Being a host can be intimidating, especially if you’re a novice. The devil is truly in the details when it comes to planning a gathering of friends, family or new faces. But hosting needn’t be a source of stress, as long as you tackle it with a game plan. Here are a few tips to help you get the revelry started.
First things first, what kind of party do envision having? Itching to break out your fine china and champagne flutes? Take a page out of Emily Post and have a sit-down dinner party. Too formal for your crowd? Try a cocktail party with lots of drinks and nibbles. Poker night with the guys? Keep easy to grab snacks and beer flowing. Try to keep your potential guests in mind while devising, especially if you have a guest of honor.
If you’re unsure about which direction to take, have no fear, the internet is here to help. Lifestyle blogs like My Domaine, The Kitchn and Martha Stewart Living all have great party plans tips, along with recipes and DIY projects to personalize your party. Pinterest is an impressive visual tool, organizer and search engine, allowing you to create specific boards for décor, recipes, games etc.
What’s on the menu?
If you have yet to master the art of the soufflé, now is not the time to give it a go. Make your life easier with dishes that are well, easy. If you have a go-to recipe that makes you dance in your seat while eating it, put it on the menu. Recipes that can be made ahead of time get bonus points as they free up more of your precious time on the party day. Don’t forget to take any dietary or allergy into account, so check with your guests before finalizing your menu.
Now, you can easily bypass all of this by throwing a potluck, allowing your guests to take some of the load off of your plate. You can pick a type of cuisine or have everyone bring their specialty. Just make sure they’re bringing a range of dishes, a google spreadsheet for listing who’s bringing what should do the trick.
Once your vision is complete, it’s time to materialize it. Try working backwards, picturing all of the different elements that you’ll need for the party, from plates to party hats. Jot everything down, making inventory of what you already own and what you need to get. Make a master list from your recipes, dividing up perishable from non-perishable items. Keep a copy of the list on you so you can gradually pick up non-perishables as you do your normal grocery shopping.
Having a timeline rundown for the day of your party is a great way to make sure you’re staying on schedule. Again working backwards, start from the time the first guests will arrive and make note of what you need to be doing at what time. Having designated time-slots (with some wiggle room) to check on your roast, light your candles or change your clothes can keep panic from setting in when you’re down to the wire.
When it comes to inviting your guests, there are two big questions: How do I invite my guests and how far in advance should I invite them? That answer will vary based on who you’re inviting and how casual your event is. If you’re getting your girlfriends together for a movie night, a few WhatsApp messages a few days before might suffice. A Facebook event invitation a month before might be the ticket for your Thanksgiving potluck. In general, if you extend invitations too far in advance, people may forget about it. Too close to your date, they may not be available.
Ask for Help
Delegation isn’t only useful for potluck dinners, it’s a great way to keep your stress level down. Your best friend offers to help you prep food? Yes, please! Does one of your guests have an amazing music collection? Let them make a playlist. For Type A folks who want their hands in everything, pinpoint a detail that’s not high on your list of priorities to hand off, whether it be picking up extra booze or running a last minute errand. If you’ve got the good fortunate to have people who want to lend you a hand, let them!
How you set up your home for the party makes just as much of an impact as how the food tastes. Just as eating is a full sensory experience, your party can also be. Set the tone at the beginning of the party by having a signature drink waiting for your guests when they arrive, along with something to nibble on if you’ve got some time before dinner begins. Have music playing in the background, loud enough to set a mood but soft enough for conversation. Dimmed lighting is an easy way to make a space feel more intimate. Candles provide an extra glow and when styled just right add a touch of decorative flair, not to mention the wonderful aromas they can emit as well. Make sure your guests have room to move throughout your home, especially in high traffic areas like the bathroom or the bar. Ample seating is equally important in making your guests feel comfortable. Décor doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be thoughtful and intentional. Small, personal touches won’t go unnoticed and your guests will appreciate the effort.
Remember, YOU set the tone
The BEST this you can do to ensure a great evening is relax and HAVE FUN. If you’re on edge and frantically running about when your guests arrive, they may feel ill at ease loosening up with you. On the contrary, if you’re languidly sipping cocktail with a big smile on your face when you greet your guests, they’ll feel right at home. At the end of the day, you’re also a guest at your party and after all the work you’ve put in, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Christine is 26 year old native New Yorker who has lived in Madrid, Spain since 2011 and has no desire to leave. She is a teacher, student and lover of a good Ribera de Duero.