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.
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 Corona.
Visit this list of online resources to select a murder mystery for your next dinner party.
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.