As a chef, I love to entertain in our home--especially around the holidays when the house is decorated and we want to spend time with our family and friends.
As part of my schooling, we were taught how to entertain as part of our hospitality training. We learned to plan and pull off magnificent events without a drop of sweat.
You don't need to go to culinary school to learn the same skills. Go ahead and set the date--you'll be prepared! Just follow my tips below for a well-planned event, and you'll still be smiling at the end of the night while saying (and believing), "Well, that was fun. Let's do it again next year."
Make a party plan!
Decide what kind of party you want to host.
Whether you mail or email an invitation is up to you, but be sure to share the following information:
- Brunch: Brunch recipes are generally easy and the parties last 2-3 hours. From a budget standpoint, this is the best choice. (If you are not a morning person, don't select this one!) Have some fun with the invitation by suggesting to your guests to wear pajamas to the party.
- Open House: Finger foods and small plates are the norm, with the event lasting 3-5 hours. These types of parties are nice for the guests because they feel that quick visit is OK. It's not as nice for the host, who has to keep the food hot and ready for longer. Generally when having an open house people tend to invite large numbers of guests and do not request an R.S.V.P.
- Cocktail Party: What fun! Except when you have those guests who won't leave at the very end of the night. All my friends know my signal for when I'm ready for the night to be over--I put on my pajamas! I really do that, but you don't have to.
Write the end time on the invitation so guests have an idea of how long you expect them to stay. These types of parties can actually be the most expensive since small bites of food are served. Don't be afraid to ask guests to BYOB, but provide plenty of low-calorie, non-alcoholic options. (Try these 10 cocktails under 150 calories.)
- Sit Down Dinner: This is actually my favorite. Invite only the amount of people you can comfortably sit at your table. What you end up with is a great mix of your favorite friends or family and a chance to really catch up.
- The occasion for the party
- Day and date
- Start and end time (if you prefer the latter). Don't forget to specify A.M. if you're having a brunch
- Location, with directions for parking
- Attire, especially if the event will be outside
Choose a low-maintenance menu. This is so important, especially if you are new to cooking.
Set a stress-free party mood by creating a flow with the food.
- Look for items at your market that can help you along the way. Rotisserie chicken is a perfect example. Shred it for small appetizers or use as the center of the plate for a sit-down dinner.
- Create a theme for your menu. Food choices are endless but by narrowing it down with a theme you will get organized much faster.
- Purchase prepared back-up food that can be utilized as a meal for your family the day after the party if there's any left over. Veggie trays, hummus or dips, bagels with assorted vegetable spreads, or premade salads are perfect examples.
- Allow 4-6 small-bite servings of food per person as appetizers if serving a meal.
- Allow 7-8 small-bite servings of food per person if not serving a meal.
- Allow 2-3 beverages per person. Make sure you have plenty of flavored and plain water available. Create low calorie seltzer beverages with sliced fruit, berries, or pomegranate arils.
- Don't put all the food in one room or at one table. Create movement with the food. Utilize end tables, coffee tables, and bar area.
- Don't feel like you have to put all the same kinds of food in the same room. Spread around the sweets and make sure whenever you have a sweet dish something healthy is close by for those guests trying to stay on track.
Create a traffic flow with your guests.
- Make sure someone is assigned to greet guests as they arrive. Give hugs, take coats, and offer a beverage. Inform guests where you are putting their coats just in case they need to leave in hurry and you are tied up helping other guests. Introduce them to someone, then excuse yourself to take care of final preparations, if need be. They will feel welcomed from the moment they step in the door.
- Don't put bar stools or chairs in front of food areas. Guests will cop a spot and never mingle. It won't help anyone stay on track!
Get Friends and Family Involved
The VonTrapp family showed us years ago that entertainment is key to a successful party as the children performed for the guests. My three boys lined up on the staircase singing would bring an early end to any party. But you might want to display some of your kids art work or enlist your kids to pass small trays of food or handle the coat check.
Make a "can I help basket" of to-do items for close friends or family. Everyone wants to help but sometimes trying to figure out a simple task in the height of the party is stressful. Make a list of helpful ideas and print them off into small strips of paper. Some of the jobs:
- Make one pass around the food tables and report back on any needed refills
- Make one pass around the food tables with a small serving tray and pick up any used glasses or plates
- Refill ice bucket if needed
- Make a quick pass at the bar for and used bottles that can be placed in the recycle area
- Help refill any cut citrus needed for the bar
- Make one pass around the party with a small tray of flavored water
Enjoy these helpful hints and remember your friends and family want to come to your party to spend time with you and enjoy your friendship.
What kind of parties do you prefer to host?
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