8 Tips for Entertaining – Be Prepared and Be You
For the month of November we are focusing on entertaining for the Year of Details challenge! I thought this would be a good topic as the hoidays are approaching and you may very well be acting as a hostess soon. Whether or not you are expecting lots of guests for Christmas dinner or just having friends over for spontaneous drinks, entertaining can be stressful and I think the best way to make it less stressful is to be prepared.
In addition to being prepared, I think we all have to think about who we are and be ourselves when we entertain. Perfection is not the goal. People want to come together to have fun and you are most likely to provide this by being you.
I grew up in the era of Martha Stewart as the ideal “hostess with the mostess.” Because I was so interested in style and design and I love to cook, for many years I felt that I had to go all out and make a fabulous presentation when anyone came over. I had to prepare really special dishes, nothing ordinary being served in my house! Of course I had to have every room perfectly cleaned and decorated. And don’t forget the fresh flowers!
Jeesh, it stresses me out just thinking about this!
It’s important to discover your comfort level for entertaining. If you love to cook and can pull off multi-course meals on the fly, that’s wonderful! If, however, you don’t invite friends over as often as you like because it’s too much to prepare everything, then consider ordering in. Great wine, take-out from your favorite Indian or sushi place, plus a dead easy home-made dessert (or something store-bought!) sounds like a get-together I would love to be invited to. It’s so much better to just do it, even if imperfect, than to put off inviting friends or family over until you have time for perfection.
I have some tips to make entertaining easier. You’ll be prepared and you can just be you. Focus on the few things that resonate with you.
1. Have your favorite recipes up your sleeve. Choosing something new that you’ve never made before every time you have guests over is a recipe for stress. Have a few go-to recipes that are sure to please. I have realized over the years that guests are perfectly happy to be served delicious comfort food; fancy isn’t always necessary. It can be fun to serve food from your home region or country, or your mother’s or grandmother’s signature dish. Living in Germany, I often serve American favorites that aren’t so common here, like Mexican food (ubiquitous in the US yet exotic here), pulled pork or a big pot of chilli with cornbread. These are easy dishes to prepare and provide great dinner conversations.
Another idea is to choose a few new recipes for the season and master them so you’re ready for guests. My dad always did this. He loves to cook and would try out new recipes that he’d seen on the cooking channel. He would make them a number of times for the family so he was comfortable making them and got the ingredients just right. Then when guests came over he would steal the show with a beautifully prepared dish. One goal of mine for this month is to come up with winter recipes that I will have up my sleeve for the coming months.
2. Stock up on guest-worthy snacks. This is something I need to work on. In my ideal world I will have tins of nuts, jars of olives, and packages of crackers and gourmet cookies resting at the ready in my cupboards. When guests spontaneously drop by, I will be all set. The reason why I don’t have this is because I try not to have snacks (like yummy smoked almonds) or sweets lying around because I will inevitably eat them. Or my kids will eat them. My husband will definitely eat them. Those smoked almonds are his kryptonite. I want to come up with a new strategy, maybe creating a “For Guests” cupboards down in the basement. Hidden from my family, so I can stock up and forget about it. Hopefully this won’t just become my hidden stash to snack on when no one else is looking 😉
3. Prettify Store-bought items. If you’re planning a dinner party or brunch don’t feel like you need to make every little thing from scratch. There is no shame is buying already prepared foods, especially dessert. Make them look stylish by serving them in a fun and creative fashion.
4. Signature Drink. This is a great way to be you and create something that gets guests chatting and looking forward to coming to your home. It also means you can have the ingredients on hand and don’t have to think of something new each time. Your signature drink can be anything from gin and tonic, Bellini, Margharita or your favorite bottle of Prosecco. It can be as simple or complicated as you like. A signature drink is often served at the beginning of a get-together, but it could could also be a digestive that you always bring out at the end of the meal. Of course you should have staples on hand as well (wine, water, soft drinks).
5. Music. Background music is essential to create the mood. I have Spotify and I love to look for playlists that fit what I need. I use the playlist Girls Night and Sunday Brunch for exactly those events. Food52 has some great playlists on Spotify for dinner parties and get-togethers (“The Art of the Chill Holiday Party” is one of my favorites). If you don’t have Spotify (or the like) you will have to be more prepared with your own music. I find that jazz is an easy pick when you don’t want the music to take center stage. Ella Fitzgerald could be perfect background music for a dinner party, but don’t forget to be you! Don’t play jazz if you don’t like it.
6. Make your home inviting. Have candles ready and a know where the lighter or matches are. If you use essential oils, I like to use a seasonal blend (like cinnamon, clove and orange this time of year). I have a lot of candles in my home, mostly used for decoration, but there are a few that I use often to create a beautiful smell. My all-time favorite is the Espresso candle from Anthropologie. I always light it if I’ve got guests coming over during the day. Nothing smells more inviting to me than coffee and unfortunately my espresso machine doesn’t do the trick of filling the house with the scent.
7. Good lighting. Nothing spoils the mood like bright overhead lighting. In general you should not be relying solely on overhead lighting, but this is especially important when you have guests. Turn on all the lamps – on the side tables, in the corner, etc. Diffuse soft light around the room to provide atmosphere and set the mood. By all means light some candles and don’t forget to turn the outside lights on to welcome guests.
8. Entertaining Essentials at the ready. Do you have everything you need to set the table and serve your guests? My challenge this month will be to sort out and declutter the things I have and assess if I’m missing anything. Over the years I have collected a large number of serving dishes that desperately need to be culled.
As always with the Year of Details, the point is not to make a shopping list and start buying. If you realize that something would be a useful addition to your home, think about putting it on your holiday wish list. If your mom or sister asks what you’d like for Christmas, tell her you’d really love a set of linen napkins or a serving tray. That will make them extra special.
The following three items are my top essentials for entertaining.
Glasses. Water, wine, cocktails. Think about what you like to serve and if you have enough. If you have a signature drink, make sure you’ve got the right glasses for it. Do you know that you will be hosting 15+ people during the holidays? Do you have everything you need? I bought an inexpensive set of glasses from Maisons du Monde a few ago and they have been one of the best purchases. They have a cut glass look and are perfect for water or a gin and tonic. They came in a set of 12 (available in set of 6 here) so I always have enough and if one were to break, I still have plenty. I also have lots of extra wine glasses from IKEA in a cupboard in the basement that I can pull out if I have a lot of people coming over.
Serving Trays and Bowls. These items add character to your table and are the perfect way to dress up easy cooking or store-bought items. I recently spent a gift certificate I’d gotten for my birthday on a tray and a couple bowls for serving and I’m so glad I did. Not only do they look beautiful but I think of the friends who gave me the gift certificate every time I see them. If you often serve the same things when you have guests (for me, it’s a tray of veggies with hummus) then be sure you have the perfect serving vessel for it. It will be a wise investment as you are sure to use it again and again.
Napkins. I love linen napkins and I finally added them to my home a few months ago. I ordered a set of 4 from an Etsy shop and I was very happy with them, but I didn’t always use them when I had guests because I only had four. I have now ordered six more (in a different color!) so I’ve got a good collection started. I also love to have paper cocktails napkins with funny sayings to serve with appetizers or if I’m hosting a girls night in.
I hope this has given you some food for thought about how you entertain. I will be checking back in with you mid month to talk more about this topic.
Have a great start to November!