There is no better time to start preparing for holiday fun than now. Early planning will help you keep your sanity through what is often an insane season. As hostess it is your job to ensure that the party runs smoothly, people feel good, and that you have fun too! Below are my hostess tips, lessons learned over years of cooking for and hosting supper clubs, to help you do just that!
Water Carafes. In order to avoid the interruption of needing to refill water requests, put out a few large water carafes on the table—if you don’t have enough, visit a local thrift shop for eclectic, mis-matched pitchers. Fill the carafes with a lot of ice and some water to guarantee the water will stay cold throughout the party. Tip: Add sliced lemons, limes, cucumbers, ginger root, mint, or oranges to the carafes to make the water extra refreshing.
Menu + shopping lists. Start planning your menu two to three weeks before your party. From your menu, make a list of ingredients that you don’t have. Food shop in small trips over a couple weeks rather than one big trip. Tip: Before finalizing your menu, check in with your party guests about any food allergies or eating preferences. It is easy to accommodate these things if you have enough time to plan.
Prep work. Look at what you are cooking and make a timeline of the items that can be prepped in the week leading up to the dinner, what can be done the night before, and what needs to be done the day of.
Wine. Find out who among your friends is the most knowledgeable about wine, and ask for their help pairing reds and whites with your dishes.
No perfume. The charm of your dinner party will be the smell of the delicious food you are preparing for your guests. Avoiding wearing perfume will ensure full enjoyment of the culinary smells and may carry the extra bonus of saving sensitive guests from allergy attacks. Tip: Simmer some cloves, cinnamon, and orange rinds in a small pot on your stove to give your apartment a nice fall scent. Check out these smell good concoctions you can try.
Dishes at opposite ends of the table. Depending on how big your party (and dinner table) is, splitting the dishes into two serving bowls and putting them at opposite sides of the table will help to reduce what I like to call “guest serving congestion.” Each side table will have their own dishes and will not need to get up in order to pass around one large dish.
Dealing with difficult personalities. Every family, every circle of friends, every community has them. And a lot of times you can’t just avoid them or un-invite them, no matter how crazy they drive you. In the weeks leading up to your party, imagine the person (or people) drenched in light and being happy. The day of your party, sit quietly before your guests arrive and imagine your party going very smoothly, that everyone feels welcome and good. Have a mindset to remain open and fluid, like water, taking any challenges that may arise with grace and calmness. Have a plan for what to do if things start to get tense. Being prepared will help to keep the emotional balance of your party in check.
Invite people to bring their favorite drink to share. Beverages, particularly booze, are always the most expensive part of the party. In lieu of flowers or other host gifts, ask guests to bring their favorite holiday beverages to share.
Live music + entertainment. This may not be possible for everyone, but if you can swing it live music is always a good choice for any party. Do you have any friends who play the guitar or sing? Ask them to play some live music for 30-45 minutes before or after dinner. It will elevate your party from just a dinner party to a PAR-TAY. Tip: Offer to pay a little something to anyone who plays. Compensation will go a long way in letting that person know how much you value their contribution.
Helpers. Enlist some close friends to come help with food prep, cooking, setting the table, serving food, clearing the table, refilling the water jug, doing the dishes, etc. Tip: For each friend that helps you out, send them a handwritten thank you card letting them know how much their support meant to you. People love to help you because they love you, they will also love knowing how much you appreciate them.
Tupperware for people to take leftovers. Ask your guests to bring their own Tupperware for leftovers. You can also purchase additional Tupperware to give to people who may have forgotten to bring their own.
Safety. Let your guests know that you will not accept anyone leaving your party and driving drunk. Ask them to make arrangements for a designated driver, have local car service number available, make sure Uber and Lyft apps are updated. Tip: Collect everyone’s car keys in a box when they arrive so that when it is time to leave they need to come to you and you can evaluate if they are sober enough to drive.
There are so many variables in going into what makes a good party great—my tips above may serve as a handy checklist before you dive into any hosting duties you may have coming up in the next few months. Remember too that taking care of yourself, skillful planning, keeping an open mind and going with the flow will work to ensure that you and your guests have a good time!