforgettable dinner party that will get your guests talking for days.

When To Serve Dinner at a Dinner Party

A dinner party starts between 5 PM to 7 PM, depending on the day of the week. It's best to serve dinner one to two hours after the guests arrive or between 6 PM to 8 PM. Serving dinner immediately when guests arrive may cause them to feel rushed and uncomfortable. Conversely, keeping them waiting for long will cause them to feel bored and hungry.

You can also provide your guests with light snacks, drinks, and appetizers while they wait for dinner if you're worried about them getting too hungry. 

These can be as simple as chips and dip or as fancy as mini quiches or stuffed mushrooms. Simple finger foods like sausage rolls, fried pickles, and crispy bacon-wrapped brussels sprouts are also great for this. 

Serving a bubbly drink of some kind, like champagne, wine, or even sparkling cider, can make the guests feel welcome and set the tone for a relaxed evening. These will help to take the edge off of their hunger and make them more comfortable while they wait.

When having a large gathering, serving dinner in "courses" may be necessary. This means you serve the appetizers or the first course, the main course, and then dessert. This will help ensure that everyone has enough time to enjoy their meals without feeling rushed.

Also, if you have a multi-course dinner planned out with appetizers, a main course, dessert, and dishes in-between, then it makes sense to start early. Check out my detailed article discussing how to space out each course to ensure your guest don’t feel too stuffed or too hungry during the dinner party. 

How to Entertain Early Arrivals

Of course, there will always be guests who arrive early. Instead of letting them sit around awkwardly in the living room, why not have a few activities lined up to keep them entertained? These include:

Trivia Night

Have your guests battle it out in an epic trivia game. This can be on any topic you like, such as pop culture, TV shows, or even current events. Give each guest a specific topic to focus on for an extra challenge. As the trivia continues, guests can interact and get to know each other better.

Board Games

Everyone loves a good board game night. From classics like Monopoly and Clue to modern favorites like Catan and Exploding Kittens, the options are limitless. You can even add a twist to old favorites, like playing Life backward or turning Scrabble into a timed race.


This classic party game never gets old. Watching guests trying to act out different words and phrases without speaking is always fun. You can even assign a few people to be judges if you want to make it a competition. Let your guests vote on the funniest or most creative acts!

Dance Off

If you have some music playing, it can be fun to challenge your guests to a dance-off. You'll be surprised by how creative they can get. If you have extra space, you can set up a mini dance floorfor your guests to show off their moves.

Expert Tips for a Perfect Dinner Party

Setting up for the perfect dinner party can be a daunting task, so here are some tips to help make your guests feel comfortable and ensure a successful evening:

Plan Ahead

Don't wait until the last minute to start planning your dinner party. Give yourself plenty of time to organize the details, from grocery shopping to setting up the table and decor. Create a guest list, set up a budget, and decide on the menu. Confirm with your guests if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions, so you can accommodate them with alternative dishes.

Formulate a Menu

Choose dishes you know how to make, so you don't have to worry about cooking times or unfamiliar techniques. Create a timeline for the meal and assign tasks to yourself and other helpers. Have all the ingredients ready ahead of time and prepare as much as you can before your guests arrive.

Set the Table

Create a welcoming atmosphere by setting the table with linens, plates, silverware, and glasses that match the style of your event. Add a centerpiece to give the table extra flair

Before your guests arrive, set the ambiance with music, decorations, and comfortable seating. Have candles, flowers, and other items to add a warm touch to the room. Serve drinks and appetizers and present them nicely as people arrive so they can socialize before dinner.

Time Your Meal Perfectly

The timing of your meal is just as important as the food and atmosphere. Make sure to serve dinner around one hour after guests arrive so they have enough time to mingle and get settled in. 

If people are running late, adjust accordingly. Serve smaller courses and allow plenty of time between each one for conversations and digestion.

Enjoy Your Party

As much as you want your guests to enjoy the party, you also have to give yourself a break and enjoy it yourself. Let your guests take care of themselves, and don't worry about being the perfect host. Have fun and enjoy your time with your guests. 

Final Thoughts

Serving dinner at a gathering can be a tricky balancing act. It's important to give your guests enough time to relax and get comfortable before the meal, but you also don't want to make them wait too long. Serve dinner one to two hours after your guests arrive. 

Provide light snacks and drinks while they wait, and entertain them with games or conversation to ensure no one feels too uncomfortable. With a little planning and preparation, your dinner party will go off without a hitch!