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