10 Tips for Stress Free Entertaining
Entertaining has nothing to do with spending large amounts of cash or impressing people. It’s about creating memories and moments that your friends and family will cherish. Your guests are there to enjoy being with you, and they’re grateful you invited them in the first place! The secret to elegant entertaining is surprisingly simple: Create a relaxed, friendly atmosphere where you and your guests feel welcome. Here are my top tips for stress free entertaining:
1. It costs nothing, yet it’s the single most crucial element of any celebration: timing! On a piece of paper, jot down a schedule of when guests will arrive, what cocktails you will serve (keep in mind that forty-five minutes to an hour is the ideal time for cocktails before dinner), what music you’ll have playing in the background during each part of the evening, when guests will be seated for dinner, when to offer dessert and what needs to happen in between. A schedule of preparty preparation and a during-the-event, minute-by-minute time line will help keep the party going!
2. Get organized! Tackle the preparation bit by bit. Make lists of everything you need to buy and do. Refer to these lists often, and cross off items and errands as you go.
3. Select a menu. Again, keep it simple but tasteful, including wines and dessert. Determine what ingredients you’ll need to buy and where. Figure out how much time it will take to prepare each dish, and do as much as possible twenty-four hours beforehand. If it can’t be done a day in advance, make sure you have all your washing, peeling, slicing, and dicing done several hours ahead of your guests’ arrival. Create an interesting, varied guest list. Try to mix and match groups of friends and introduce new people.
4. Use Post-it notes to remind yourself where each dish will go on your table. Label plates and serving dishes for each course to avoid last-minute confusion.
5. Plan your table setting. Decide on which china and linens you’re going to use. Make notes on the colors and types of flowers and other decorative items to buy. Set the table as far in advance as possible. Clean and polish your serving pieces a day or two before the party.
6. Music is the ultimate mood enhancer. If you own an iPod and speakers, create your own playlist for the evening. You’ll want something lively for the cocktail hour to encourage conversation, and something more subdued and instrumental during dinner. Try some light opera or Billie Holiday for dessert and coffee. The key is to keep the music playing from the moment your guests arrive until the door closes behind them.
7. Sear steaks or fish or chicken before the guests arrive. The food can continue cooking in the oven while you’re finishing your first course with your guests. The messy dishes have already been cleared (either by you or a discreet catering staff), and you are finishing the cooking in the oven on a foil disposable container!
8. At a sit-down dinner for parties of more than eight guests, place cards are helpful. They prevent confusion or awkwardness, and allow you to balance the energy and dynamics of the table. Separating spouses also makes for freer and more lively conversation. Remember, for a guest to rearrange his or her host’s place cards is an offense punishable by death!
9. If at all possible, try to leave yourself with next to nothing to do the day of the party aside from putting the finishing touches on your food. Ideally, you won’t have to leave the house that day! In my mind, the best moment is that half hour before guests arrive, when you can freshen up and make the transition that transforms you from chief cook and glass washer to host. Failing that, a splash of water, fresh makeup, a clean blouse or shirt, or a change of shoes can do the trick if time is of the essence. Now you’re ready to move into the all-important preparation phase.
10. Greet your guests at the door with a huge smile! Take their coats and offer them a drink ASAP! The more prepared you are, the more the room will come alive, and the more welcome your guests will feel.