There is something about a shift in the weather that gets me in the mood for pulling together a great group of friends. I live where there are 4 distinct seasons, so every few months there is enough of a shift that my cooking and entertaining style change pretty dramatically. This past weekend has brought cooler temperatures, lower humidity, and a less fierce sun, so my mind immediately went to fall cooking, football, and hanging out on the deck with friends. But, regardless of the season, there are a few practical tips I’ve picked up through many mishaps over the years that make entertaining fun and stress-free for both guests and hosts.
Let’s take a look.
First, the plan. While I am a natural planner, this doesn’t have to be a full stop plan complete with times, tasks, risks and mitigations. A simple well thought out guide to your event will make the get-together pleasant for everyone. A few things to include or think about: the timing (morning, afternoon, evening); duration; style and tone (formal, informal, small gathering, intimate, etc.); purpose (festive, celebratory, just because). Depending on the event, I may start my preparation tasks a few days prior to the event, and create a plan that takes me all the way to setting out the food. Include to-dos such as grocery shopping, cleaning, table setting, and food prep. A simple plan will help you easily pull together a successful event.
Second, the guestlist. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a wide variety of friends and family, some of which mix well, and some of which don’t. The purpose and tone of the event dictates the guests I invite. While I love to grow my mind and challenge my natural thought patterns, I’m not necessarily looking to do that during an intimate dinner party with two other couples over Tuscan Lemon Chicken. In other words, invite guests that complement the tone of the event. An intimate evening likely requires that your guests have some common ground, or it could be awkward for everyone (think uncomfortable political conversations). In contrast, a big celebratory party is often less restrictive.
Third, the menu. You have the logistics and guest list figured out, now it’s time to figure out the menu. Keep it simple. Elegant or informal, the menu doesn’t haven’t to be stuffy and fussy. Having friends and family over is already an intimate gesture. Choose a menu that is easy to execute, uses basic ingredients, and doesn’t require you to take a week off of work to prepare. There is nothing more stressful in menu planning than hunting down some obscure ingredient. Peruse your cookbooks and read recipes finding those that you can easily pull together. Include items that can be made ahead keeping the day of the event less stressful. The goal here is good, simple food. I have my go-to chefs whose recipes I know will come out successful, and please the most discriminating crowd.
Fourth, timing and execution. I’ve heard timing is everything, and when it comes to entertaining, it’s true. Timing goes hand in hand with menu planning. I’ve done myself some serious injustice not considering timing. I don’t have a chef’s kitchen with multiple ovens so choosing a menu that will work in my kitchen is important. Don’t pick multiple menu items that require the oven on different temperatures for different lengths of time if you only have 1 oven. Talk about stressful! Remember, there is usually a flurry of activity pulling the meal together. Take that into account when you decide on your menu. When I build my plan, I will often have my cookbooks beside me, and build my menu at the same time. That way, I can look at cooking times, and think through the execution of pulling together the meal while visiting with guests. As a host, I want to enjoy the event as well. If I have chosen a fussy menu, I am stuck in the kitchen stressed out and fretting.
Fifth, include guests. I used to believe that hosting an event meant doing everything, and doing it perfectly (big sigh). Thankfully, I’ve moved on from that belief. Include guests in pulling an event together. I am never shy about taking a guest up on an offer to help, or asking for help if I need it. I’ve never felt the least bit of resentment, and usually guests feel a sense of relief at being asked to help. I’ve been to dinner parties where the host is frantic, and won’t ask for help, or accept help. It is awkward and very uncomfortable. If you need help, ask for it.
Sixth, have fun. This goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway. Have fun. Enjoy your friends and family. Afterall, that’s the point of a gathering.
Bringing It All Together
Take time to plan out your event, and keep it simple. Use recipes and ingredients that match your comfort level, and don’t be shy about asking guests for help. Great food and great company make any gathering something to remember.