Ditch the Fancy Fuss and Host a Wedding Dinner Party

The trend toward intimate, food-focused affairs is all about conversation and candlelight.
cathryn haight the knot
Cathryn Haight
  • Cathryn is an editor at The Knot, where she focuses on all things planning—from inspiration and design, to traditions, to invitations.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Cathryn spent years as a food editor
  • Cathryn holds a bachelor's degree from Trinity College and a certificate in publishing from Columbia University
Updated Feb 22, 2024

We're in the midst of a dinner party renaissance. Gone are the days where a successful event meant flambéing, souffléing or wrapping something in prosciutto, now it's about meaningful conversation and a cozy-elegant ambiance. The wedding dinner party trend arose from a similar desire from betrothed pairs to step away from extra fuss as they plan their nuptials. Couples are forgoing lavish affairs in favor of more intimate gatherings with connection at the core, where you're more likely to find one or two small tables of loved ones, laughing and sharing stories as the taper candle centerpieces melt down to stubs. Think of the celebration style as akin to hosting an elevated evening at home or showing up to a secret supper club. "The dinner party-style wedding has the same sort of 'cool girl' vibe that modern couples have been loving," says Jeankarla Duran, Event Planner at Mavinhouse. "It's likely that its surge in popularity is due to a desire from people who want something in between a large, extravagant wedding and an elopement. In 2024, people are craving meaningful gatherings, and a dinner-party style wedding is the perfect combination of intimacy and a thoughtfully designed experience." Here, we're breaking down the essential etiquette and elements of a dinner party wedding with some expert input, so you can assemble your vendor team (hi The Knot Vendor Marketplace) and properly pull it off.

What to Know About Wedding Dinner Parties:
Ideas | Etiquette | How to Plan

Wedding Dinner Party Ideas

Besides your beloved guests, the food and the ambiance are the two most important details of this Pinterest trend. Find inspiration below on how to make your wedding feel like a dinner party from real couples who struck the right balance of effortless and elegant (and looked so chic doing it).

Unique Outdoor Venue

An alfresco wedding venue like a vineyard, orchard or, in this case, a lemon grove feels unique and intimate. Imagine sharing stories tucked away between rows of trees—so romantic.

Whimsical Handwritten Menus

Your food is the main event (besides the "I do" of it all), so be sure to highlight your offerings in style with a quirky handwritten or hand-illustrated dinner menu.

Seasonally Inspired Feast

Seasonality is key when it comes to pulling off a memorable culinary experience, so work with your caterer to keep fresh produce top of mind when menu planning.

Single, Rectangular Table

Having your nearest and dearest gathered around one table is pure magic. Find one with an extra-long rectangular shape to seat as many folks as possible together.

Cake With Personality

Small weddings like these are all about forgoing traditions that feel too stuffy and showing off your love story and personality, so feel free to work with your baker to craft a cake that's a conversation starter.

Funky Table Linens

This couple hand sourced linens from LA's Garment District, but you can recreate this look with any funky fabric of your choice, like a bevy of mismatched block-print tablecloths.

Handwritten-Vibe Invitations

Keeping with the casual, romantic energy of your affair, your wedding dinner party invitation should feel effortless and a little fun. Check out some wonderful contenders at The Knot Invitations.

Collected Table Decor

It's your party, you can put tchotchkes across your table if you want to! Bring favorite pieces from your own home or thrift wedding decor that feels quirky, yet curated, like this pair of kissing angel statues and classic bust adornment.

Too Many Tapers

You can actually never have too many taper candles in my opinion, especially at a dinner party wedding. Their warm glow is essential to setting the right mood.

Playful China

You don't have to go for sleek white china here. Instead, opt for a selection of plates that feels like it's assembled from family heirlooms, mixing and matching playful patterns and colors that bring visual interest.

Mixed Crystal Glassware

Mixing different textures of crystal cocktail and wine glasses adds an elegant touch without being too fussy.

Fruit and Floral Centerpieces

Having your gastronomic goodies extend to your florals is a thoughtful way to nod to the dinner party theme. Plus, the combination of fruit and flowers feels like an elegant Dutch still life painting.

Picture Perfect Moments

One of my favorite dinner party wedding ideas: disposable cameras. Place a couple of disposable cameras across your table and see your celebration through the eyes of your guests. It makes it truly feel as fun as an evening with friends.

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Backyard Venue

A backyard dinner party wedding is the epitome of casual cool. Don't be afraid to host it at home if you have the space, but there are also plenty of smaller estate venues that offer a similar aesthetic.

Plush Seating

Yes, the dinner table is the heart of your affair, but don't forget to add some extra seating to your list of small dinner party wedding ideas. A grouping of cozy couches and chairs that feels like an extension of your living room is a great place for guests to gather after dinner.

Wedding Dinner Party Etiquette

As aforementioned, a dinner party wedding reception has a different wedding vibe than a traditional affair or blowout bash, so does that mean classic etiquette rules don't apply? Find out the nuances below.

Wedding Dinner Party Invitation Wording

The syntax of wedding dinner party invitations doesn't differ much from standard wedding invitation wording, but there are a few stylistic and phrasing choices you can make to set the mood. For example, you can incorporate a line of text spanning the top that hints to the party ahead, like: "Eat, drink and be married." Formal wedding invitations will spell out the date and time, while more casual bids will render those details numerically. The latter would be the better choice if you're aiming for a relaxed feel. The line that'll need the most attention is the reception detail section. Most invitations for traditional weddings will say something like "dinner, drinks and dancing to follow." While there's definitely room in an intimate dinner party wedding for a little moving and grooving, it's not required. Be sure to make it clear if there's dancing in your invite as follows:

For a wedding dinner party with no dancing:

Dinner and drinks to follow

For a wedding dinner party with no dancing, but other evening entertainment:

Dinner, drinks and merriment to follow

Wedding Dinner Party Dress Code

When it comes to what to wear for a wedding dinner party, there's no right answer. Your dress code can range from tuxes and ballgowns to summery cocktail attire, depending on your preference. Typically, this type of wedding might call for formal attire, where attendees are dressing to impress, but there's no need to have floor-skimming hemlines or dark-colored suits. A good rule of thumb when determining what guests should wear is to think of the vibe of your venue and try to match its aesthetic and level of formality.

Wedding Dinner Party Sequencing

No need to follow the traditional wedding order of events if you're going for a dinner party instead of a wedding reception. Feel free to omit happenings like a bouquet toss, first dance or anything else that just feels too wedding-y. Though, if you are diving into dinner fairly soon after the ceremony, be sure to sort out some kind of low-key entertainment that your guests can enjoy as they taste and toast.

How to Plan a Dinner Party Wedding

If you're wondering how to have a dinner party wedding (or just how to plan a wedding in general), determine the three words you'd use to describe your ideal nuptials. Duran suggests these for an intimate affair: private, cozy and flowing. "The dinner party-style wedding trend is equal parts inviting and curated," says the pro. "The intimate nature of people sitting across from each other at a table lends itself well to creating a welcoming experience, while the details that go into creating a dinner party-esque ambience curate an intentionally designed space." We've outlined a few steps here to add to your wedding-planning to-do list to help you achieve that magical, connected energy at your celebration.

1. Gather Your Guest List

By nature of the theme, an intimate wedding dinner party should be much smaller than a traditional wedding. The name of the game is to be able to spend meaningful time with each guest—not just circulate to every table, but have a real conversation. Ideally, you'd want everyone seated at the same table or divided up between two at the very most, so the guest count sweet spot likely lies between 15 and 40. "Dinner party-style weddings have to be smaller, due to space constraints," says Duran. "Because of this, these weddings allow the opportunity to truly get to mingle with the people around you, who are all there to celebrate the same two people."

2. Find a Vibey Venue

Next up: choosing the perfect locale for your special evening. While a hypothetical family estate on the coast or in the countryside would be ideal for the look and feel of a small wedding dinner party, you can still achieve that homey energy in other (more easily acquired) venues. Duran notes that both indoor and outdoor spaces lend themselves nicely to this style of soiree, some of her favorites being a long picnic table set up amidst nature for a casual wedding dinner party and a historic library for those seeking something more moody. I think your favorite neighborhood restaurant is a great choice, too, as is any historic property that offers a private stone patio.

3. Make Your Menu

If the ambiance is the appetizer, so to speak, of a dinner party wedding, the menu is the main course (literally). Consider wedding reception dishes that exude "lazy opulence," those that would grace an Italian summer table or be staples at a French bistro. Imagine delights like: hunks of crusty bread; platters of pasta; succulent grilled fish; salads studded with stone fruits; abundant trays of just-shucked oysters; veggies that don't need much besides good olive oil, salt and a sprinkle of acid; and cozy braised beef or chicken preparations. The name of the game is to focus on flavor, seasonality and variations in texture (as you would for any good dinner party), without too much extraneous cutlery—a pro caterer can easily help you nail it. As for how to serve these delicacies, Duan has some ideas: "While some couples opt for a traditional coursed-out service, we love that clients have been leaning into accepting family style. While not for everyone, it certainly engages conversation."

Drink-wise, classic cocktails like a martini, negroni or spritz are great options for a quick cocktail hour ahead of the main meal, but given the smaller crowd, it's also a wonderful opportunity to serve some off-the-beaten path wines that feel more unique than the classic wedding duo of cab and chardonnay. Pét-nat, anyone?

4. Achieve the Right Ambiance

You want everyone to feel like they can settle in and chat and laugh the night away, and no one can do that in harsh overhead lighting. Achieve the ideal dim, golden glow with an abundance of taper candles (pro tip from Duran: pre-melt them ahead of the day to create a lived-in look) or with tiny cordless lamps that can dot the bar and center of your table to bring in some chic restaurant vibes, if that's the wedding theme you're after. "Balance is key for creating the right ambience at a dinner party-style wedding,"says Duran. "When including grand floral arrangements, taper candles of shifting sizes and patterned or textured linens, you may want to consider opting for simple and subdued glassware and utensils." The inverse is true, too: If you go for a relaxed, freeform floral feel with wildflowers bouquets or low-profile arrangements, let your other tablescape details, like china and candlesticks, shine. You can choose mismatched plates, glassware and decor, each with their own unique design for an effect like you just took a few laps around your home and gathered your most treasured pieces to set the table with. (Come to think of it, you can actually do just that.)

5. Enlist Some Entertainment

There's always room for a little dancing, even if you're having a dinner party for your wedding reception. If a dancefloor isn't your vibe, but you'd still like to keep the party going well into the wee hours (and not accidentally signal for guests to leave right after dessert), there are plenty of dinner party-friendly entertainment options to consider. You can lay out a few board games or conversation cards, or—if you have a small enough group that doesn't mind doing a little mystery solving—you can host a wedding murder mystery dinner party by ordering a story kit online. Keep up the background music to promote easy socializing (Duran suggests jazz) and offer ample coffee and tea. I love a bonfire to wrap up a beach wedding dinner party, and you can never go wrong with screening a classic romance film like "Casablanca" on a projector under the stars or in a room filled with plush seating to keep up the cozy atmosphere.

6. Give a Preview of the Party

Your wedding invitations and your wedding website are your attendees' first look at your ambiance, so it's essential to ensure they capture the right look and feel. Opt for a design that's relaxed, romantic and modern. I love a doodle-style wedding invitation for this kind of affair—wouldn't it look so cute with quirky drawings of oysters, baguettes and the other gastronomic delights you'll be serving?

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