Since the age of five or so, I’ve loved the idea of hosting people in my home. Around age six, my dad built a play house in our backyard. He let me decorate it all myself. Side note, at the time I thought a handprint animal wall was all the rage, but that aside, I’m pretty certain I was the only first grader in my class keeping a “favorite recipes” binder and cutting pictures out of Martha living to inspire the decor in my new digs. My parents and friends can vouch for countless events, dinners, teas or otherwise that I insisted on hosting long before I even knew what the word hostess meant. I’ve just always loved to make and share with people.
I suppose I’ve had a bit more formal experience since then but all this to say, I know the hard work that goes into organizing, planning, and prepping for a party. I know better than anyone that it’s easy to overlook some big, blaring, blatant “oh no no’s” when you’re neck deep in the details of decor or dark land of Pinterest. ANYWAYS, to make sure your next shin-dig goes off without a hitch, I’m highlighting the 10 ways to ensure your party is filled only with good food, great company, and one HECK OF A (totally chill, fab, effortless, smokin’, #blessed, ) HOST.
Ok, so I can’t actually promise all of that but keep scrolling and you can read ten ways I’ve totally tanked parties that way you’ll certainly have a better shot at it.
1. Jumping from dump cake to creme brûlée on D-Day.
It’s only natural to want to impress your guests. But remember, complicated doesn’t always mean better. If you’ve never made Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin, might I suggest that now is not the time to gamble on your skills. I once attempted personal pan grill pizzas and while that doesn’t sound too complicated, I’d never made them before and just figured “I’ve homemade pizza 100 times in every variety, I’ve got this”. Let me first tell you how many times I’d operated a grill in my life, uh zero. BUT I’d seen barefoot contessa do it so… It ended badly with no pizza, bloodshot eyes, melting makeup, singed hair and me laying face down on the kitchen floor. We ordered take out. It was far from chill, fab or effortless.
2. Being afraid to “Make Ahead”.
Let me tell you something. Leisurely food made ahead of time tastes way better than food you attempted to make “fresh” and rush through as guests arrive and crowd you in your mess laden kitchen while you juggle five other dishes and attempt to do something with your hair. As the child of a champion Thanksgiving host, I’ve learned a few things from observation and sous chef labor on turkey day. Anything and everything that can be, should be washed prepped, chopped, marinated, brined and combined ahead of time. You should actually enjoy yourself, your company and your food.
3. Failing to read instructions.
Ok so you’ve made this thing 100 times do you really need to dig the recipe out? Oh, I’ll share. My Grandpa’s hand’s down favorite dessert was classic cheesecake. So, for his birthday I promised him one. Our whole family was staying at a cabin in Lake Tahoe and the hype was set for an incredible dessert. There was talk of it all week. I knew had to double the recipe to make enough for everyone. I bought all the ingredients and whipped it all together. Recipe in my head, no prob. I was so confident, I didn’t even taste the custard. I’ve done this 100 times, remember? Right. I water bathed and baked it, covered it in fresh strawberries and a sprig of fresh basil. It looked beautiful. We sang, he blew out the candles, and everybody watched wide eyed in anticipation as he sliced it. Needless to say, the reaction was less than stellar. I’ll never forget that bite. Way bigger than it should have been. I forgot the sugar. Completely. Lesson learned and ingrained. Guests or not, I never make anything without the recipe in front of me. Even when it’s a recipe I’ve written myself and plan to switch it up or try something different, I keep it in front of me for good measure because, uh, sugarless cheesecake is hard to forget.
4. Worrying too much about everyone’s dietary restrictions.
So, you want everyone to be happy. I get that. But asking for dietary restrictions is like inviting criticism to the table as a guest. Grown ups fairly are used to figuring it out, usually. Definitely do not make everything gluten free, vegan and raw in an attempt to make everyone happy. No one will be. Just be sure to have a couple options that are suitable for everyone. If protest-happy college student on the end of the table wants to chow down on vegetable sides and apps and skip on the flank steak, cool. Everyone still goes home with a full tummy.
5. Assuming the trend that everyone can just sit wherever.
If you’re barbecuing at the beach, yea pass on the place cards. But otherwise the rule is eight or more, need some directions. Place settings allow conversation to flow effortlessly in large crowds so no one feels left out. It doesn’t have to feel formal unless you want it to. In my experience, place cards themselves do not scream wedding or Downton Abbey on their own. Having a place to sit and relax actually makes people feel cared about.
6. Inviting a bunch of friends from completely unrelated circles.
I really want to introduce all my favorite people to each other too, but seriously, fast track to potentially the most drab and awkward night of your life. No matter how good your food is or how pretty the table looks, nothing makes a party better than hanging out with all your favorite people. The same goes for your guests. If you’re the only thing your friends have in common, they won’t be able to relax and looking to you to entertain them rather than entertaining each other.
7. Not having a playlist.
I have all sorts of playlists. I’ll tell you why, nothing kills the vibe during dinner with your in-laws the way “Hot In Here” does. Enough said. Well actually, I think my parents would get into that but that’s a totally separate and second reason to have a prepared playlist. Ina Garten says to start the event with happy, upbeat music and dwindle down to slow relaxing music as guests are leaving. But I think every group is different and usually I prefer happy, upbeat music I can dance to every now and then and I don’t want it to ever stop. You do you, but here are some Pandora Stations to try: Dinner Party Jams, Hipster Bbq, Vance Morrison, Today’s Country, or Hall & Oats radio.
8. Not having appetizers.
Having a little something for people to snack on when they arrive is the absolute key to dinner party success in my opinion. My friends are rather impatient in the food department. The best thing to do is have some stuff people can snack on. The less pressure, the better. If you don’t feel like cooking this round, don’t. Costco, Trader Joe’s and Bev Mo are my besties for great appetizers.
9. Not accepting help.
People love to help. It’s awesome. AND it’s my secret weapon to great gatherings. Delegate as much as you can. No brainers are things like drinks and salads. But, you can even as a friend or a couple friends to be in charge of the place settings and the table so you can just focus on the food. I hope it’s cool to admit, but I keep tabs on my friends’ specialties, that way I don’t make them uncomfortable by asking them to bring something they’ve never made. In my world, it’s a total compliment when someone asks me to bring a certain dish they remember eating at my house or bring flower arrangements for the table.
1o. Being too flippin’ serious.
I’m not Martha Stewart, and neither are you. Wait, Martha if that actually is you… no stop. My point is, neither of us are professionals at this and that’s the beauty of it. Sometimes the most memorable nights are the ones where the smoke alarms go off, the fire truck shows up on the front driveway and you have to explain why your super weird morning pump up music is blasting in the background. Only to realize your food is still burning in the oven and you didn’t have time to make appetizers because work ran late so there’s nothing to serve your guests; who don’t seem to have anything in common and are waiting patiently at the table for you to entertain them. Guess what? In a weird way, you kinda nailed it. Your friends will never forget this night and depending on how you play it off, it has the potential to be the most fun and memorable dinner party of your life. If worst does come to worst, call up your favorite chinese take out place, bust out extra wine, throw a freezer pizza in the oven as an appetizer, turn up spice girls and just work it girl.