How to Get the Dishes Done After a Dinner Party

The meal had been served and my sisters and I jumped up to bus the salad dishes, to remove them from the table and out of the way.

It was a special dinner party for my dad as we tightly packed in 17 people around several tables pushed together to make one.

I rinsed the dishes quickly and put them in the sink, and then sat back down to enjoy the rest of the meal with my guests.

After dinner, we removed the dinner plates and served up birthday cake. But before I sat down, I quickly rinsed those plates and loaded everything into the dishwasher.

Then I hit START.

I know that everyone has their own routine for doing the dishes while entertaining.

A. Let the guests bus the dishes.
B. Only you or your spouse bus the dishes.
C. Load them in the dishwasher as you use them.
D. Only load the dishes after the meal is completely over.
E. Never do any dishes until the last guest has left.
F. Make sure every single dish is washed before you go to bed.
G. Anyone can help with the dishes after the meal.
H. Anyone can help with the dishes at any time during the meal.
I. Only load what fits in the dishwasher, put the food away, and do the rest in the morning.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few scenarios, but here’s what I do:

I bus/load as I go. It just makes it easier. And when the last guest has left, I’ll empty the dishwasher if the cycle is complete, and start one last load, OR, finish it up in the morning. This isn’t so much out of laziness; we’re usually just so tired. We like our guests to stay as late as they want, and by the time everyone has said their good-byes, it’s usually far past our usual bedtime. It’s not a dreaded feeling, but a happy feeling of, “awww, what a great time!”

There will always be more dishes to do, but we don’t always have our friends and family close at hand.

I feel it’s more important to enjoy our guests.

After this particular party, I did 2 final loads the next morning.

I had dishes on the counter that were hand-washed, and the glasses and plates that came out of the dishwasher.

After putting everything away, my counters looked nice and fresh, like this. (That’s my “purdy” lemon tree in the far right corner.)

Do you like getting the dishes done right away, or do you leave them for later? Choosing betweein A – I (above), what is your normal routine when hosting a dinner party?

26 comments on “How to Get the Dishes Done After a Dinner Party”

  1. B, C and I fit me I suppose. I’m very much like you in that I load as I go and stick the dishwasher on as needed. I’m usually (happy, but) tired by the time our guests leave, especially if I have done all the cooking (which I usually do), so I put away the essentials, unload the dishwasher if needed, but may leave big pots to soak over night, and leave anything that doesn’t fit in the last load.

    As an aside, when we did up our kitchen, I intentionally put the big fridge freezer next to the dishwasher. If you stand in the kitchen door, you can’t see the work-surface beyond the fridge where the dishes are stacking up ready to go in the dishwasher. So the kitchen looks clean and tidy even when I’m waiting to load/unload!

  2. oh such a great post! we’re have a few parties over the next couple of weeks and dishes in our TINY little kitchen can be a bit of problem, i like the idea of rinsing everything and throwing on the dishwasher before dessert, and again after everyone’s left – i’ll have to try this!!! thanks for the tip :)

  3. I must say that I DREAD doing the dishes after friends visit. Luckily, my husband always helps and it gives us a chance to unwind and review the evening before flopping into bed!

  4. I tend to just put the food away and clean up after guests have gone, or the next morning. I have too many memories of holiday meals where mother or mother-in-law made their kitchen spotless (MIL’s kitchen was TOOOOOOO tiny to help without being in each others’ way) By the time everything in the kitchen was pristine my little ones were tired and cranky and it was time to go. So that has led me to the habit of not doing dishes till after everyone has gone… I would rather have the time with people.

  5. Like you, I’m too tired to actually do ALL the dishes. Usually bus the first course, start the dishwasher at some point and empty/reload before bed. Then I tackle the rest in the morning. I want to enjoy my guests, not spend the time in the kitchen cleaning up. You’re right, dishes will always be there, but special time with friends and family will not.

  6. I used to not touch the dishes until everyone left, thinking that it may be rude to start while they were there. But then I was faced with a HUGE mess LATE at night and I was discouraged to entertain. So now I do as you do and load as I go & start the dishwasher. It’s always nice bc at least a few gals will join me and even if they sit at the counter and finish their wine or enjoy some coffee, I like the conversation while I pick up. GREAT post Sandy! And your kitchen is so inviting and beautiful!!! Happy Friday Friend!!!

  7. Hi Sandy,

    What a great post! Now that I entertain more, this is something I think about often as to how best to handle. But I agree with you. The guests are more important than the dishes…so to a certain extent…the dishes can wait. After our Christmas dinner celebration, it took me two days to get all the dishes washed and then a third day to put everything away!

    Generally, so it doesn’t become overwhelming, I do as you do, and clear, scrape, and pop into the dishwasher any dishes I can between courses…or put them to soak in one side of my divided kitchen sink…or use a dish pan style bucket filled with warm soapy water to soak dishes in. This way, if I don’t get to them till later…or the next day…they are easy to wash or put in the dishwasher because all the food has soaked off and not hardened. Also, my friends and family often bring dishes into the kitchen after a certain course or at the end of the meal, sometimes just scrapping, or soaking, or even popping them into the dishwasher. I think, overall, folks feel very relaxed in our home to do that with which they feel comfortable. People just seem happy when they’re allowed to help.

    Also, something that we tend to do a lot…and I fear this might sound a bit sexist…is that the “women folk” ;-) tend to clear the table and congregate in the kitchen cleaning up, washing dishes, putting food away…but most importantly, laughing and chatting and just plain visiting with each other. But it isn’t completely one sided when it comes to the work load. As we ladies clean-up and prepare for dessert, that’s usually the time that the men seem to busy themselves with some tinkering and or minor household repair. So I feel that it’s a win-win situation for me…my girlfriends help me clean-up and I get to cross-off something on my honey-do-list! LOL!!!

    So…I guess based on what I’ve shared here, we would fall into the H, G, and I category. :-)

    Have a wonderful weekend!


  8. If I can help it, I load as I go. I try to have some mamas to my house on a regular basis, and find that sometimes they have a hard time relaxing if I am working in the kitchen…even to load the dishwasher. Therefore, I let the guests vary my decision if it will keep them from enjoying themselves. Otherwise, I’m loading as I go.

  9. We have done it a number of ways, sometimes folks pitch-it, sometimes we just let it go ’til morning, but most often, our kids do the clean up. They have done the dishes since they were 10 or so, it always amazes people when they get up from the table and just start cleaning up. Of course, they are not always there, so we do whatever fits the evening. If everyone is engaged, we let it go, if there is a lull, we do a little clean up, etc. Great post, good to address this and have a plan before the party even get started :)

  10. I don’t use my dishwasher, I had wash AND I have a pretty small kitchen. So the routine usually goes like this.
    Try like mad to have as much as possible washed dried and put away once dinner begins (as pots and pans used for preparation). After dinner, take a couple of willing helpers to rinse off plates and put food away.
    After the guests leave my hubby and I hit the kitchen and get it spotless before bed. I love waking up to an empty sink. I think the small kitchen makes this even more needed. :)

  11. I love entertaining but it is frustrating sometimes when you do dishes all throughout the day while you cook and prepare for the party and then your guests leave and you just want to go to bed but are left with a counter full of dishes! I think a key is to have an empty dishwasher before your guests arrive and to at least soak serving platters/pots before going to bed that night. The time with family in friends is always worth any amount of clean up in the end!

  12. We are the clean and load as you go entertainers. Because our kitchen is visible from the dining room and we usually serve buffet style, it is just easier and more efficient to rinse and load as you go. We always have at least 2 loads of dishes after a party, and sometimes 3 or 4, oh how I wish we had put in 2nd dishwashers!!! It is just easier for us to keep up on the dishes, we only work a few minutes at a time in the kitchen never leaving our guests for very long, but we do like to fill up that dishwasher and get it going!!!!
    Blessings to you and yours
    Curtis & Sherrie

  13. I’m definitely a “B” person. I prefer to do the dishes myself since: A. I don’t want to have my guests do them and B. I would rather do them myself so that they get done right and are put in the right place. I leave the after dinner entertaining to my wife and kids. :)

  14. My wife does the cooking for get-togethers and I do the running and serving prep. I also wash as many kettles and cooking dishes as I can. The dishwasher is run for last time before party starts so it is empty. When meal is over we let people help clear and put away food. If time permits I have done sink of dishes and had volunteer to help dry. It is amazing the good time you can have while doing dishes. Sometimes the items that need soaking or handwashing are in the dishwasher out of sight. We have a lot of family and friends over and the house is inviting and everyone seems to want to help. I think it can be rude to turn down such help.

  15. This post brings up the #1 reason why I am a reluctant entertainer. It is incredibly exhausing to plan a party, clean up, prepare the food/decor, and then host the party properly – – only to have everyone jump up after a meal and take off leaving me to clean the house a second time.

    It actually hurts….to put so much effort into a nice get together only to have people eat and run & leave you with a mess.

    So I compromise. With “other guests” I do not expect them to clean after. But with my immediate family, I put my foot down. I will host, but they all need to pitch in (my family get togethers are 25 + people).

    Fortunately my siblings got it. And it kind of became the rule no matter who among us hosts. It’s actually part of the fun. The kids like being “helpers”. A water fight migh ensue. Stories from our childhood get re-told. We fight like when we were kids about who wipes, who washes, and who puts away. And for me, it’s fun in the few days after as I find dishes put away in odd places in the cabinets or food put away differently in my fridge.

  16. Jill,
    You bring up a very good point about helping out the host. Usually when my wife and I host the whole side of the family for Christmas they want to help so we keep doing it. We also will use plastic cups and write names on them. Paper plates and napkins are great for munchies later. When you have limitations adjust what you can do to make a party work. We have had back to back parties (my side and wife’s side christmas) to take advantage of being already set up.

  17. We rarely do any kind of cleaning until the end or it’s over. The only time we’ll do any cleaning during a party is if we need the space.

  18. I used to enjoy hosting and doing it all; thoroughly taking care of my friends and family. But then things changed. You know…I broke my leg. I didn’t entertain for a year and when I started to have people over again, in order to do that…they had to help. They helped mix the salad and get it to the table, might help by grilling the steaks and often were pulled into duty to set the table. So dishes were a given.

    Now that I’m better but not 100% I have had a moment of clarity. I am the entertainer; I’m the one who loves to have people here and they love to come to my home and I think eat my food. But seldom is the effort reciprocal. Not because we’re not friends but because, if I’m honest…I’m a hard act to follow and I think some people are anxious about having me over. That’s the impression a friend shared with me.

    So…since I’m the one who loves to do it…and they are the ones who love to participate; I’m letting go of that notion that I have to do all of the work. I’m enjoying my guests as much when we’re cleaning up as if we were sitting around the table and I know I enjoy getting up the next day and not having hours of work ahead of me. Sometimes it takes a life challenge to put some of this into perspective; if it’s about being together…well, we can do that too. In the kitchen, washing up dishes!

  19. This is sometimes difficult in our family because I was raised to clean up right away. So I pretty much have to sit on my hands to refrain from clearing the table and doing the dishes If this is not custom to people I am visiting. At my own home I try to get as much of the big stuff out of the way before dinner. Cook and mash potatoes put in oven proof bowl and cover, meanwhile wash out the kettle before it gets to dried on. I do that with all the kettles so they are out of the way. I hate sitting around a table full of dirty plates while visiting so the dishwasher is empty and ready to be loaded up. Its too noisey to run while company is here though. Dessert is served and we can visit without a mound of dishes waiting for me.
    A helpful hint though is to put a little of your dishwasher soap in the kettle and fill with water soak 10 min and you wouldn’t believe how easy clean up is! Dawn now has a dish soap for that also and it works well too.

  20. Sandy,

    Thanks for posting this. This can really make or break your time with guests.

    I prefer C & G. I know how it is when at someone’s house. I always want to help because hosting meals is a lot of work. So I let guests help if they offer, this helps them feel a sense of involvement in the meal and cleanup. I also load as I go, it one takes but seconds or maybe minutes and there is less piled up later. I like having the family room and kitchen connected because I can still entertain while doing dishes and cooking.


  21. I’m so glad addressed this, because it can be hard to know what to do. I don’t like to ignore my guests or for them to feel like they have to help, but I don’t want stacked, dirty dishes in the kitchen all night. Normally, what I do is start one dishwasher load right after dinner, put as many more dishes as I can into a sink full of suds to soak, and then let it go until the the guests are gone that night or even the next morning. (Our guests tend to stay late too. :))

  22. Sandy you are the best!! I am so glad to know that I am not the only one who thinks about stuff like this!! Lately my hubby and I do the dishes afterwards, it has really made for quite a bonding experience, who would’ve known, you could enhance your marriage by cleaning dishes :)) Anyway, after a big shindig, like Thanksgiving or something, it usually takes a couple of days to actually get the kitchen back to “normal”, although I do like for all the dishes to be clean, and I am ok with them sitting out on the counters, as long as they’re clean. BTW your kitchen is beautiful!! So inviting!!!!

  23. If it’s a holiday family gathering, I go with H. If it’s a small party of non-family and/or family, I go with E. I do agree it’s easier, though, if you work as you go. My mom is the queen of that. ;)

  24. oooh E-F all the way. I never let my guests touch a dish unless it is to bring it to the kitchen and I refuse to get up to a dirty kitchen. My husband helps and it takes us 1 hour to do the dishes after the last guest leaves. It’s one more hour we can sleep in the morning. However.. I love the idea of running the dishwasher after the meal and before dessert.. Man how easy is that!! thanks for the great tips.. xo marlis

  25. All of the above?! It depends on who is here and what type of gathering we’re having. On Saturday, for example, I placed a tub with a little dishwater detergent in it by the sink and when we cleared the table, we put all the silverware in there to soak with water and quickly rinsed the dishes in the sink. I put the food away and then just enjoyed our company, cleaning up after they left. Last night, we used paper, we all hung out in the kitchen and it was uber casual!

  26. I am from a long time searching for this website and i always like to do fun and comedy.i always like to make people happy and entertain them .If you want more fun and comedy then you can come and visit us..

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