Entertaining doesn’t have to be stressful. It just takes is a little thought and preparation and you’ll be well on your way to a successful party.
plan the party. The first thing to do is to figure out what kind of party you want to have: a dinner party, a cocktail party or even a brunch. Then you need to figure out how many people to invite. I like to entertain 6-8 guests at a time, that way there’s lots of different conversations happening but you’re all still able to connect to one another. Once you’ve established the theme and size, it’s time to pick a menu.
pick the menu. For me, I I like to choose a menu that all works well together, one that carries the same flavors and ingredients throughout the night in a subtle way. For example, if I’m cooking something mexican for the main meal, I’ll choice appetizers and a dessert that incorporate some of the same flavors in them as well as a cocktail along the same lines.
make what you know. The best advice I can give you is to make something that you know. It’s easy to want to impress your guests with hard-to-make dishes but parties are not the time to experiment. You don’t need the added pressure of something unpredictable that will most likely cause you stress during the party. Trust me on this one. I did that once and it was a disaster. Cook something simple that you know how to comfortably make, and always use the best ingredients you can. Look to what’s in season for inspiration.
prepare yourself. I like to put on some of my favorite music and pour myself a (small) glass of wine. I think of what I have to do (make a list if you need one) and do the easy stuff first to get it out of the way.
assemble serving dishes. I prepare as much ahead of time as possible and that includes making sure I have the right serving dishes ready to go. I figure out what will go on what platters and make sure everything is washed and ready for me when it I need it later. If you’re having a sit-down dinner, set the table ahead of time.
stock the bar. You don’t need every option available but be sure to have the basics: white and red wine, a few different kinds of beer, and a basic selection of spirits (vodka, gin, rum) and any necessary mixes to go along with them (club soda, tonic, soda etc.). Also be sure to have at at least one non-alcoholic choice. I stock plenty of bottles of water for during the night, and for my guests as they head out the door. If you’re feeling creative, sometimes it’s fun to create a house cocktail for the night. Also, if you know your guests like something in particular, make sure to have it on hand (they’ll appreciate the gesture of you knowing what they like).
prepare in advance. Plan your menu and your party so that much of it can be made ahead of time. I like to create a menu that allows me to make everything but one thing ahead of time. That way I’m not in the kitchen cooking during the entire party. It’s important for the host/hostess to enjoy the party too, and if you’re able to mingle with your guests, it will be more fun for everyone. You never want your guests to feel guilty watching you cook during the entire party.
clean as you go. It’s much easier to keep organized while you prep, and during the party if you clean as you go. Grab crumpled napkins, toothpicks, unaccounted-for glasses and plates on your way to the kitchen when you go. A little cleaning here and there will make for easy cleanup later.
cocktail napkins. I like to use simple, festive cocktail napkins to get the party started. Choose ones with a cute description or saying on them to lighten the mood and keep the feeling informal. I like to scatter them around the house, on a few different tables, so that my guests don’t have to worry about putting a drink down directly on a table.
white plates. I am a collector of white plates and I have them in a variety of different shapes and sizes so I’m pretty much ready for anything I need to serve. Simple white plates really allow the food to stand out the best and really makes everything look delicious.
white cloth napkins. I love to use simple white cloth napkins along with the white plates. You can decorate them with vintage napkin rings, or tie them with something more seasonal or festive that matches the décor for the evening.
polish the silver. I use my silver anytime I feel like turning an ordinary meal into something a little more special which is especially important when you entertain. I use a combination of my mix and match vintage silver for a simple, elegant touch that will brighten up your table.
show your personality. Entertaining is a great place to show some of your creativity whether it’s in the food, the cocktails or the decoration. You don’t have to go all out like Martha Stewart would, but this is a great time to show a little of your personality to your guests. In the end, no matter what you do, make sure the space is a warm and inviting place for your guests to sit back and enjoy themselves.
have fun. The most important thing is to make sure your guests feel comfortable and enjoy themselves and the best way to do that is for you to do the same. Your guests will notice if your running around all night rather then being a relaxed host who looks like everything is under perfect control (even if it’s not). If you get stressed, simply stop and take a deep breathe and remind yourself that it’s a party! And continue to deal with whatever has come up, calmly. If you’re relaxed, your guests will be too.