Lian’s Entertaining To Do List!

by Lian on February 5, 2010

About a month ago, I received an e-mail at Chaos Chronicles asking me for some entertaining tips. I seemed to have so many parties, the e-mailer wrote, and enjoying hosting. What was my secret? She confessed getting very stressed when entertaining, resulting in not much entertaining at all. So this Friday To Do List is dedicated to Party Giving.

Please add your own ideas… because That’s how it works here at the Chaos Chronicles. We bail out each other.

Do: Remember that in this day and economy, people are happy to be invited anywhere for a few hours of sheer, new company and laughter. So, relax ( I know, I hate when people tell me that.. but it’s true!).  Your guests are not there to judge or criticize or check for dust. They are there to see you! Creating a warm, welcoming environment is easy if you remember that your guests are on your side!

Do: start with small gatherings and work your way up to the big events. Build your confidence, your party giving skills and your food and beverage repertoire with  a few close friends before attempting the team party or office Holiday Event. But no so small that the gathering isn’t festive and lively. 8 to 10 people is a good starter number. And mix up the crowd a little.

Do: tell your guests what to expect. As in,” Come by around 6. We’ll have dinner by 7:15 and then you can get the little ones in bed by 10.” I like my guests to know the schedule. That way, the onus if off me if the guests are very late or have to leave early or have plans to stay til midnight.  I still work with my schedule.

Do: Expect to do a fair amount of prep work and spending  a little cash. Entertaining is not easy or super cheap. I like to do all the cleaning, set-up, and fussing before the crowd arrives. And, I do about 90% of the cooking if I can. I hate to be stuck in the kitchen all night and i think it makes guests uncomfortable if the hostess never sits down!  A little preparation goes a long was in making the party enjoyable for guest and host. And, you don’t have to break to bank the invite people over, but you will have to buy some stuff:special beverages; paper goods, a million white candles. Just be prepared.

Do: Divide and conquer with your spouse or partner. Maybe he grills and you man the drinks and dessert. Or vice versa. But prepare your co-host to actually get up off the couch and do a little work. Children can also be pressed into service. They make wonderful Hot Nut passers!

Do: Go with what you know. Forget formal. Don’t try something new and complicated.  Do not try to outcook your foodie family. Find a menu that plays to your strengths. And make that your signature thing for gatherings: chili; soups; taco bar; lasagne. Personally, I love everything  that comes out of the Barefoot Contessa’s Cookbooks. For me, they are my go-to resources for my signature dishes: Roasted Salmon;  Santa Maria Tri Tip with Roasted Peppers; Provencal Potato Salad; Grilled Salad Nicoise; Potato Leek Soup; Roasted Veggies. I cook the same Party Foods over and over again in different combination. Sheila doesn’t seem to mind and she’s been to my house a million times. Remember– whatever you serve is going to be different than what the guests serve at their house, so it may be old to you, but not to them!

Do: have enough food… but not too much. Nothing is more depressing than a giant table of barely touched food. It’s a signal that you spent to much time, money, and energy on the food and not enough on the guests or enjoying the party yourself. No more than three hors  d’oeuvres, according to the Barefoot Contessa and she is right.  And simple dinner of delicious ingredients. Then have one dessert that can work in several ways– like brownies, ice cream, and raspberries. Really, no one will starve at your house. A well chosen menu– rather than a buffet table covered with random stuff- is a more sophisticated way to go.

Do: have a simple bar and put it in the room or area where you want the bulk of the guests to gather. The bar will draw people away from the front door and keep people on the porch or in the living room where there is the most space. Don’t overthink the beverages. I never have a full bar. Wine, beer, maybe a specialty drink like Sangria. Then sparkling water, juices, a special soda or two and LOTS of ice. Don’t forget bar napkins, a bar towel ,and twice as many glasses as guests.

Do: Think about party flow, lighting,  music,  tablecloths, timing of dinner, coffee after. It is a lot to think about– but if you do the advance work, write down your schedule, and then  execute your plan, the party will seems effortless.

Do: squeeze people in. Guests like to be crowded, in the middle of it all. Parties that don’t “feel fun” are usually parties that are just way too spread out.

Do: Ask your guests to help if they offer. Don’t be an Entertaining Martyr. I went through that phase– it’s exhausting.  If a guest ask to bring a side dish, say yes ( but then find out what do you don’t duplicate). Or, if they offer to clear the plates or help clean up, why not? Again, they are happy to be there and ten minutes of group effort could save you an hour in the morning. But, don’t expect guests to work the party if they don’t offer. And never, ever, agree to let people who are habitually late bring the appetizers!

So many more… but I’ve got to get going to my audition. Now, I wish it was for an entertaining show! Please, Chaos Crew… ad your own.

Embracing My Chaos, Lian



Lian February 8, 2010 at 10:40 AM


Update this week I promise. but let’s juts say that Staurday I slipped into a pair of jeans that had been in cold storage in my closet for quite a while— so that was a great feeling.

As for guests– you do have to choose the right blend and sometimes your different worlds don’t blend. But hen you get a nice mix– it can really liven up an evening.


chpdlivr February 8, 2010 at 6:59 AM

My problem tends to be WHO to invite. I don’t always feel comfortable combining people from different parts of my life. I also get this gnawing feeling that no one will actually show up! Talk about insecure!!!
I love the actual entertaining……’s that initial move to do it that is my downfall.

Lian, I am interested to hear your take/feedback on the Dr. Oz diet plan……’s another thing I keep looking at but haven’t started.

Natalie February 7, 2010 at 10:18 PM

We haven’t entertained much since we’ve had kids, and our oldest is 10! I like your idea of a schedule, because we’ve gone to a holiday party for years that drags on and on and never seems to get to the main course until between 9 – 9:30, when our little ones are dead on their feet. We always manage to grab something on the way home from that one and are now prepared!

We entertained for the first time earlier this year on Halloween and had a blast. One of our daughters wanted to trick or treat with a friend and we invited their family to join us for dinner. The evening went quite well, despite my jitters and I am now excited to venture down that path again. In years past on the rare occasion that we would invite someone over I always flubbed the meal in some way. This last time went well. For one I wasn’t out to impress. The couple with whom I repeatedly messed up the meal are foodies and thus, now always suggest that they bring the food or we meet at a restaurant. It wasn’t that bad, but I guess to them it was! Yikes! I guess my screw ups might have been, because I was trying too hard to impress these foodie friends!

I can’t fathom hosting a get together for such a large number. That would be totally daunting to me. So, I bow to you Lian for even the mere suggestion of such a feat, much less the execution of it….flawlessly.

Debra February 7, 2010 at 1:37 PM

I LOVE these tips. These are all things I know, but it tends to get shoved in the back of my mind. The one that stands out the most for me is having enough food. I am one of those who vows to do thing simply and inexpensively. Then, it closer to the party date and I buy a little more of this and a little more of that…I must make sure that EVERYONE has something they like – and plenty of it! When the party is over, I have tons of leftovers. You think that I would learn my lesson, but I overbuy and overwork myself each time. Oh well…I’m stressed till showtime, then I can calm down and enjoy my own party.

Lian February 7, 2010 at 9:19 AM

Danettee…PLEASE– we must know more about “Sunshine Hats!” Are those some special headwear your create for the party? I hope so.

and Christine.. you are right. Good observation about staying in practice. The more you do it, the easier it is. And I , for one, enjoy shrunken meat.

Anthony… how did it go?


Christine February 7, 2010 at 9:02 AM

for me it is necessary to stay in practice…when I have to entertain after a longer hiatus….I have more nerves and yes, some not so good results.. like I forget how to cook??? its physically more stressing???
actually no one cares and they do have a good time.. so ?? keep trying.
no one ever died from whipped cream that deflated, or beef burgundy where the meat shrunk! just my pride, and the reputation I once had as a great cook…I need to stay with simpler meals that I would serve most often here at home..there is a reason that they work…I plan to get that cookbook ..SOON. thanks Lian. for your list and for hearing me.

Danette February 6, 2010 at 9:05 AM

I do love to entertain, and to host, but it does get expensive. A few years ago a group of us decided that we wanted to get together semi-regularly and so I hosted parties to celebrate the First Day of Summer, First Day of Autumn, etc.! The dates lent themselves to theme parties (sunshine hats and sparklers, flowers, etc.) and I would let people know what I was serving and they filled in the blanks! It was also BYOB and that was fine with everyone! Moral of the story is that the cost can be prohibitive for the frequency of gatherings, so we just decided to all work together! Providing a pleasant gathering space is something I love to do!

Susan February 5, 2010 at 12:30 PM

Awesome, Anthony!

I don’t know why, but I don’t really like going to other’s homes but I do like to entertain at our house!

Thanks for the great tips, Lian. I love the Barefoot Contessa cookbook -Back to Basics – use it all the time for everyday and entertaining!

Anthony February 5, 2010 at 9:51 AM

This couldn’t have come at a better time! I am just about to embark on my first (solo) gathering. It’s only 6 people…ok, and they are siblings, but still. My knees are kind of knocking, Actually, it could have come at a better time – they arrive in an hour. And now I have been thrown into a panic because I haven’t considered the lighting…or tablecloths. Time to put down the laptop and a) shower b) try to throw together Santa Maria Tri Tip with Roasted Peppers. Thanks for the tips.

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