Taking Dinner to the Next Level

I think most people would agree that as Americans we eat out far too much. Often times we eat out because it is convenient, but I think we also eat out because it is a better experience. We also go out to eat to celebrate. I can’t think of a time I have been to a sit down restaurant and did not hear the servers singing Happy Birthday to someone! Eating out is expensive and you can create that same fancy atmosphere at home by making a few changes to your normal routine.

I’ve written frequently about how to make eating at home more convenient, but very little about creating a better experience. The reason…. I stink at the “experience.”  For many years I was a serve it in the pan you cooked it sort of gal, and most nights I still am. But, after reducing our “eating out” budget I knew I needed to make the dinner experience better, especially on our date nights at home.

Because I want you to save money by making meals special at home I’ve accepted Pepperidge Farm’s challenge to help families enjoy a better experience when gathering for weeknight dinners.

I’m not doing this alone, though! I want you to share your ideas for making family dinner’s special.

Do you focus on the food, the table setting, fancy serving dishes, or something else? Lately a fancy dinner at our house means eating at the dining room table instead of the kitchen table, but that’s about it. My family is getting tired of paper plates and main dishes without sides thanks to our nightly soccer practices. That’s all going to change next week when I take dinner to the next level.

With the Easter right around the corner I’m going to share with you some of my best tips for making dinners at home a special occasion (even if there isn’t anything to celebrate). And I’d love to read your best tips too so share your tips in the comments. I’ll be back next week some great tips to help you take dinner to the next level!

I’m off to menu plan!

I was provided a stipend for my time and materials invested in the Pepperidge Farm® Stone Baked Artisan Rolls tip challenge.


  1. My grandma insisted that a linen table cloth makes the table. She also ALWAYS used her nice dishes and stemware even for water. She believed that presentation and atmosphere can make every night feel special!

  2. When my husband and I are doing a date night at home we like to do dinner and a movie. I will make a nice dinner, plate it (as artistically as I can), and serve it at the dinner table. Sometimes I dim the lights and light candles. I will also try to do the “full meal experience” with an appetizer and dessert. I will pour our drinks into goblets, play some music softly, and fold the cloth napkins fancy. We find a funy movie that we will both like. Its a HECK of a lot cheaper then going out to eat.

  3. Candles. When my kids ask for a fancy dinner, that means they are wanting to eat by candlelight.

  4. It’s all about the presentation at my house! Special dinners (birthdays and holidays) are reserved for the dining room table. Here, we deck the table out in our finest linens and fanciest plates. The number 1 thing that takes our dinners to the next tier is simple: napkin folding. I bought a how-to guide book a few years ago and have kept it handy for times like these. Folding cloth or silk napkins is easy to do, completely affordable, and will make all attendees marvel at your beautiful setting. Works like a charm every time!

  5. We lived in Europe for 5 years and learned the art of putting dinner on the table, pouring a GOOD glass of wine ( why save it for something “Special”) and taking our time to savor the meal and company. It doesn’t have to be gourmet, a simple plate of pasta will do, splurge on some good Parmesan and TAKE YOUR TIME.

  6. I tend to agree 100% about eating dinner out. We just started the Dave Ramsey Course. And today I just realized how many HUNDREDS of dollars we spend a month going out to eat because it is convenient.. It made me “SICK” I love your Blog…..Thank you for your inspiration

  7. I used to love it as a kid when my mom let us light some candles for a special meal. For little kids, it might work to use votives or tea lights instead of tall tapers, because they are less likely to wobble and fall over. But don’t chance it if you have active kids who might start the table on fire. 😉

  8. We’ve switched to using cloth napkins found at various thrift store rather than paper towels just to save money. It cracks me up because when we have guests over for dinner they feel like I’ve gone out of my way to be “fancy” by using cloth napkins. haha. So, there’s my tip! 🙂

  9. We almost never eat out…really never…..but your post inspired me to get another table runner for our “new” antique farmhouse table. We had a Christmas one on and it was so pretty. Could use some dressing up again.

    We also have been trying to save by having healthier convenience foods in the home and being flexible at meal times. Yesterday we had a funny dinner of no nitrate hotdogs, organic popped popcorn, and sweetened canned pumpkin for a vegetable. Strange, yes….but a whole lot cheaper than a takeout pizza!

    Thanks – and happy not-going-out savings everyone!

  10. Yep, I serve right out of the pan, too. I’d love a way to make our meal times a wonderful experience.

    Lately I’ve been involving my children in the “One Thousand Gifts” dare at meal times, asking them to name 2 things they are thankful for. My eldest will write it down in the “mini” 7 Gifts/day book that Ann has graciously offered for free on her site.

    I love it because it gets my children thinking about their blessings and they engage with one another at the table.

    Anyways, I guess that is one idea. 😉 Look forward to your post next week!

  11. I agree on the cloth napkins and candles. Growing up, we always sat at the table and ALWAYS used cloth napkins. It was when the candles were lit that we knew we were in for a treat!

  12. Oh, also…I know other women may have this added challenge, but, it’s not often my husband is home for dinner simply because he works a bit later than the dinner hour. My children, being young, cannot wait until 7pm to eat, so we often eat without him.

    Any suggestions on how to make this a special time still?

    Perhaps the children could rejoin him at the table for dessert while he eats dinner? What would you suggest? 🙂

  13. My grandmother–wise woman that she is–always used china for dinners when we visited. (Once we were old enough to not throw the china off the table, that is.) She once told me that if family isn’t special enough for the fine china, nobody is. I now have my great-grandmother’s china, my grandma’s china, and my own china from wedding gifts. I use it regularly, because even when we have mac ‘n cheese it’s a special night eating together.

  14. My favorite thing to do to make a dinner “special” is to have a basket of warm bread, candles and cloth napkins on the table (we do the cloth napkins anyway because I’m cheap). I would love to have the food on the table in serving dishes too as this is something I grew up with and it is really nice not to have to get up to get seconds, but our current table is too small. If you are worried about candles with kids try not using a table cloth (so it can’t be pulled out from under the candles) and then putting tea lights in votive candle holders? It might not be as pretty as long tapers, but my family still loves the effect and it gets us into the right mood.

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