Hosting a Murder Mystery Dinner Party

What's in the Kit and What You'll Do

Dining Table Set for Dinner Party
C. Lyttle / Getty Images

I had the pleasure to attend a murder mystery dinner party several weeks ago hosted at the home of friends. My only previous experience with murder mystery theater was in a large restaurant where actors played all the parts and diners tried to solve the mystery. The problem was that it was impossible to hear much of the dialogue, let alone many of the clues, amidst the restaurant confusion.

I can say, without any hesitation, that I enjoyed the "home" variety much better.

There isn't much better than creating new memories with old friends and I find creating these gatherings wonderful in bringing everyone together!

Here I've gathered some key factors in planning a satisfying murder mystery dinner party and how to get all your guests involved.

The Kit

The way most murder mystery dinners usually work is that the host of the party purchases a kit. The kit includes a story about a murder that occurs either during the course of the dinner or before the party even begins. There are a specific number of characters in the story to match the size of your group, with background information, costume instructions and a package of clues for each one. The more outrageously your guests dress up, the greater the potential for an entertaining evening.

Also included in the kit may be invitations to the party, a guide to running the mystery (with party tips) for the host, and even prizes for the person who guesses the murderer.

You must insist that your guests RSVP for this party, since all characters must be played. You wouldn't want the murderer to be a "no show."

Murder mystery kits can be purchased "off-the-shelf" or custom designed for your group. Since our dinner was held on Cinco de Mayo, our hosts selected a plot that was set at a Mexican resort hotel.

The characters in this story could be played with enough quirkiness to be amusing with parts such as a bar dancer, gardener, bartender and assorted wait staff. The murder of the hotel owner had taken place prior to the party so our mission was to share information in order to deduce which of us was the murderer. The menu consisted of Mexican food and drinks, with lots of sangria, margaritas, tequila and beer.

This is a variety of ideas and online resources to select a murder mystery theme for your next dinner party.

The Activities

When you send out your invitations to the party, you will include the character description, costume suggestions and background for the story to your guests. Over the course of the evening, everyone will receive additional clues to their own character and the murder which they will need to reveal to the rest of the guests. With some kits, the host knows who the murderer is. In others, such as the one we played, no one knows a thing until it is revealed during the dinner.

At our party, we received the clues in between each course and spent about fifteen minutes per scene revealing the necessary information to one another with each person attempting to act in character.

I would estimate that the typical murder mystery could be completed within 2 1/2 hours, although if you linger over cocktails and appetizers or dessert and coffee the night can go on as long as you wish.

The Keys to a Successful Murder Mystery

Our group knows one another well enough that any deviation from normal character was potentially amusing. Several members of the group went full tilt with their costumes and really got into their parts. Costumes were not difficult or expensive, drawing on everyday items to complete our ensembles. I think we all agreed that it was a fun evening, and a different experience.

In order for a dinner party like this to be successful, your guests need to be willing to be "on stage" a bit. Anyone who is shy in front of groups might feel that participating is difficult, especially if you're hosting it for a large group.

I think our comfort with one another may have also assisted the quieter members of the group in feeling relaxed enough to play a part.

Planning the Menu and Decorations

I recommend basing the number of courses for your meal on the number of scenes in your murder mystery. You'll have that information when you receive your kit. That way the mystery can be played out in between each of your courses as we did, and discussed while you eat each course. However, some of these kits are designed for cocktail parties and the guests are expected to walk around and interact throughout the evening. You'll need to see what the specific requirements are for your kit when you purchase it. If you have a definite idea of how you would like your dinner to run, I recommend asking around to find the mystery that suits your plan.

Many of these plots take place in a specific country or time period. That makes decorating and menu planning for the dinner fairly simple if you stick to the theme. For example, some of the plots I've seen are set in Paris, the Old West and Rome.

If your mystery does not come with a built-in theme, use this "deadly" menu to add a little extra excitement.

Murder Mystery Dinner Menu

Red Death Cocktail - They'll never see it coming after this drink.

BBQ Beef Ribs

Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole - Make this with Northern Spy apples!

Death by Chocolate Cake - Have you picked up on the subtle theme yet?

Death by Chocolate Dessert Cocktail