I’m pretty new to cooking and entertaining (unless you count putting out drinks and chips in college as entertaining). Entertaining can be daunting, but if you plan ahead it's manageable. If you’re relaxed and having fun, your guests will also enjoy themselves. Now that more people have access to the vaccine, this is the perfect time to safely have your friends over. Today, I’m sharing a few tips and tricks to help you plan and execute the perfect party.
“Keep it simple, stupid.” Ok I’ll admit it: I stole this one from the U.S. Navy, but this design principle can also be applied to entertaining. While it can be tempting to be over the top to impress your guests, the less details you must worry about the better. I like to stick to neutral basics and add in pops of color to fit the theme. Using this formulaic method also allows your linens and china to be reused without your guests noticing. Switch up the flowers, candles, and napkins to keep your table feeling fresh and new. Keeping the table setting simple allows you to focus on the food (which, let’s be real, is what your guests will remember).
2. Now is not the time to be ambitious
The last thing you want to do when expecting guests is to try a new recipe. Stick to the tried-and-true dishes that you feel confident making. This will also help with timing (see Tip #3). I've found that the written time for a dish is usually not accurate and that I need a few extra minutes. Once I’ve tested a recipe, I write down how much time I needed, taking the guesswork out of cooking for next time. You do not want to test drive a new recipe while you’re under a time constraint and expecting company.
3. A calculator is your best friend
Juggling multiple dishes at once is my biggest struggle when cooking. To combat this, I started making schedules to figure out the staging of a meal. I like to start at the end and work backwards. For example, if you want to eat at 7:00, then I work backwards from then to figure out when to take the chicken out to rest, what time it needs to go in the oven, when the potatoes need to start roasting, etc. to be ready by 7:00. I write out every detail of the day ahead of time, from when to start preheating my oven, when to start prepping the salad toppings, even when to light the candles. While it can be tedious to figure out, having a schedule will be invaluable day-of. If you follow your map, assuming you did your math correctly (this is admittedly a struggle for me... math is hard...) your party prep will be seamless and stress-free.
4. Do it ahead
Anything you can prep ahead of time, do so. It will reduce your day-of To Do list and give you some buffer if anything goes wrong. Set your table the day before. Lay out all the serving dishes you need. Arrange any flowers so the blooms have time to fully open. Clean everything. I also like to make my schedule at least one day before the event. I also read over the recipes I’ll need to make sure I have every ingredient and tool on hand. I try to choose dishes that can be made ahead and either reheat, serve chilled, or defrost to serve day-of.
5. Do as little as possible
I usually limit myself to only making 3 dishes. Everything else is store-bought and assembled. If you’re making two sides and an entrée, then buy dessert. Your guests’ level of enjoyment will not increase based on the number of homemade dishes you serve. To quote Ina Garten, “Store-bought is fine.” Remember, a happy host makes happy guests.
Thanks for reading!