How to Throw an Italian Dinner Party How to Throw an Italian Dinner Party

How to Throw an Italian Dinner Party

Take the phrase, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" to a whole new level by hosting an Italian-style dinner party in the comfort of your backyard. Skip the long lines and travel stress with this planning guide—it will transport you to Italy with each course and every bite. We're providing a guide to the traditional Italian meal structure, which has been cultivated over centuries of eating, of how to best enjoy food and company. Want more knowledge on on Italian cooking terminology? Click here.


The Ambiance & Table Setting

From the Dolomites to Tuscany, from Sicily to Napoli, Italy is full of natural things like sea, mountains, hills, and the beautiful countryside. Use natural elements and earth tones for decor, lighting, and overall feeling you want your guests to have.

Pick some fresh basil, thyme, and other greens inspired by your dishes. Decorate mason jars and fill then with the greens—not only will it add a visually pleasing decoration, but fill the air with natural aromas that your guests will match with the meal. Go easy on the lighting, traditional Italian dinners are low lit and late at night. We're not saying it has to be pitch dark but find a balance between being able to see and having an intimate relaxed environment. Remember, the point of hosting is to be comfortable!

If you really want to impress your guests, have a printed out version of the menu enlarged when they first walk in. This will create conversation as your guests arrive, and have them anticipating the food yet to come.

The table is a sacred place—a place to talk, to bond, and most importantly, to eat. When people think of an "Italian Dinner" they stereotypically think the ambiance is a red and white table cloth with the local accordion player handing out roses. Thankfully, you don't have to put out a craigslist ad for "Worlds best Accordion player", keep it simple yet elegant.

A few tea candles, some fresh picked flowers, and cloth napkins will keep that balance. Natural elements such as wood placemats, dried leaf garlands on a simple white table cloth makes this an easy, and simple look to emulate. Pick some fresh fruit, specifically, lemons, oranges, and limes and spread them out long ways on the table, this will create a nice table runner.

Throw on that "Greatest Italian Hits" playlist and get ready for your guests to arrive.



The aperitivo begins the meal. Like the French aperitif, this course may consist of bubbly beverages such as spumante, prosecco, or champagne, or wine. The aperitivo is also the appetizer course; small dishes of olives, nuts or cheeses may be available for diners to nibble on while they wait for the next course.

 group of people raising their wine glasses filled with red tine in a toast The Wine

No Italian dinner is complete without wine. Wine is an integral part of Italy’s culture – gastronomically, economically, socially and otherwise. Italian wine can be a little confusing and overwhelming, that's why we've made it easy for you. Want to pick out the perfect wine for your party that will pair well with your menu? We have a complete Italian wine guide to help you pick your next bottle.


Antipasti tray with various meats, cheeses, fruits, nuts, and jams. Antipasti

This course is commonly considered the “starter.” The antipasti dish will be slighter heavier than the aperitivo. There are a ton of great antipasti recipes, but putting out a few shareable bites are best from preventing your guests becoming full before the several courses to follow. A DIY charcuterie platter, consisting of cured meats such as salame, mortadella, or prosciutto, served with cheeses and bread is always a nice highlight to any dinner party. To serve antipasti in true authentic Italian style, serve on wooden chopping boards with small bowls of extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Other light antipastis are brushetta, a lightly grilled bread topped with tomato, fresh basil and drizzled with olive oil or a cold salmon or tuna antipasto.

 Spaghetti pomodoro garnished with basil on a blue background Primi

Primi is the first course to contain hot food and is often heavier than antipasti dishes. Generally, primi dishes do not consist of any meat. Primi dishes may contain fine and luxurious ingredients, such as truffle or seafood. Authentic Italian meals surprisingly serve pasta as a first course rather than a stereotypical "entree". It's important to get the pasta portion just right—you do not want it to be too filling, or too little. Pro tip, when draining your pasta water leave about less than a quarter of it to add it to your sauce, you can thank us later. Soup, risotto, gnocchi, lasagne and polenta are the other options for the primi if your entree is featuring a heavier course.


Secondi & Contorni

The secondi (second) dish usually consists of seafood, meat or egg-dishes. If there are two dishes in the secondi, a sorbet palate cleanser is served between them. We recommend a classic grilled chicken parmesan, or a livornese-Style Snapper, inspired from the hills of Tuscany. Both of these recipes will have your guests biting into the rich mouth watering Italian culture you've prepared in your backyard. The secondi course will be the protein alone, served with contorni. Contorni, is considered the side dish. Common cotorni dishes are vegetable-based, whether raw or cooked: grilled or sautéed vegetables, green salad and potatoes. They are served on a different plate than the meat or seafood of the secondi, so as to not mix on a plate and allow for the preservation of the integrity of flavors. A great light side dish that pairs well with most heavier proteins is a tri colored grapefruit vinaigrette salad. This salad is sweet, acidic, savory and downright delicious. Though simple in its ingredients, this salad is amazingly fresh and full of flavor.



If there are many leafy green vegetables in the contorni, an insalata, or salad, might not be served. If not, then a salad will follow the secondi.


Formaggi e Frutta

As we near the end of the meal, there is an entire course dedicated to cheese and fruit. A selection of regional cheese will be presented, with seasonal fruits that complement the flavors of the cheese.

 cannoli pastries with a espresso in the background Dolce

Typical Italian desserts include rich, creamy tiramisu, panna cotta or cannoli. For something lighter and more palate-cleansing, consider a simple lemon sorbet (sorbetto al limone) served in a tall, thin prosecco glass or gelato.

Pro tip: send your guests home with a classic Italian chocolate bar. Tie a label on the side wishing them goodnight, or even a thanks for coming! This small touch will add a personalized and warm feeling to your event.



A strong espresso is served after dolce, often served very warm and without any milk or sugar.



To close out this intricate, decadent Italian meal, the final item is an alcoholic drink, such as limoncello, amaro, or grappa, which aids with digestion. Limoncello is a quintessential Italian drink made from the zest of lemons, sugar, water, and, of course, alcohol. Limoncello is commonly served in Italy to cleanse the palette after or before a meal. We promise your guests will thank you later!


Most Important- Have Fun!

At the end of the day, it's just dinner! Enjoy the process of it, and don't put too much pressure on the final products. Relax and enjoy yourself, the fun is the experience of making everything and see it come together with the ones you love most. Let your guests offer to help clean up afterwards, and we mean this when we say it, accept the offer. Cleaning up after hosting an event can be tiresome but doing it together with your guests offers a space of conversation, and relaxation as the host.

Buon appetito!



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