Let’s face it: Planning the age-corporate dinner preceded by cocktail hour can get a little formulaic. While doing things the same way year after year makes it easier to plan, it probably won’t continue to impress your attendees. If you want to keep them engaged and excited about this part of your event or conference, consider shaking things up with a themed dinner. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top fancy or break your budget—in fact, dress-down events and unstuffy foods can be much more fun. Here are five ideas to consider for your future events.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Who doesn’t love an afternoon spent at the ballpark? Recreate the experience within the confines of your event venue with a more casual dinner, inviting guests to sport gear from their favorite team. Not only will it take some of the pressure off, but it will also provide easy talking points for your attendees (and they might even meet a fellow fan!). You can have a lot of fun with the food on this one, serving passed items like Chicago-style hot dogs and Philly cheesesteaks. Don’t forget the peanuts and beer.
Take inspiration from the glamorous fetes held every summer in The Hamptons. Notify guests ahead of time that the dress code for the evening will be head-to-toe white, and let them get creative. You can keep décor simple by following suit, or even drawing in another monochromatic scheme, such as navy or gold, to up the elegance factor. Be sure to serve food that’s easy to eat and non-staining (this isn’t the time to have red pasta sauce or red wine!). Instead, aim for lighter fare like veggie-forward mains and lots of pretty, all-white desserts.
Picnic in the Park
If there’s an outdoor space at your event venue or hotel, it’s amazing what you can do with a few strings of twinkle lights. Rather than a formal dinner, set picnic tables with colorful runners and offer a buffet of fun-to-eat picnic foods, such as miniature jars of potato salad or coleslaw, sandwiches like BLTs and cold pasta salad. This is also a great opportunity to break out an epic, huge cheeseboard filled with charcuterie, fresh fruits and veggies, lots of crackers and breads and of course, delicious cheeses. Don’t forget about dessert—if your venue permits, you can even have all the fixings for s’mores around firepits.
Breakfast for Dinner
The new season of Stranger Things premieres July 4, and anyone who watches the show will be ready to break out the Eggo waffles any time of day. Take that sentiment to heart by planning a surprise breakfast-for-dinner party, where you pull out all the stops on guests’ favorite breakfast foods. Who doesn’t love buttermilk pancakes, crisp waffles, bacon and eggs? Or, you could incorporate the popular omelet station, which makes for a hearty, protein-packed meal. There are plenty of ways to offer healthy options with this idea, too, from fresh fruit smoothies to yogurt parfaits and jars of overnight oats.
Even if you’re not in a tropical locale, hosting a Hawaiian-themed dinner party complete with tiki cocktails, hula and plenty of fresh seafood is sure to please your guests. Incorporate décor in shades of blue inspired by the ocean, and pass out leis to attendees as they walk through the door. Be sure to have a themed music playlist, and encourage Hawaiian-themed shirts, sundresses and flip-flops to match. You can get creative with fun food items like tropical fruit skewers, coconut-battered shrimp, grilled fish and guava cake. Of course, don’t forget the Mai Tais!