Many years ago, when I was a young mom, a friend announced that she was going to a “Hostess Class”. I thought it was the silliest thing I’d ever heard. Being a hostess was easy, wasn’t it? You invite people over and feed them. Done.
Well, it turns out that the older lady who taught the class was full of wisdom that only comes after giving countless parties herself. Her tips were invaluable and my friend and I changed the way we viewed hostessing forever.
As the years have passed and I too have given and attended countless parties (some successful, some not so much!) I’ve come up with my own helpful hints to add to the ones that dear lady taught so many years ago. As we head into this holiday season, I hope you find them as useful as I have:
• ALWAYS stop what you are doing and greet each guest as they arrive. I put this one first because it is perhaps the most important tip of all. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve arrived at a party to find the hostess so busy cooking or cleaning that she neglects her guests. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and I always think, “She did invite us over, didn’t she?” Greeting each guest as they arrive sets the tone for the whole party. Plus, it makes everyone feel loved and welcomed. If you take nothing else away from this blog, please remember this.
• Do as much as you can ahead of time. This goes along with tip #1. If you feel prepared, you are more likely to feel relaxed and ready for guests. Can you set the table the day before? Do it. Can you put out the buffet table early? Do it. Which leads us to, …
• Keep the food simple. A party is not the time to try a complicated new recipe or to attempt an over-the-top menu. There is too big a chance that something will gohorribly wrong, resulting in a hostess melt-down. Some of my best parties were the ones where we ordered pizza or bought food trays from Costco.
• Have your house tidy but not sterile. I like to start parties with a “clean” house. It is calmer for me and for my guests if there isn’t a lot of clutter. But, that doesn’t mean you have to steam-clean every surface. The goal is picked up not sterile!
• And, then let it get messy. Once the guests arrive, relax and enjoy the party. I had a friend who loved giving parties but then spent the entire party cleaning up after us. It was sad and disconcerting and we never stayed long.
• Let your guests pitch in. Pretty much all my parties are potlucks now. It’s so much fun to sample other people’s cooking. I used to worry about a balanced menu. I don’t anymore. We just throw it all on the table and enjoy the medley of food. Likewise, put early arriving guests to work.Some of my favorite moments have come from impromptu cooking sessions when someone arrived before the rest of the guests.
• Be ready with ice breakers. If you’re having a party where the guests don’t all know each other, have some ways to get the party started. Take a silly group picture. Introduce people along with things they have in common: “This is Bill, he also loves photography.” Even silly games can serve to warm things up. I also try and have interesting books or old photo albums set out as conversation starters.
• Set up serve-yourself food and drink stations. Nothing makes your company feel more at home than being able to serve themselves. I try and have bowls of snacks in more than one room so people can mingle and wander from room to room.
• Make use of every room. You don’t need a big house to entertain. I often fill my laundry room sink with ice and beverages and use the tops of my washer and dryer to set out glasses, etc. I have also used my garage as an extra party room by moving the cars and setting up tables and chairs. By thinking out of the box, any home is big enough for a party.
• Say goodbye. Whenever possible, I try and walk each departing guest to their car and thank them for coming. This gives me an opportunity for some one-on-one time and allows me to let them know how much it meant to me that they came.
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to make your celebrations more enjoyable for you and for your guests. And, remember: “A relaxed hostess means a relaxed party”.