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7 Tips for Entertaining That Will Help You Stress Less

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Does entertaining give you the heebie jeebies? Follow these practical (and practically obvious) entertaining tips to stress less before and during your next shindig.

brunch table Photo by Lee Myungseong on Unsplash
Photo by Lee Myungseong on Unsplash

Entertaining Tips to Stress Less

Did you happen to notice that I say stress ‘less’? Let’s be honest. There’s always going to be some level of stress when we open our homes to entertain. The trick is to reduce it to a healthy (even helpful) level so we can show our guests a good time. But, the real win comes when our guests see us having a good time, too.

Tip #1: Plan Ahead As Much As You’re Able

Um…duh. I know. As I write this, I’m planning two events. The first, I have four days to prepare for. The second, four weeks. Even if you have four hours, a little planning is important.

Bare minimum, these are the tasks I would spend time doing:

Make Lists 

If you struggle with planning ahead, it’s time to lean into it a little. Think about your week:

  • What obligations do you have that require your time?
  • What do you actually have to time to do (shop, cook, etc.)? 

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

On the other hand, if you are all the about a good list (raising my hand), it’s time to step back a moment and be OK with not crossing everything off the list. Prioritize, and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Did I say, don’t bite off more than you can chew?

open cookbooks, pen and paper
Create a menu around a theme.

Create a Menu Around a Theme

Your ‘theme’ can be as loose as ‘Normandy-inspired food.’ Or, whatever is in season, or a recent craving you’ve had. It’s there to bring cohesiveness to your menu. For example: pasta bolognese is delicious. So is sushi. You know where I’m going with this, right? Moving on…

Once you settle on your theme:

  • Get a head count
  • Bookmark or print any recipes
  • Make a shopping list
  • Maybe don’t attempt something you’ve never made before or don’t have an inkling how to make! (At the very least, don’t try a cooking technique that is absolutely foreign to you.)

Things You Can Do Ahead of Time

Some tasks take just a few minutes, some a bit longer. Anything you can do a day or more before will be helpful. Some examples:

  • Set out a stack of plates, flatware, napkins, serving pieces (labeled, so you know what goes where) 
  • Set up a drink station with an ice bucket and glasses
  • Gather up decor — candles, vases, twinkly lights, tablecloths
  • Assemble platters (think cheese plate, veggie tray)
  • Marinate foods or assemble casseroles
stack of dishes and napkins
Set out tableware and serving pieces ahead of time.

Tip #2: Don’t Cook Everything

Even the most seasoned hosts don’t cook everything. (Maybe some do, but whatever.) When you plan the menu, here are some ways to break it down:

  • What’s the piece de resistance? Make that.
  • Pick side dishes that can be made ahead and kept warm, or select something that can be served at room temperature or cold. (Yay for salads!)
  • Assemble, don’t cook, your appetizers. Cheese + charcuterie platters and bowls of little nibbles are always crowd pleasers. Or, keep it easy and make a simple cheese spread or dip. There’s also nothing wrong with those tasty little frozen appetizers from the grocery.
  • Buy dessert or do a DIY (Fondue? Indoor s’mores?)

The point is, you don’t want to be breaking your back trying to bake, and make from scratch, and cook something super complicated that takes your attention away from guests, and exhaust the crap out of yourself so that you’re passing out after your first glass of wine. Get it?

Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash dessert display
Buy dessert!
Photo by Kirsten Drew on Unsplash

Tip #3: Ask For Help

There are three opportunities to ask for help: ahead of time, an hour or two before your party, and during your party. Don’t be shy. People want to help. 

Ahead of Time 

Ask roommates and family members to pitch in to clean public areas, do some shopping or whatever speaks to their time or talents. 

Pro tip: unless you’re a super slob, a quick dusting and vacuum is probably fine. The two things that you should absolutely give attention to are the bathroom (don’t forget to stock the TP) and your serving pieces. No one wants to reach for a fork with last week’s lasagna dried on it. 

Right Before the Party

Invite one of your guests over a little early for a VIP session (er…to help out). Pour each of you a glass of champagne or a special cocktail and enjoy some one-on-one time together as you finish setting the table (because you already set all those things out, remember?), complete any dishes, light candles, and turn on some music.

friends cooking together
Invite a friend over early to help out and have some one-on-one time.
Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

During the Party

If you need a hand bringing out a parade of dishes, or refilling wine glasses, it’s totally ok to recruit a couple of trusted guests to help out.

Tip #4: Shop Your Home 

In other words, why spend money on stuff you’ll never use again? When you’re entertaining adults, subtle is totally ok. You don’t need super themey decorations and all that. (Unless, you really want them. You do you.)

I’ve grown a collection of neutral serving pieces and tableware that are the perfect backdrop for any kind of food. Add color with flowers and greens (there’s always a shrub in my yard that could use a little haircut). Look around your house for what you can borrow — like candlesticks from the mantel, a scarf to use as a table runner or to drape on a serving table. 

There is nothing wrong with understated!

Photo by Nadia Valko on Unsplash, pretty and understated table setting
Borrow objects from around your house or yard to decorate.
Photo by Nadia Valko on Unsplash

Tip #5: Create Ambience

Up to now this post has been all about the planning and preparation, but nothing stresses out a host faster than seeing your guests uncomfortable, hangry and bored out of their minds. 

Food + Drink

If you have nothing else ready when guests start arriving, make sure there are a couple bowls of nibbles and some self-serve drinks, including lots of water and non-alcoholic options. Greet your guests and invite them to help themselves before they find a seat nearby where you can still chat while doing what you need to do.


Find a playlist with the vibe you’re going for and make sure it’s on before anyone arrives. Likewise, when it’s time for people to go (you know, when that one friend starts oversharing and making things weird), put on a wind-down playlist to usher the evening to a close.

record player, Photo by Victrola Record Players on Unsplash
Music is key in setting the vibe. Make sure it’s playing before the first guest arrives.
Photo by Victrola Record Players on Unsplash


Dimmed light and candlelight makes everyone look good. It feels more intimate and cozy when gathered around the table, and facilitates conversation. Brighten things up a bit when it’s time to say farewell.


Make sure it’s cool enough. Eating, drinking and gesticulating wildly about last weekend’s adventures gets the blood flowing, so throw open a window or turn down the thermostat. 

Tip #6: Leave Cleanup for Later

I come from a long line of picker-uppers and clean-as-you-goers. But sometimes, you just gotta leave it for later. You worked hard. You had fun. And, unless you want to kill your party prematurely, it’s ok to leave some cleanup for tomorrow after you’ve had a good night’s rest.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash, restaurant window with words relax
Take a moment to relax before everyone arrives.
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Tip #7: Take a Moment of Zen

It might not always be possible, but if you can, plan for a moment of zen! (h/t Jon Stewart)

Set aside 10-15 minutes before everyone arrives, put your feet up, pour yourself a glass of wine or an herbal tea and breathe. Deeply. Say a few positive affirmations or break out a child’s pose and just relax. You’ll be a better host and have way more fun when you get your head right.

BTW, if you have that friend over early to help out…I think that totally counts, too. Heck, have that zen time together.

OK…you got this! Remember — inviting others into your home is about making connections and memories. The food + drink, the entertainment, the lighting + music are enhancers, but you can’t have a party without the people…including YOU! 

Take a sip + enjoy your sanity.

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    1. Right? My husband replaced many of our main floor switches to smart switches. Now, we can change the lighting scheme with a press of a button from our phones! (Same with the thermostat!)

  1. Being prepared ahead of time can make all the difference when it comes to feeling less stressed when entertaining.. and being the hostess can be so much more fun when you’re not running around trying to get everything done the day of the party!

  2. Wow, these tips were fantastic! I feel like I am always so nervous when I host people for a dinner party. I’m good at creating the right vibe, but the food? I’m not so good at that part. I like that you said not to make everything yourself. I feel like I always try to do it all when I really could just make one thing the day of and have everything else ready earlier. These were all great tips!

  3. I love the idea of creating a menu around a theme! It helps so much. I’m glad that things seem to be getting back to normal again and people feel comfortable hosting people in their homes. It’s about time!

  4. Great ideas! And anyone who can cook it all, I applaud them! But then they aren’t having nearly as much fun! I always do a combo of homemade and bought!