Host an Italian-Themed Dinner Party for a Taste of Italy

Try these traditional & fun dinner party ideas to take guests on a tour of Italy.

Published January 31, 2023
Friends having a aperitivo dinner outdoor in Italy

Give guests the perfect getaway in the comfort of your home with an Italian-themed dinner party. More than just serving pasta, an Italian-theme party will give your guests a true taste of the culture and beauty of Italy. Show your dinner guests how to soak in all the art, flavors, and history of Italian culture and cuisine. You can your Italian dinner party like a pro by featuring Italy's most famous dishes, drinks, and music.

Show Off an Italian-Inspired Tablescape

Before guests ever see the mouthwatering menu you've prepared for your Italian dinner party, they'll first take in your table settings. Give them a hint of what's to come with an Italian-inspired tablescape that showcases everything to love about Italian dining culture.

Choose Decorative China

An Italian dinner party is your chance to embrace the ornate and detailed styling of an Italian table. This isn't the time to reach for your favorite neutral or modern place settings. Instead, look for traditional china prints like Spode's Blue Italian dinnerware or colorful china prints that showcase vivid reds, golden yellows, and hand-painted details. If clean, white china is your preference, try Italian beaded china for an elegant look.

Select Detailed & Colorful Glassware

For your glassware and wine vessels, glasses featuring beaded details or bold colors will add even more Italian flair to your dining table. Try mixing sleek and dainty wine glasses with bold, colorful water glasses for an eclectic look. Deep, amber glasses will elevate the Tuscany style of your table while sleek champagne flutes showcase the timeless elegance of Italian style.

Add Citrus to the Table

bowl of lemons

A few lemons scattered throughout the centerpiece or a lemon at each place setting gives your Italian tablescape a fresh and sunny detail. The simple beauty of nature and food is embraced all throughout Italian culture, and it only makes sense to bring that appreciation right to the dinner table. In fact, there's something so inherently Italian about making art with food.

Decorate With Sunflowers

sunflower bouquet

Italy is famous for the gorgeous sunflowers that bloom from June to August. Give a nod to the fields of Tuscany by adding sunflowers to your Italian tablescape. Use single sunflowers in bud vases at each table setting for a delicate detail or add them to a large centerpiece to make a statement. You can even use salad plates and pasta bowls that showcase the large flower for a fun way to incorporate the natural beauty of the Italian countryside.

Use Wine Corks in Your Tablescape

An Italian party is never complete without a bit of Italian wine. Show off this important part of the Italian dinner menu by using wine corks in your table decor. Try filling a glass hurricane lamp with wine corks and setting a large white candle in the center for an elegant centerpiece. Use wine corks to hold your guest's place cards or use a collection of corks as vase filler before creating your flower arrangements.

Add Olive Branches to Your Table

If you're looking for a centerpiece detail that's more neutral and elegant than the traditional flower arrangement, a collection of olive branches might be the perfect choice. Showcasing a common dining staple of Italian cuisine, olive branches are trendy and effortlessly elegant. Layer branches together for a long, linear centerpiece atop your table runner or add them to an oversized vase in the center of the table to make a statement.

Draw Inspiration From Traditional Italian Dinner Practices

Italian dinner traditions are of great importance to the culture and the people. Use these practices during your Italian dinner party to help your guests enjoy a truly traditional Italian meal. Italian dinners can feature as many as seven courses, and they are all delightful in their own way, adding even more decadence to the Italian dining experience. If seven courses sounds like too much, keep in mind that Italian portions are generally small and often shared between diners. Dinner also happens over the course of three to four hours, so you don't feel gorged or overly full by the end of the night.

Start With Aperitivo

Parmesan Reggiano cheese on cutting board knife with wine and fruits on table

The wine and cheese course of Italian dining, aperitivo features an appetite-tickling lineup of bubbly champagne or wine alongside complementing cheese, nuts, or olives. This course is meant to be light and is often served in the early evening hours.

Give Guests a Starter

Antipasti is the appetizer course of Italian cuisine, and it follows the aperitivo course with slightly heavier items. Charcuterie boards are a great example of this type of appetizer, complete with plenty of meats, breads, and cheeses. Bite-sized appetizers are also commonly served.

Warm Things up With Primi

Traditionally the first warm course of a dinner, primi features a heavier offering of food. Meatless dishes like risotto, soup, and vegetarian pastas are offered during this course.

Dig in to Secondi

Secondi follows primi with the first warm meat of the menu. There are endless possibilities for this course, usually consisting of a hearty or gamey meat. Fish or chicken could certainly be used, but traditionally you might see lamb, veal, prime rib, or sausage. A side dish, known as contorni, can be served on a separate plate and could be a small green salad or seasonal vegetables.

Refresh With Insalata

If there is no side dish or salad served alongside secondi, insalata is a must. This is a simple salad of leafy greens with a dressing of olive oil in most cases, though you can certainly get creative here. This part of the dinner can be skipped if a side dish was served with primi, or if a salad simply isn't desired.

Sweeten Things up With Dolce

Dolce is the dessert course of Italian dining, and it's a must for a complete Italian dinner. Remember, Italian portions are small, so desserts are not large or overly decadent. They are sweet, but simple. You can even serve fresh fruit in place of a traditional dessert to keep the menu light.

Relax With Digestivo

Though a completely optional part of an Italian dinner, digestivo is served after dolce and is often served late in the evening prior to turning in. Digestivo can be served in a relaxing setting and usually consists of a traditional Italian cocktail. Though Italians usually halt their consumption of lattes and cappuccinos after midmorning, you can serve a very strong espresso in place of alcohol for digestivo.

Prepare the Perfect Italian Menu

Food antipasto prosciutto ham, salami, olives and grissini bread sticks. cheese on a board parmesan, pecorino, gorgonzola

Once you have the courses planned out according to traditional Italian dinner practices, it's time to plan a menu that will give your guests a tour of Italy at your dining table. Keep portion sizes in mind as you prepare and plan to spend about half an hour enjoying most of your courses. Carefully consider the dietary restrictions of your guests, but remember that some guests may choose to skip a course or two.

Serve Traditional Italian Wine & Champagne

A sparkling wine like prosecco is a great way to kick start your Italian-themed dinner party and dive into the aperitivo course. You can create an Aperol spritz by adding Aperol and soda to your prosecco with an orange slice for garnish. You might also consider a Negroni or Italian wines that complement the traditional flavors of Italian pastas and meats.

Serve a Light Bite

During aperitivo, the small taste of food is just as important as the drink selection. Go for a simple approach by serving each guest a small plate of olives, mixed nuts, and cheeses to complement the drink. You can also serve a light crostini course with honey and brie for a sweet pairing with bitter drinks. Try a goat cheese crostini for a bite-sized flavor that gives your guests a preview of what the rest of the evening holds.

Break Out the Charcuterie Board

The antipasti course is a perfect time to show off your charcuterie board skills. You might want to try a smaller board for this course as there are still heavier courses to come, but you can still serve typical charcuterie combinations. Try showcasing traditional Italian favorites like parmigiana reggiano, prosciutto, olives, artichoke hearts, bread and oils, walnuts, and pear slices. You can also serve bite-sized appetizers like Italian bruschetta or prosciutto wrapped melon. Just keep in mind that this course is always served cold or at room temperature.

Serve a Fan-Favorite Pasta

Guests are going to expect at least one pasta dish during an Italian dinner party. Show off your knowledge of Italian dining etiquette by serving traditional and vegetarian pasta dishes during the primi course. Serve a pesto tortellini to give guests the Italian flavors they came for. You might also consider a traditional fettuccine alfredo or linguini with spinach and sundried tomato sauce.

Try Pasta Alternatives for Primi

If you're serving a soup for your primi course, consider a traditional Tuscan ribollita or an Italian take on broccoli soup. For a classic Italian comfort food that your pickiest guests will love, a parmesan risotto is the perfect crowd pleaser. For a more adventurous flavor profile, a mushroom risotto is hearty and comforting.

Serve Mouthwatering Meats

Often the star of an Italian meal, meats served during secondi will give your guests plenty of flavor with a satisfied appetite. Introduce guests to the flavors of southern Italy with a homemade beef braciole. Cauliflower and potato side dishes complement beef braciole for a hearty side dish. You might also consider traditional porchetta or herb-roasted chicken as beef or game alternatives. Italian green beans or fried zucchini flowers to complement these dishes well.

Prepare Simple Salads

Give guests a refreshing and simple insalata course. Salads served during this course do not need to be complicated or include an abundance of ingredients. The point is to help guests enjoy the individual flavors of simple ingredients. Try a refreshing lemon parmesan salad or a sweet pear and arugula salad to refresh your guests' palates before dessert. You can also serve simple salads with nothing more than greens and dressing or offer a meat and cheese salad mix.

Give Guests Something Sweet

The dolce course is your chance to give guests a traditional Italian dessert. You can choose fan favorites like tiramisu or cannoli served in their traditional form or give them a twist with a tiramisu cheesecake or mini cannoli cups. A lemon ricotta cake is a traditional Italian dessert that isn't too sweet. Italian almond cookies are a great choice for a bite-sized dessert. If you're looking for a simple and refreshing dessert, you can serve Italian gelato or a platter of fresh seasonal fruits.

Treat Guests to a Relaxing After-Dinner Drink

If you decide to serve a digestivo course, you can choose something simple like a small serving of strong espresso. You can also send guests off with a memorable after-dinner drink like limoncello or amaro for an enjoyable treat that's easy on the stomach after a full-course meal.

Host an Italian Dinner Party Like a Pro

The key to a perfect Italian-theme dinner party is far more than just pasta and drinks. Anyone can serve dinner to guests, but the best dinner host goes above and beyond to make every moment an experience. Use a few pro tips for hosting the dinner party your friends will talk about for the rest of the year.

  • Make an impact with mood lighting by hanging twinkle lights near the dining area, putting plenty of candles on the table, and dimming accent lighting wherever there is additional seating like armchairs and sofas.
  • Encourage guests to enjoy coffee, drinks, or dessert in a separate location from the main meal. A patio, covered porch, or cozy living room can inspire casual conversation while sipping or snacking.
  • Set the mood with an Italian dinner playlist to help guests feel relaxed and engaged.
  • Present guests with a printed menu on cardstock to let them see what delicious items await them throughout the evening.
  • Set a specific time for each course to begin, but leave a gap of five to ten minutes for each course in case guests are still finishing or you need extra time for presentation.
  • Include a space of time in the early evening to greet your guests and get everyone settled in before you begin serving drinks or food. This will also help any guests who are running late have enough time to arrive before the party really begins.
  • Have conversation topics prepared. You don't have to hand out conversation cards, but you can think of some great icebreakers or conversation topics to inspire your guests to chat and tell stories.
  • Encourage guests to "dress for dinner" and be sure to do so yourself. Cocktail attire will make your dinner party feel more sophisticated.
  • Prepare food ahead of time so you can spend your time chatting with guests and not worrying about kitchen messes. Aim to add only finishing touches to dinner courses throughout the evening.
  • Include nonalcoholic options during drink courses, so guests who prefer not to drink can still enjoy the party.
  • If guests insist on contributing to the dinner party by bringing something, suggest a wine that pairs well with your cheese selections, pasta, or meat dish or encourage guests to bring their favorite story for a conversation starter. You can also politely decline by saying, "I have already taken care of everything we need. Maybe next time you can host."

Alternatives to a Traditional Italian Dinner Party

If time constraints or your own party preferences make a full seven-course meal an unrealistic dinner party approach, there are alternative ways that you can host an Italian-theme dinner party that's easy and laid back.

  • Host an Italian wine and cheese dinner party where most of the dining revolves around perfect wine and cheese pairings from Italy.
  • Throw a pasta dinner party. Invite guests to make their favorite pasta recipe and come over for a carb-filled evening of pasta indulgence.
  • Invite guests to join you in food preperation for a casual dinner party. Gain new recipe tricks from friends and learn how to make traditional cannoli together.
  • Host an Italian buffet-style dinner. Have all of your courses prepared and set out on a beautiful table for guests to serve themselves. Be sure to arrange for cozy seating to encourage casual conversation.
  • Suggest a progressive dinner party so friends can join in on the Italian cooking fun.
  • Skip on the food prep and order out for all your Italian cuisine. Spend the rest of the party time enjoying cocktails and playing dinner party games.

Enjoy Italy From Home With Dear Friends

You don't need to cross the ocean to enjoy a small taste of Italian culture. Food, drinks, music, and ambiance inspired by Italy can be enjoyed with close friends in the comfort of your home. Share your favorite parts of Italian culture and cuisine with fellow travel or food lovers for an unforgettable dinner party that guests will gush over as they enjoy your company and the fruits of your labor.

Host an Italian-Themed Dinner Party for a Taste of Italy