It’s great to come together for a meal (or wine and cheese and cured meats and fancy olives and dried fruits and artisanal crackers…not that I’m being specific or anything) with friends, but being the host can be stressful.
There ‘s the prep work, the clean up (or faking it), getting everything set up, music selection, of course there are also people to entertain, and then there is the clean up. Yes, it’s a lot, but over the years I’ve watched some stealthy hosts master an event with grace, and I’ve learned some things of my own along the way so I wanted to share ideas with you on how you can throw a legendary party, have fun and not be overburdened with work afterward.
Keeping it Clean
Of course, you want guests to come into a clean space when they arrive. The degree of clean is up to you (and remember, dim lights make everything look cleaner). Spend time sprucing up areas where it will count, such as the powder room, seating area and kitchen, and leave everything else to another day.
While you do this, you might be annoyed because the house is going to get messed up anyway and you’ll just have to clean it again tomorrow – although you wouldn’t have a party in a messy space (by the way, this is also how I feel about cleaning makeup brushes). So because you know guests are going to mess it up anyway, there are a few simple ways to quietly encourage your guests be tidier, and it mostly involves making cleaning tools accessible.
For garbage and recycling, I like to make the bins as obvious and convenient as possible. That way the guest can toss out empty cans or used napkins themselves. I’ll also place one garbage can next to the kitchen sink, that way when someone goes to toss a can or cup they can pour out excess liquid. This will really reduce the weight of your trash (not to mention prevent leaks, eww) and ensure everything is recyclable.
It is essential to provide your guests with *tools* in the bathroom as well. Make sure you have ample toilet paper, fresh hand towels, hand soap and tissues. Additionally, I always make sure there is a plunger in the bathroom. It’s a little awkward to think about, but if you provide a plunger you will avoid the even more awkward situation of a guest dealing with a clogged toilet at your party.
I like to clearly address whether guests should keep their shoes on or take them off. Guests usually don’t mind either way, but they’ll want to know. If you have decided ahead of time you’ll be able to answer quickly and everyone will be on the same page. Removing shoes keeps your place cleaner and it also avoids having one guest in stilettos stepping on the toes of their sock-wearing friend. Set the rules and be clear, and your guests will happily oblige.
My last tidy tip is to have a cleaning station ready to go. I will have a cloth and some stain remover placed somewhere easy to grab in case someone spills their drink (I always hope it doesn’t happen on my white sofa…). If it’s ready to go you can take care of the mess easily, and the clumsy guest won’t feel so bad.
The food at a dinner party can be the most fun part, and the most work. To help with the workload I always make a set menu ahead of time. That way when someone asks if they can bring anything, I can say yes, and look at my menu for something they can contribute. Yes, you’re amazing, but there’s nothing wrong with asking for help at all – people love to contribute!
Having the menu prepared also means I can think about the grocery shopping and cooking schedule way ahead of time, and streamline the process. I try to pick recipes that have a theme so I can use, say, the entire bunch of green onions up across recipes (instead of two tablespoons), that helps avoid food waste when making fun dishes that I don’t have time to make during the week.
Of course, not everyone wants to bring food. Wine is the classic hosting gift to bring to a dinner party, and when people ask me what wine they should bring I always give them a suggestion. If you let them know what you’re cooking and what pairs well with it, your guest will be more confident when they go to pick out a wine. If you have a favorite selection, don’t be shy! Otherwise just stick to the grape you fancy (Pinot Grigio, please!) or the region and color (a white French wine would be perfect!).
If you are serving food you are going to need serving dishes, cutlery, plates, napkins, glasses… There is a lot to worry about. But hosting doesn’t have to break the bank.
I try to cut down on the number of plates I have to provide by asking people to bring any dishes they’re preparing in its serving platter. Less clean up work for later, score!
If I need more serving dishes I will actually go to a thrift or consignment store like Goodwill. I have a friend who scours shelves (mind you, she has a baking YouTube channel so she always needs stuff like this) and she finds GEMS. For peanuts. You won’t win every time, but you can certainly get lucky and find beautiful serving dishes and China that people donate, and not only is it easier on the environment, but it’s also easy on the wallet. You don’t have to go to Crate and Barrel to get your desired look (although it’s really hard to resist)! When I’m at a home store, if I see a deep discount area, I’ll often look there to find these service pieces too, because I like to have stuff on hand but given how infrequently I use them, it’s hard to justify a big spend. Investing in a good set of service pieces can go a long way. And if you’ve got a wedding coming up, definitely register for some. We have been using the stuff we got for our wedding to this day, and it still works! If you don’t want to spend anything, see if you can borrow service pieces from a friend or a neighbor.
For drinks, it’s best to establish a system for identifying glasses. You can get plastic cups with nameplates, create stickers for your guests, or use wine glass charms. Whatever you choose, the idea is to have guests use one glass (or two if they’ve got one for alcohol and one for water). It saves you providing copious amounts of glassware or tossing countless plastic cups. Also, when people drink they tend to forget where they have put their cup (among other things!).
I also make sure water is easily accessible so I don’t have to worry about refilling it for my guests. I have a large beverage dispenser that I fill with water, ice and sliced cucumber or lemon at the beginning on the night. That way my guests can fill their glass with some refreshing water at their leisure. Also, balancing out alcohol with water is a good thing to do, it helps promote responsible consumption and reduce hangovers.
If people offer to help, take it! So often I’ll see people say, ‘just leave it, I’ll do it later’, and then when later eventually comes it’s a lot of work. If a generous friend or family member wants to give back by helping you clean, graciously accept the offer, you’ll be glad you did and it doesn’t make you a less than host.
Having a Little Fun
I do like to pick up one or two fun items before a dinner party. These fun napkins say “I’m afraid if I give up wine, I’ll have to replace it with murder” and they are hilarious. Picking up one or two fun items can be a great way to start conversations, and they don’t need to break the bank. What about fun salt and pepper shakers, cute ice cube trays to make fun ice, a few beautiful flowers cut short and placed in a small glass or jar, a fruit centerpiece or a themed centerpiece for the table? While not necessary, it is a fun thing to do and makes the party extra memorable!
Every dinner party needs music, but being the DJ can be a time suck, I use a streaming service for my music, so that I don’t have to worry about it at all once the party is going. I pull up a jazz or instrumental playlist and just let it go. The party should be about conversation, so I don’t pick anything too distracting (looking at you, 90s hip hop).
I hope these dinner party tips ease the hosting burden, even just a little. Don’t forget to be a good guest too! Keep in mind things like refilling your own glass and throwing away any trash next time you go to a dinner party, so that you’ll always be on the invite list. If you have any tips to add let me know, now get the party started!