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How Long Do You Need Between Courses at a Dinner Party?

How Long Do You Need Between Courses at a Dinner Party?

Hosting a dinner party is an excellent way to finally get together with your loved ones and show them your love and appreciation. However, organizing and timing multiple courses can be challenging, and if you’ve never hosted before, you might be unsure about what constitutes proper dinner party etiquette. One of the most common questions first-time hosts find themselves asking is: “How long do you need between courses at a dinner party?”.

You usually need to wait around 12 minutes between courses at a dinner party; however, this timeframe is highly variable depending on whether all dishes are ready, how many courses you’re planning on serving, and how quickly your guests eat. So don’t be afraid to create your own schedule if needed.

Below, I’ll dive into the typical timeline for a multi-course meal so that you get a better idea of how to time and schedule each dish. I’ll also provide you with some additional tips on hosting the perfect dinner party, which will not only help you impress your guests with a beautifully curated meal but also alleviate some of your stress along the process. So, if this is your first time hosting, make sure to keep reading until the end to find out everything you need to know.

The Typical Timeline for a Multi-Course Meal

Crafting the right timeline for a multi-course meal can be pretty challenging, and perfectly abiding by it is, more often than not, close to impossible. That’s why, before I take you through a rough guideline on how to best schedule a dinner party, I want to reiterate the importance of being flexible and improvising as you go. This is especially true if you’re hosting a gathering of close friends and family.

The timeframe you’ll wait between courses is only one of the components of a properly-scheduled dinner party, so what else should you think about?

First things first, the average multi-course dinner party should last about 2.5 to 3 hours. That’s enough time for guests to get comfortable and go through a couple of meals with plenty of time to relax in between. Again, one big factor that affects the timeframe of a dinner party is the number of courses being served. In this scenario, I’m talking about a standard three or four-course meal.

Suggested Schedule

Here’s a more thorough breakdown of the suggested schedule:

Say you’ve invited your guests for dinner at 6:30 - you’ll want to leave a 30-minute window for them to arrive, as not everyone is going to be punctual. Once the clock strikes 7:00, you can start serving the starters, leaving guests about 15 minutes of time to enjoy them before moving on to the main course.

If necessary, you can take an extra 5 or 10 minutes to prepare the main courses; however, do your best not to leave your guests waiting for too long; they’ve probably come hungry. At this point, the time should be around 7:20. 

Check out my article on how long you should wait to serve dinner after guests arrive for more information. 

The consumption of the main course takes a little longer, as people will often be putting down their forks to converse with one another, so you want to leave them ample time to enjoy their dish. By 7:45, most people should be finished with their main course, after which they might need a 15-minute break.

After that, it’s time to prepare and bring out the desserts, the consumption of which shouldn’t last longer than 15 minutes. Right after, you can start serving coffee or drinks of your choice. Now that everyone is full, happy, and sipping a drink, they’ll want to keep talking a bit more or even join in on some fun after-dinner activities, so you’ll want to allocate at least 45 minutes to that.

There you have it - a 2.5-hour dinner party. If you were to serve an additional fourth course, the schedule would be extended by an additional half an hour. Another thing I want to mention in terms of the original question (How long to wait between courses at a dinner party?) is that the timeframe will also depend on which course your guests are waiting for.

While you don’t want to delay the main course too much (so as to not leave your guests hungry), dessert can be served as late as 20 or 25 minutes after the previous dish has been consumed.

Of course, every suggestion and timeframe mentioned above is flexible, but you can use this example as a template upon which you can build your own dinner party timeline. If you’re planning on serving a more elaborate meal, make sure to adjust and necessary (it’s also best to notify guests in advance if you’re planning to serve more than four courses to allow them to make enough room in their schedule and stomach for the event).

If you’re not sure about which dinner party format to choose based on the number of courses you’re serving, make sure to check out this article. Moreover, if you’re looking for some excellent recipe ideas that’ll impress even the harshest foodies, I highly recommend getting your hands on this book, whose ebook version is available for free.

Tips for Hosting a Dinner Party With Multiple Courses

Here are some of my top tips for hosting a dinner party with multiple courses:

  • Keep your guests’ preferences in mind when planning the menu.
  • Follow table-setting etiquette.
  • Remove plates before moving on to the next course.
  • Stock up on wine and water.
  • Prepare in advance so that you don’t have to rush through cooking your meals last minute.
  • Enlist help if necessary - though pulling off a multi-course dinner party on your own it’s impressive, don’t kill yourself over what is supposed to be a fun, loving event.
  • Use charger plates.
  • Be attentive and speed up or slow down the schedule if necessary.


Though there are no hard-set rules on how long you need to wait between courses at a dinner party, aiming for somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes is probably a safe bet. However, prioritize your dishes’ taste over their presentation. For example, if your soufflé is fresh out of the oven and ready to serve, leaving it an extra 10 minutes just because will simply ruin its taste and texture.

By reading through the tips outlined in this article, you’re sure to host an unforgettable dinner party.