Easy Entertaining | Dinner Party Ideas

How to entertain with ease and a casual summer dinner party filled with Mediterranean flavors.

McCormick Dinner Party Table Setting, sylvie shirazi photography, los angeles food photographer, gourmande in the kitchen
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What does the concept of entertaining at home mean to you?

Does it bring to mind fancy table settings, fine china, polished silverware and perfect decorations? Do you worry about how clean your house is, how many courses to serve and just the right wine to serve?

I’d venture to guess that most of us do and it’s this idealized notion of a perfect dinner party, the perfectly coordinated production we envision in our heads that often prevented me from enjoying my own parties and made me a reluctant hostess.

McCormicks Dinner Party summer entertaining, sylvie shirazi photography, gourmande in the kitchen, food photography

But I’ve learned over the years that what makes a dinner party special has nothing to do with dishes and decorations and everything to do with how your guests feel in your home. When your guests feel genuinely welcomed the evening is sure to be special.

Offering true hospitality means inviting people into your home, and saying “this evening is better because you are here with us.” Entertaining too often is equated with creating something extraordinary with the purpose of impressing. But truly it’s about sharing who you are, laughing, talking, and having fun. Those are the evenings your guests will remember.

fruit dessert, sylvie shirazi photography, gourmande in the kitchen, food photography

So when McCormick approached me about participating in their Longest Dinner Party Chain I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to talk about some easy ways to feel comfortable with entertaining and share with you my casual summer dinner party filled with Mediterranean flavors.


Creating a relaxed atmosphere is the first step in easy entertaining. I kept things simple and scattered cut peonies in short glasses all round the dinner table and living room. Pretty and unfussy, they add a pop of color to the table and don’t get in the way of conversation.

party appetizers, sylvie shirazi photography, gourmande in the kitchen

Get creative with your table setting and don’t be afraid to use different plates and glasses if you don’t have a full set; its okay to mix and match.

Don’t forget the lighting. Instantly create a relaxed mood with an abundance of candles. I went heavy on inexpensive tea lights and dimmed the lights after the sun went down to create an inviting and laid back atmosphere

dessert and coffee, sylvie shirazi photography, gourmande in the kitchen, food photography

Good music is an easy way to make guests feel welcome. Keep it mellow and not too loud so that it doesn’t prevent easy conversation. Create a playlist ahead of time and start the music before the guests arrive while you are preparing the meal to get you in a good mood before the party starts.

Include after dinner entertainment and play a couple rounds of games over coffee and dessert.

dinner party dessert, sylvie shirazi photography, gourmande in the kitchen


Great dinner parties revolve around great food, of course, but great food doesn’t have to mean time consuming preparation. Pick recipes that don’t require a lot of fussing and can mostly be prepared ahead of time. Avoid dishes that require a lot of last minute cooking and take you away from your guests.

Conversations start in the kitchen and move to the dinner table so let your guests help out in the kitchen if they offer. Make dinner a collaborative effort and everyone feels instantly more relaxed.

dinner party guest and grainfree flatbread, gourmande in the kitchen, sylvie shirazi photography

I like to set out easy appetizers like rosemary and thyme olives, nuts and cheeses for guests to nibble on before sitting down to the meal.

For this party I chose to serve crisp white and rose wines to accompany the light Mediterranean-themed menu. I also like to infuse water with different flavors like mint and lemon for non-drinkers.

 mint and lemon infused water, gourmande in the kitchen, sylvie shirazi photography, food photography

For the main course I opted for Rosemary Parmesan Flat-Bread topped with Arugula and Shaved Parmesan and served that with a side of Grilled Zucchini and Summer Squash with Cumin Yogurt Sauce. Parts of both the flat-bread and grilled veggies can be made ahead of time and served at room temperature. I like to serve my main course casual family-style so everyone can share and serve themselves.

dinner party main course, sylvie shirazi photography, gourmande in the kitchen, food photography

For dessert I kept it fresh and easy by serving ripe Summer Fruit with Fromage Blanc and a simple Warm Spiced Honey Sauce.

In the end, they key to easy entertaining is figuring out what works for you and taking time to enjoy the process. I’ll be sharing the recipes for this dinner party all throughout the next week starting today with my Rosemary and Thyme Olives.

rosemary and thyme olives, sylvie shirazi photography, gourmande in the kitchen, food photography

Marinating olives in aromatic rosemary and thyme is the perfect way to enhance their flavor and, throughout the Mediterranean, bowls of olives are often set out as appetizers.

It doesn’t take much to transform good olives into great ones. With just a few herbs and a little citrus zest  to brighten all the flavors, you have an easy make-ahead appetizer for entertaining.  Serve with crunchy marcona almonds or any roasted nuts.

Rosemary and Thyme Olives


  • 60 ml / 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • ¼ tsp of dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp of dried rosemary
  • Peel of half a lemon, cut into thin strips
  • 10oz / 285g mixed olives


  1. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary and lemon peel over medium-low heat for about 2 to 3 minutes until the garlic and herbs become fragrant.
  2. Add the olives, toss to coat and gently heat until warmed through.
  3. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 5 minute(s)

Diet type: Vegetarian

Diet tags: Reduced carbohydrate, Gluten free

Number of servings (yield): 6

© 2010-2012 gourmandeinthekitchen.com.

If you’d like to win your own Ultimate Dinner Party Package worth over $1,000, McCormick is giving one away each week on their Facebook page through the end of July.

Disclaimer: McCormick Gourmet provided me with a dinner party kit, to facilitate creating this dinner party.  All opinions are my own.


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  1. says

    Hi Sylvie, I have been silently following your site from long, was getting to restless to read this post since yesterday when I read your tweet. Loved it and yes all these small small things make a lot of difference. Happy following you and learning lot more 🙂

  2. says

    Sylvie I’d LOOOOVE to come over for a dinner party with you!! everything is stunning yet relaxed!

    LOVE the bright pink peonies on the table! and all the food………gorgeous!

    {sigh} what time should I be there?!

  3. says

    I love throwing dinner parties. As a personal chef I cook for the often, too, but it’s much more fun to be the host. I like to keep them upscale but casual and we always have a lot of wine flowing!

    Great tips! Thanks, Sylvie!

  4. says

    These pictures are absolutely stunning, Sylvie and you are so right about letting go of the stress and focus on the reason you are all coming together!

  5. says

    Sylvie… this was such a beautiful piece. Eric and I love hosting dinner parties and the reasons you list are exactly why we do it… because we love our friends and think sharing food with them is a great way of expressing that love.

  6. says

    Sylvie, it’s that beautiful balance between casual and elegant (without being stifling) that many of us hope to find, and I couldn’t agree more with your style of entertaining. To me, it’s all about relaxing with your friends and making them feel at home. Gorgeous images, as always. The fuchsia peonies make the table!

  7. says

    Beautiful! Such a wonderful post and great suggestions. We entertain often and I sometimes get myself wrapped up in details and it becomes overwhelming especially when I am chasing around my kids on top of it. I am going to use these suggestions for our next gathering in a few weeks…including these lovely olives!

  8. says

    I used to be just like that: worrying about every little detail, and trying to impress. Until I realized that when I go to someone else’s party I don’t notice if the top of the t.v is dust free or not, but I do notice if the person is tense or relaxed and welcoming. I am more easy now with having people over at anytime, even in the middle of a mess !

    Gorgeous photos as usual, and the menu is awesome , looking forward to all the recipes.

  9. says

    I like entertaining friends at home! Though I must admit, I don’t manage it very smoothly. I am either still in the kitchen when my guests arrive or there’s some last min cooking, etc. Perhaps, that’s the reason why it doesn’t happen that often any longer. U’ve got some good pointers here to keep in mind. Thanks.

  10. Eha says

    It took me years as a young bride, tense every time a dinner party was in the offing, before I realized what you have just beautifully summarized in your post! Have yourself and your home smiling – the rest will to a large degree take care of itself. For me soft music and candles burning became the beginning, glass in hand next . . . .

  11. says

    Another beautiful post! I could just look at your photo’s all day long. I have learned over time that it is about enjoying the company of friends, family and having a good time. I know it will turn out beautifully, regardless if I miss something along the way.

  12. says

    Gorgeous spread! Can I invite myself over for the next party? :-). I especially love the pink peonies and the yummy rosemary olives-can’t wait to make those! We do a lot of entertaining at our house, but I confess to getting frazzled trying to get everything “right”. In the end, all the matters is if everyone is having a fun time together!

  13. says

    Hi there, Its always fun to see ur lovely recipes. And this one is looking amazing. I am so tempted to make it on my isle some day pretty soon. Enjoy your weekend. Thank you so much for stopping by my space and the warm words. Best Regards, Sonia

  14. says

    Sylvie, love all these dinner party ideas. I don’t entertain nearly as much as I’d like, but hope to do more casual entertaining this summer.

  15. Lisa says

    Great ideas! Your Rosemary Parmesan Flat-Bread topped with Arugula and Shaved Parmesan looks fantastic!! I did not see a recipe or link for it..can you share? I’d love to make it. Thank you!!

  16. says

    Absolutely stunning! I keep saying I want to throw a fancy party like this but I never get around to it. I will have to bookmark this for when I finally stop procrastinating!

  17. says

    I’m looking forward to the rest of your recipes next week. Lovely posy Sylvie- everything you do has care amd attention and your parties seem no exception.

  18. says

    I truly enjoy this post as I tend to treat entertaining like a big task and sometimes get too busy to actually enjoy. Simple things matter and I want to be able to appreciate and enjoy what’s the true meaning to host. Your gorgeous pictures between writing was very nice and it was a fun reading!

  19. says

    Some really wonderful tips Sylvie. I’m a reluctant hostess too because I always stress about everything being perfect, but you are right,it’s all about making your guests feel relaxed and special. By the way, I love that cheeseboard. Stunning!

  20. says

    Wonderful post, Sylvie. I’ve never been a reluctant hostess, fortunately, but am doing less of it than I used to. Summer is the perfect time for entertaining. (the only thing on your list I disagree with is games. I know people who HATE games of any kind.)

  21. says

    I couldn’t have said this any better myself Sylvie! I used to get so wrapped up in the details and would almost dread the event – how crazy is that?? Then I decided that why did I expect more of myself than I did of my friends? Once I figured that out I started to relax and really enjoy having parties!!
    Love the idea of serving the main course family style!!!

  22. says

    So true Sylvie!! My husband is of the school of thought that preparing for a party is like preparing to show your house to prospective buyers – lots of vacuuming and hiding stuff in cupboards; or panicking that the food will not be ready by the time people arrive. I keep telling him that there is in fact only one secret to entertaining (well, maybe 2): Be relaxed and your guests will relax (whether this is sitting in the lounge chatting and relaxing with them; or allowing them into the kitchen to sit and chat to you while you finish cooking – most guests actually LIKE this!). And of course rule 2 is don’t let them go home hungry LOL! Beautiful pics, as always.