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    You’ve closed on your first house, moved in, put together all that IKEA furniture, and finally unpacked your boxes. Naturally, a housewarming party is next on your list.

    But if you’ve only ever lived in small, cramped apartments, you may have never had the chance (or the space) to throw a dinner party for friends and family. What does it take? What should you serve and how can you ensure the soiree is a success?

    We’ve got you covered. Just follow this comprehensive guide to first-time party hosting, and you’ll have your loved ones asking for seconds in no time.

    Party Prepping

    Preparation is key to a successful dinner party, so start planning early. Once you settle on a date and time for your event, you’ll next need to:

    1. Put together a guest list

      Will it be just family? Friends? New neighbors? Hone your list and send out invites (or evites) ASAP. You want to give people plenty of time to clear their schedules.

    2. Plan out your menu

      Will you keep it simple with finger foods and passed apps? Will you cook a four-course meal with all the fixings? Or will you ask guests to contribute dishes and serve everything family style? Make sure to consider your guest list when making menu decisions, and use the section below for inspiration.

    3. Start buying supplies early

      Aside from the ingredients, food, and drinks your meal will require, you’ll also need to stock up on napkins, invest in a nice tablecloth, and maybe buy a centerpiece, candles, or a nice seasonal bouquet of flower for your table. If you’ll be dining al fresco, you might want string lights for the patio or a nice lantern to add ambiance.

    You should also prepare a timeline for your event. How long will you mingle and chat? When will dinner be served? Will there be games or entertainment at any point? Put together a rough schedule of the evening’s events to give yourself some structure.

    Menu Inspiration

    The menu is one of the most important facets of your party. If you’re the one doing the cooking, your best bet is to be strategic: Cook a tried-and-true meal you know is well-loved and that you’re confident you can cook easily, quickly, and without error or fuss.

    If you don’t have a go-to recipe you want to whip up, you can consider these options as well:

    • Tapas

      Tapas is a great way to serve a wide array of foods and cuisines, without requiring a whole ton of work on your part. Best of all, since most of these are small plates and finger foods, they cut down on the dishes you’ll need to do later.

    • Fajitas

      Fire up the grill and cook some marinated steak, chicken, and shrimp for a Mexican-inspired fajita fiesta. All you need are some tortillas, salsa, and a few fixings, and the rest is a cinch. This meal is a great option if your party’s in the summer since it keeps the hot cooking outside (not heating up your new house!)

    • Lasagna or manicotti

       Italian dishes like lasagna and manicotti are easy to make in big batches, and there are tons of sides you can serve alongside them. Breadsticks, a large salad, or soups are all great options that are both tasty and easy to whip up.

    Remember, you don’t always have to cook. If you’re not the best in the kitchen (or you just want to save time and energy), there’s no shame in ordering a few trays of catering or bringing in some sort of takeout. Just make sure it’s cuisine your guest will love and be able to eat easily (and not messily).

    Tips and Tricks

    As your event date approaches, try to get as much done as you can ahead of time — especially in the kitchen. Can you make the dessert a day or two early? Cut the vegetables the night before? Pick up the wine on the weekend? Do what you can to lighten your load the day of. This will make the event easier (and more fun) on your part.

    You should also bring in reinforcements if possible. Send the kiddos to tidy up their rooms or bathe Fido, and ask your spouse to run to the grocery store or complete other errands. The more help you have now, the more smoothly your event will go the day of.

    Finally, give yourself a break. The dinner party should be fun for you, too, so if all the planning and prepping is getting to be too much, consider pulling back a little and simplifying your menu, decor or other parts of the event. The important thing is that your guests have fun, enjoy great food and, most of all, get a good look at that gorgeous new home of yours.

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