Hosting is a skill that does not come innately to me. Some elements do: I love making and sharing food, and I love making our friends and family feel welcome and comfortable. But:
Big groups of people (even those people I love) can make me anxious. I have a tendency to overdo it and stress myself out. And I hate cleaning.
In past years, I have driven myself crazy worrying about portion sizes and decorations and perfecting every element of the night. I barely remember some parties, not because I had too much to drink, but because my mind didn’t stop racing the entire time we had guests.
Hard lessons I have learned while guests are in my house: recipes can’t always be doubled, turning all four burners on is a good way to make the kitchen feel like a sauna, the fire alarm will go off if the oven is at a temp above 375, and I don’t love cooking in front of a bunch of people.
After a lot of trial and error, I think that I’ve cracked my personal code to a party that feels fun to me and also special for guests:
1. Prep ahead as much as possible. 2. Decorations are nice, but not necessary. 3. KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. 4. Do the dishes in the morning.
Prep everything ahead of time.
I once was in line at one of those omelette stations at a hotel breakfast buffet, and I heard a woman say that she wanted to do this at her next “breakfast party.” I took “this” to mean: she wants to make made-to-order omelettes for her family and guests.
THIS IS INSANE. Omelettes have to be made individually. Omelettes are finicky. Omelettes have to be eaten at a very specific temperature.
When guests are coming into your home, and those guests aren’t your very closest friends, do not do this to yourself. Don’t make something that has to be customized to each guest.
Don’t make EGGS, a food that lots of people are picky about and that need to be served at a very specific temperature. Scrambled eggs, for example, are SUPER easy to make, even in a big batch. But I love my eggs soft-scrambled (like this), which many people interpret as underdone. Unless you know that your guests like eggs this way, do not do it!!!! I have had a guest ask to put the eggs I made her in the microwave because they were too underdone to her liking. 😂
A better recipe for a successful gathering: make as much as you can ahead of time. This is extra-important in the summer. Unless I want to be a sweaty mess and heat up our entire family room-kitchen-dining room, the oven needs to be off when guests are over.
If you’ve prepped ahead of time, all you need to do as guests are arriving is freshen your cocktail and fix your lipstick.
The best prep-ahead summer menu: chicken sausages with romesco sauce and grilled peppers on buns, pasta salad, and green bean salad. Cookies for dessert. I made the pasta salad, green bean salad, romesco, and cookies earlier in the day, grilled the peppers when I knew our guests were on the way, and threw the sausages on once they arrived and we were chatting. Perfect, summery, and literally zero stress.
When you prep the meal ahead of time, and pick dishes that work well when prepped ahead of time, you save yourself so much stress. Picking a time-sensitive dish means that you’ll be anxious and cooking at the last minute. Summer is an awesome time to practice this, as so many summer dishes taste great room-temp or chilled.
And, in the winter, just make chili. Everyone loves it, you can prep lots of toppings to make it feel fun, and it can be (and maybe even should be) made the day before.
Decorations are nice, but not necessary
I will never be a Pinterest host. I love making the house look nice, but I will never voluntarily do a craft. Never. Things I will do: clean the bathroom and light a candle. Make sure dirty laundry isn’t strewn about the house. Sweep the hardwood floors. Um… that’s it? Maybe, if I remember, I’ll get some flowers from the grocery store. But usually not.
No one cares! People just want to chat with you! If people are annoyed that you didn’t use a calligraphy pen to make individual seating cards, you don’t need those people!
If crafting feels fun to you, more power to ya! But I would rather spend time on the food, something that I’m good at. I hate crafts — always have, always will — and I don’t need to pretend otherwise.
If there is decor at one of my parties, it is likely 1.) recycled from another party, 2.) purchased from the Dollar Spot at Target, 3.) made by someone else.
Being a Pinterest wife isn’t necessary. It’ll drive you nuts, so just don’t DO IT! It’s all a conspiracy by the owners of Michael’s, anyway. 😜
Keep it siiiiiiiiimple.
Parties are not the time to try a dish you’ve never made before. If you’ve never roasted a whole chicken before, save that for a lazy day at home with your family. If you’ve never made mac and cheese from scratch, don’t try to make your first bechamel sauce while guests are walking in the door.
Make something tried-and-true, something that you can make without a recipe, or at least something where the recipe card is faded and spattered. Make something homey and simple, food that everyone loves.
Because here’s the secret: any woman who eats dinner at your house is just SO thankful that she didn’t have to make dinner. She doesn’t really care what you made.
Another secret, courtesy of the best-ever Julia Child: NEVER APOLOGIZE. If the chicken is a little dry, or the sauce turned out under-seasoned, do not apologize. Throw some BBQ sauce on the table or pass the salt. It’s not a big deal.
The simplest, most delicious dinner: a cheese and meat board, with salad on the side plus dessert. Add hummus and nuts for those vegans. Maybe slice some summer tomatoes and drizzle them with balsamic. People LOVE this, and it couldn’t be easier. Just a lot of slicing.
Do the dishes in the morning.
Enjoy your guests. Don’t fret about interrupting conversation to get the dishes done. My typical go-to: put the food away, and sneak another bite of dessert. AND THEN GO TO BED. Maybe I’ll rinse some dishes that will be super-annoying and crusty in the morning, but maybe I won’t.
Maybe you like winding down after guests leave by cleaning. I don’t. I want to take my makeup off and go to bed. This is permission for you to do the same!
At Grant’s birthday party last weekend, I implemented all of these strategies. The menu: two dips, chips and salsa, cupcakes, sangria. The decor: nothing.
Prep ahead of time: I made the dips early in the day (the romesco I’ll be making all summer from this cookbook and our favorite buffalo dip), sliced celery, and made these AMAZING vegan lemon cupcakes. About two hours before guests were due to arrive, I made the sangria: three bottles sauvignon blanc (from Aldi! $10/bottle), 20 ounces of brandy, two pounds sliced strawberries, three sliced and seeded lemons. All of those elements soaked together until guests were almost to our house, and then I added five cans of La Croix. The sauv blanc I used had passionfruit flavors, so I added passionfruit La Croix! This is totally flexible, obviously.
Take it easy on the decor: I didn’t decorate at all. G and his friends worked overtime on Friday evening to cut the grass and do a bunch of other cool yard stuff. I picked this playlist from Spotify and pressed PLAY. I also lit a couple citronella candles. G set up yard games and our outdoor movie screen.
Keep it simple: Grant initially wanted to do a full BBQ dinner. But I didn’t want to. It’s way more work, way more expensive, and I just wasn’t feeling it. Yes, potlucking can keep the costs down, but that is way less feasible when food allergies are involved. So I did snacks and sangria and birthday cake, and people brought their own drinks if they wanted something different. It was super-easy and perfect.
Do the dishes in the morning: This is the best part. My dear Lindsey and her boyfriend were the last guests, and she loves to do dishes when she’s been drinking. So she washed everything, like a true saint!
What are your best party tips for low-stress entertaining?
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