Does entertaining give you the heebie jeebies? Follow these practical (and practically obvious) entertaining tips to stress less before and during your next shindig.
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:
If you struggle with planning ahead, it’s time to lean into 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?
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
- And for goodness sake, don’t attempt something you’ve never made before! (At the very least, don’t use 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
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 fancy in front of guests, and exhaust the crap out of yourself so that you’re passing out after your first glass of wine. Get it?
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.
During the Party
Keep this to a minimum, but 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 serving table.
There is nothing wrong with understated!
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.
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.
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.