The key to a great hostess is to make everything appear effortless. If you’re relaxed, your guests will be too. What they see is what they get. Didn’t have time for that extra hors d’oeuvre or forgot to polish the silver? If you don’t draw attention to it, chances are your guests won’t bat an eye. Below, some of my key tips to be sure your next event goes off without a hitch.
Thinking of throwing an Oscar’s bash next weekend? Catch my next segment on CT Style this Friday, February 24th on WTNH News Channel 8, 12:30PM, and stay tuned for the clip!
Incorporate a theme: Whether it be a holiday, a season or a color scheme (ie: black and white party), it’s always helpful to give your party something to revolve its menu and décor around. This not only narrows down your focus while you plan, but also gives your guests some direction of how the evening will flow.
Have fun with presentation: We eat with our eyes first (if we ate with our eyes only, it would save a lot of calories…), so presentation is everything. Have fun with your plating when serving foods. If you’re creating a dessert table, use platters, cake plates, candy dishes and cupcake tiers of different heights and colors for visual appeal. Oversized cocktail glasses or fun vases are another unique way to display your treats. No need to save your linens strictly for sit-down. Dress up your buffet with a pretty patterned table runner or solid placemats for a pop of color.
Be your own guest: Do a walk-through of your party before hand to be sure you have everything you need. Pretend you’re attending the soiree, and see what you may be missing. Did you attempt to spread cheese on a crostini and realize you forgot a knife? Venture over to the bar and notice you don’t have a corkscrew? Catch the details before everyone arrives to avoid scouring for must-haves later.
Create an inviting ambiance: Candles and flowers are my go-tos for everything from home decor to party planning. Light a fireplace or scatter pretty votives on a table (unscented if its near the food) to add a feeling of warmth and elegance. A color themed bouquet in a decorative vase or bud vases with dainty, statement flowers add an extra special touch as well. Having music playing in the background can also set the tone. Be sure it’s loud enough to create the mood, but low enough you can hear yourself speak.
Cater to individual needs: It’s important that all your guests get the benefit of a great experience, especially if they have food allergies or dietetic concerns. I have friends who eat everything from vegan to gluten-free to dairy free to kosher diets, to others who have a serious nut allergy. I always make it a point to not only prepare or purchase separate dishes for them, and keep them from being contaminated by other foods, but also to have universal options out with the rest of the choices such as veggies and vegan dip or gluten-free chips so they don’t feel like an out cast. If children (or pets!) are attending, it’s a nice gesture to have a toy or special snack to keep them occupied and make them feel included.
Make it interactive: Encourage mingling by placing fun facts or question cards around your house to get wheels turning and conversation flowing. (Ie: If you could only have one dessert for the rest of your life what would it be? or What cocktail best describes your personality?) This is an especially helpful icebreaker if all your guests don’t know each other. Always make introductions, and point out interesting aspects of one another to make everyone feel like they belong. For example, if your good friend just returned from a trip, and your co-worker loves to travel, introduce them and bring up the shared interest for them to discuss.
Get your guests involved/Offer incentive: Giving a simple task or direction to your guests helps them answer the famous question about what they should bring and what to wear. Making it clear that it’s a costume party or that guests should bring an appetizer, allows them to feel like they’re contributing, without asking for too much. To get everyone in the spirit, announce on the invites that prizes will be awarded for most creative recipes or best attire.
Be a flexible host: Understand not everyone may want to play along, and respect those who show up in street clothes instead of dressing up, or bring a sweet instead of an appetizer. Always let your guests dictate the agenda. Don’t force an activity if everyone is content, but do be aware when a change of pace is needed. The point is to make things light and fun, not to stick to a rigid rule.
Offer options: I love any opportunity for guests to make something their own and try new things. For example, a mashed potato station with a toppings bar, or liquors with various mixers, allows everyone a chance to personalize their food or drink to fit their taste buds. To avoid misplaced beverages, supply Sharpies for guests to label their cups, or wine charms when using real glasses.
Stock up: Before your guests arrive, be sure to fill your soap dispensers, toilet paper rolls and paper towels, and empty your trash. Have garbage cans and recycling bins accessible so you’re not stuck with additional mess at the end of the night. Always have just-in-case necessities on hand like a first aid kit and cleaning tools for a spill, so you’re not searching for them amidst a crowd.
Enjoy your own party: After all the prepping, shopping, cleaning, cooking and decorating, you deserve to relax and relish in your hard work. The worst feeling would be to hear stories about the event you put together, and realize you missed it all because you were scrubbing dishes or hovering over the stove. Prep as much as you can ahead of time, enlist a few good friends to help when needed, and be sure when your guests arrive you can turn off that to-do list and spend quality time eating and laughing with the people you care about. After all, isn’t that the point?