I’ve written about how to be a good dinner party guest, but knowing how to be a good host (I’m using that term for both gentlemen and ladies) is just as important. The host sets the tone for the evening – and if they’re frazzled, stressed or overworked it’s hard for anyone else to relax and enjoy themselves. So without further ado, here are my stress-free tips to throwing a smashing soirée:
1. Invite people you like
Every etiquette expert will give you different advice on how to make a guest list. The only advice I can give you is to invite people you like. Obviously, if you want a laid-back evening, don’t invite a Tea Partier and a Democrat to the same gathering – but if you enjoy spirited discussions (that one may become a bit too spirited, especially as more spirits are imbibed), go ahead! I like to keep the list thought-out, but simple; interesting, but simple.
Sometimes you have to entertain people you don’t like – maybe you don’t love your new boss but are obligated to invite him or her to dinner – but c’est la vie. There are few unpleasantries good drinks and great food and a great big smile can’t remedy.
2. Invite early
You should send invitations a few weeks in advance – this gives people time to clear their schedules. Send by snail mail if it’s formal or email if you must. Asking people in person or over the phone puts them on the spot. Also, while it’s tempting for the sake of convenience, mass texts are a definite no-no.
This is also a good time to ask people if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions (or if they just hate broccoli). The purpose of a party, after all, is to entertain your guests, not offend them.
3. Buffalo wings or beef Wellington?
Let everyone know on the invitations what kind of party it will be. Casual or formal? Black tie or no tie? Buffalo wings or beef Wellington? Everyone will enjoy themselves more if they know what to expect. I also try to dress one notch down from what I’ve told my guests so that everyone feels good about the way they are dressed and if anyone didn’t dress up, they don’t feel as out of place.
4. Make your guests feel at home – right away
Have drinks and hors d’oeuvres ready when your guests walk in the door. It is no secret that a good stiff drink relaxes everyone quickly and guarantees that the party starts off right. However, always make sure you have specialty non-alcoholic selections available for your teetotaling friends, don’t make them feel like an afterthought. Making guests feel at home also includes the decor! Soft lighting and candles (not too strongly scented) create a homey, welcoming ambience.
Flowers: They bring life into any space. As you can guess, I could go on and on about flower arrangements, but here are the two most important pieces of advice: don’t get overly fragrant flowers that will compete with the aroma of your delicious food, and if you are not a professional florist, hire one.
5. Cook what you know
If your culinary experience is limited to boiling pasta, this is no time to attempt rosewater and chili soufflé. Your guests will be much happier with simple, well-made comfort food than badly executed flights of fancy – and you’ll be more relaxed, which will put everyone in a better mood – and better health the next morning… (However if soufflé is your thing, by all means, go for it!).
6. Be thankful
At the end of the night, make sure to thank every guest for coming! Then sit back and congratulate yourself on throwing a delightful party. Oh, and I won’t tell anyone if you leave the dishes ‘til morning.
The secret ingredient: A good party is all about planning, confidence and consideration for your guests.