Whether it’s dinner for eight, drinks on the deck for 20, or a milestone birthday celebration for 40, effortless entertaining can be easily achieved by even the novice host. We have all attended parties where the conversation flowed and time flew by, yet others where the evening dragged on. So what’s the trick? Is it the food? The atmosphere? The conversation? Probably a combination of everything, and then some, but above all it’s the PLANNING and PREPARATION that really is the key to stress-free entertaining.
Here are some tips that will ensure your party is nothing short of awesome, and that your guests leave happy and wanting more.
Set the tone and prepare.
You arrive at a party, welcomed by your host, with upbeat music playing in the background, and the aroma of a home cooked meal or the glow of scented candles filling the air. Within minutes you are feeling right at home.
A relaxed host equals relaxed guests. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Once again, the key is all in the preparation, and the tone you set as soon as your guests walk through the door. We realize that some aspects of entertaining may be stressful, so identify these sources of stress early on, and make the necessary accommodations. If cooking overwhelms you, order food from your favorite restaurant or caterer to be reheated in the oven or in chafing dishes. If your musical taste is off the beaten path, or you simply don’t have time to curate the perfect playlist, pipe in music from Spotify, Pandora, or Songza, making selections from their vast array of categories to set the mood you are going for.
Creating lists is also immensely helpful, not just for the grocery store, but for everything you need to do before the first guest arrives, from planning your menu and purchasing beverages, to arranging flowers, lighting candles, and turning outdoor lights on. Set your table in advance if you can. Select all your serving pieces once you have decided on your menu, and lay them out a day or two before the party so that they are on hand when needed. The more you prepare for and accomplish before your guests arrive, the less stressed you will feel, and the more time you will have to relax and enjoy the party.
Be gracious and pay attention.
Before you have had a chance to say hello, your jacket has been put away, a beverage is in your hand, and your host has found a comfortable seat for you on the couch.
A good host should be exactly that – a host. Hospitable and gracious. Guests should feel welcome and comfortable in your home. Simply thinking about and paying attention to your guests’ needs can go a long way. If someone’s glass is nearly empty, offer a refill or another beverage. Make an effort to introduce guests to one another. Have a few conversational starters in mind, ready to go if there is a lull in the conversation. Fair warning, however; this simple act of greeting and acclimating guests will go by the wayside if you are still prepping for dinner as they arrive. Preparing as much as you can ahead of time will free you to welcome your guests, then slip back into the kitchen, if necessary, to finish up whatever needs to be done.
Feed your guests.
Dinner is not extravagant, but the food tastes great and your friends with dietary restrictions are happily accounted for. The conversation keeps flowing, as do the beverages (alcoholic and non), and before long, three hours have passed in the blink of an eye.
Ensure that there is plenty of food, with options for everyone. Whether your event is a home cooked meal for an intimate dinner party, a catered back yard BBQ, or a glam cocktail party, ensure that there is more food than needed and a variety of offerings. Be aware of dietary restrictions in advance and include vegetarian selections. Your guests will appreciate the effort and feel much more comfortable. Place appetizers in a central space for guests to enjoy upon arrival, preferably outside of the kitchen. If guests will be congregating in several areas of your home (patio, living room, for example), have snacks available in those areas as well. Small bowls of nuts or gourmet chips are perfect.
Whatever menu you decide upon, advance preparation is once again key to a smooth evening. Some of our favorite menus include items that can be put together a day or two before an event, then popped in the oven just prior to serving. Think twice about stovetop recipes, as these will take you away from your guests, and may add additional delays or stress. Of course, calling a caterer or your favorite restaurant to provide platters and trays is always a great option, especially if your meal of choice is delivery from the Chinese place around the corner. These items can be beautifully displayed in your own serveware for a more personalized and elegant touch. And don’t be afraid to serve tried and true recipes, even if enjoyed by your guests previously.
Think about timing. Relax and join in.
The main meal begins about an hour after you’ve arrived. Appetizers and snacks are abundant but not overly filling, cocktails are flowing, and the vibe is unhurried and relaxed.
Plan to transition from cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, simple or fancy, to dinner about an hour after the start of your party. This gives your guests time to relax, meet and greet, and generally settle in for an enjoyable evening. Dinner may last for an hour or more. Encourage laughter and storytelling, join the conversation, and keep an eye out for anything amiss.
End on a sweet note.
Dinner has ended and your host invites everyone to the porch for dessert. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air. Small plates of one-bite desserts are placed on tables where guests are seated. You offer to help clean up, but your host refuses and joins the crowd. The conversation picks up again, and you simply don’t want the night to end.
Save as much of the clean up as possible until after guests have departed. Even though you’ve been busy for days, cleaning, shopping, and preparing for your party, once the main meal has ended, try to sit down and relax with your guests. If, as the host, you are overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the rest of the cleanup for the end of the night, wash and put away as much of your cookware and prep equipment as you can before guests arrive. Load appetizer plates in the dishwasher while making last minute dinner preparations. Consider using disposable serveware along with beautiful paper goods for casual parties; much can be easily found locally or online.
We’d love to hear from you! Share your entertaining tips and tell us how you stay relaxed as a host.