Casual Dinner Party Menu Ideas for Stress-Free Entertaining

Last weekend we had the chance to celebrate Andy and Victoria’s wedding with friends and family in OC. We were SO lucky and it was a gorgeous Southern California evening. I had been thinking about the best way to celebrate since it would be a few weeks after their actual wedding. I wanted it to be casual and relaxed and just a fun evening for everyone invited. Casual dinner parties are one of my favorite ways to celebrate. They are perfect for family gatherings and large groups of friends. Delicious food, a pretty setting and a chance to catch up with a good friend or ten is always a great way to celebrate anything in life!

casual dinner party menu ideas

If you are able to dine al fresco it’s even better!  When you move the mess outdoors, cleanup is a breeze.  Entertaining outdoors is festive- (think string lights and candles).  In most parts of the country, it’s warm enough at this time of year to dine outside. The weather in the spring and fall can be a bit of a gamble, and the chill can set in, so be prepared with cozy throws for guests to wrap themselves in as they enjoy the evening. Here’s what we did for our celebration and a few other creative casual dinner party menu ideas. 

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casual dinner party menu ideas

Simple Dinner Party Menu Ideas

When I was looking for casual dinner party menu ideas I knew that I was going to be super busy setting up and decorating all afternoon before the party, so I needed simple recipes and an easy way to feed 80-100 people. I wanted the main course to be handled by someone else, and then I rounded out the menu with sides and desserts. If you are looking for a great dinner party meal, tacos are the way to go!

casual dinner party menu ideas

Hiring a taco truck is always an excellent choice with a large group because it gives everyone the chance to customize their own meal just the way they like. Our taco guy supplied tortillas, a choice of three meats, cilantro, onions, pico de gallo, red and green salsa, rice and beans. I put together a cute chips and salsa bar, a simple salad with some fresh fruits, limes and mint with a little Tajin topping, a dessert table and drink station. Those were easy things for me to put together ahead of time, so I didn’t worry about it interfering with the time I needed to decorate.

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If I hadn’t needed to do so much decorating, I would have made the tacos for the taco bar too. This can be a super easy dinner party menu to DIY too!

Charcuterie board ideas

Another great dinner party menu idea? A cheese board and charcuterie! Meats, cheeses, dried fruits and nuts, bread and crackers are filling, look pretty and can be put together in minutes for a great last-minute dinner party too! I have made many of these beautiful boards in all shapes, sizes and for all different types of occasions. It’s actually one of our go-to meals for hot summer nights when I don’t feel like cooking, and it also makes a stunning display for a party. You can really use one of these beautiful boards for just about anything. They may look fancy, but a good charcuterie board is surprisingly easy to put together and doesn’t require ANY cooking. Yep…you read that right!

Cheese plate dinner 1

The 3333 rule has become a common way to help people know what to buy when trying to create a charcuterie board. The basic idea for a traditional charcuterie board would be 3 meats, 3 cheeses, 3 starches and 3 extras/accompaniments like nuts, dried fruits, olives etc. 

Trader Joes and Costco are my go-to places for cheese…did you know that Trader Joe’s is the largest importer of cheese in the country? No wonder I love their cheese section so much! But more and more local grocery stores are putting together pretty cheese sections and many even have cheesemongers to help you select the perfect pairings for your boards.

casual dinner party menu ideas

A great summer dinner party menu is a salad bar. You bake desserts and some rolls ( or buy them!) and then ask each couple or guest to bring their favorite salad. Remember Souplantation? I loved that place! This is like bringing it to your backyard. 😉 I have ended up finding SO many favorite new dinner party recipes this way. I like to collect the new recipes of all of the delicious salads that everyone brings to add to my cookbook. This super easy antipasto salad platter is amazing for serving a hungry crowd. It is an amazingly easy dinner party recipe and it’s especially great during the summer since it requires no cooking and can be prepped in minutes!

nordstrom cafe recipe for salads

Serve the salads, rolls and indulgent treats your baked buffet style. Pot luck style makes your life easier and it gives you a chance to enjoy yummy dishes that you didn’t have to prepare. Salads not your thing? You can set any theme for your pot luck.  You can provide the main dish and then have everyone bring their favorite side dish or other main dishes that go along with your theme. This makes hosting the party much more affordable too because you aren’t on the hook for all the food costs.  By making food available for guests to serve themselves, it allows you to mingle and enjoy your evening instead of hiding in the kitchen all night.  And, clean up is made easier when everyone takes their dish home!

casual dinner party menu ideas

An Italian theme or menu is another easy way to feed a crowd for a casual dinner party. You can make a great pasta dish in just a few minutes, or a make ahead classic lasagna that you can re-heat the day of. Serve it with a great loaf of crusty bread and a salad that you can also make ahead of time.It’s the perfect comfort food. 

casual dinner party menu ideas

Prefer Pizza? Host a make your own pizza party. Throwing a DIY pizza party is SUPER easy. Buying premade crusts at the grocery store rather than having guests make a crust is a better way to cut down on cooking time and a need for multiple ovens. For toppings think olives and fresh produce like tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers and onions. Sausage and pepperoni are always a hit too. Sun dried tomatoes, spinach and arugula are other favorites. Make sure to set out a couple bowls of marinara tomato sauce with spoons so that several people can be making the base of their pizza at the same time. Pesto and Alfredo are other good options. Maybe a little olive oil for drizzling or fresh herbs and parmesan cheese to top it off. A large bowl of fresh mozzarella cheese is a must too. 

casual dinner party menu ideas

If you are hosting a lot of people, cooking the pizzas can get a bit tricky as most ovens will only hold one or two individual sized pizzas at a time. A clever idea to work around slower cooking times is to make it part of the party! As each pizza comes out of the oven allow guests to try pieces of each other’s pizzas and make it a contest to see who’s pizza is the best. 


Don’t worry about dishes– Cute paper products are inexpensive, fit with your theme, and make clean up a breeze.  China has it’s place at more formal gatherings, but one of the beauties of casual dinner parties are the easy, breezy, casual feel of it all.  Paper plates and cups make it so you, the hostess, can enjoy your party too!

Mermaid party 13

Make drinks easily accessible and self-serve– especially during summer nights, the temperatures can be warm and guests are sure to be thirsty.   Stock a bar cart and a few tables and coolers with essentials: glasses, plates, straws, ice, a water dispenser, sodas etc.  Set those tables and coolers in areas around the party so they are easy to find and make it easy for guests to help themselves when they want.  If you are using plastic cups, I also like to keep a sharpie handy at each drink station to encourage guests to write their names on their cups to minimize lost drinks.

colorful birthday party

It doesn’t take much to make your party pretty.  When it comes to decorations, simplify.  Fresh flowers are always a great way to to decorate. Mixing and matching patterns and colors like that gives your party a more relaxed vibe, which is what you are striving for anyways, so it’s the perfect solution for easy decor.  Twinkle lights make any night magical, so if you have some on hand, string them up for ambiance.  Flowers don’t need to be fussy either.  Baby’s breath is pretty when set in a colorful bucket or vase.  It holds up well in heat too, making it ideal for warm nights.

Create cozy conversation areas–Don’t be afraid to use inside furniture outside every once and awhile.  Bring your dining room table and indoor dining chairs outside for extra seating.  It creates more of a living room feel for your outdoor event.  Set up a fire pit and some comfy chairs and your guests will linger long into the night.

I hope that these casual dinner party meal and entertaining ideas will help you to get ready for all your fun gatherings coming up this year! 

Did you know we have an entire entertaining gallery with everything from birthday parties to baby showers, holiday gatherings, weddings, and more?  Here are a few of our most popular parties that have been featured in several publications.  You can find the entire gallery here.

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Red, White and Blue Patriotic Party | Mermaid Party | Halloween Movie Night Party | Taco Bout A Fiesta Party | Kid’s Valentine’s Day Party

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Girl’s Night Gift Wrapping Party | Back to School/End of School Breakfast Party | Narwhal Party | Beach Party | Pop Clink Fizz New Year’s Party

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Modern Spider Halloween Party | Disney’s Frozen Party | Ugly Sweater Christmas Party | Follow Your Dreams Graduation Party | Tailgate Football Party

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I hope you have a wonderful time entertaining with these easy dinner party menu ideas for your next dinner party or special occasion! 


casual dinner party menu ideas


Creative Director at Pink Peppermint Design
Tammy Mitchell is the founder and creative director of lifestyle blog Along with being a homeschooling mom of two kiddos, she is also an in-demand prop and event stylist, photographer, interior and graphic designer. On Pink Peppermint Design, she shares creative DIY projects, easy entertaining and gift ideas, inspiring interiors and events. She lives in Southern California, with her husband and two children.

casual dinner party menu ideas

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