The holiday season is upon us, and that typically brings opportunities for entertaining friends and family in our homes, as well as being invited to other’s gatherings. I know for my husband and I, one of the things we missed most during the pandemic was getting together with others in a social setting. As our lives resume to some semblance of normalcy, the holidays are a great time to start resuming social gatherings.
Tip 1- Prepare in advance. Nothing creates stress more than being unprepared. Trust me, I know this firsthand! The best way to be a guest at your own gathering is to have the house cleaned and food purchased a few days ahead of the party. Prepare as many of the food items ahead and have them staged in the refrigerator or pantry. The same goes for the beverage station, charcuterie boards, and dessert bar. Many of these tasks can be done well ahead of the party and can be placed out just before guests arrive. As for cleaning, most people will only notice if your kitchen and guest bathroom aren’t tidy. Spiff those rooms up, and don’t worry about the rest. Cleaning and shopping a day or two in advance are a great start in allowing you to be a guest at your own party.
Tip 2 – Use some pre-made items. In this day and age, there are so many wonderful pre-made options out there, it is almost impossible to make it any better from scratch. I find this especially true of dips and desserts. Just transfer the items into a beautiful serving platter or bowl, and if someone asks for the recipe, just smile and say “Costco.” The point of entertaining is not to dazzle your guests with your culinary abilities, but rather to have a time of fellowship and fun. If using pre-made items will help you be a more relaxed hostess, that is the way you should go for at least part of the food.
Tip 3 – Do your part to make the gathering fun and memorable. One of the best ways to inject some fun into your gatherings is to make them fun or memorable in some way. At a dinner party we had a few years ago, I put out some “conversation starter” cards on the back of the place cards. Questions ranged from a favorite travel locale to a famous person they would want to spend the day with. Even with people you have known for years, this is a great idea for two reasons. First, you will learn something new about your friends and/or family by their answers, and second, it gives everyone at the table a turn to play and join in the conversation. I promise that having some sort of simple game or conversation starter will not only end up making your event memorable, but you will feel like a guest at your own party as you listen to some of the interesting and hilarious answers!
Tip 4 – Allow your guests to be autonomous. In other words, rather than waiting on your guests, have entertaining supplies out and available for them to self-serve. Set up a beverage bar on a side table in the living room, with ice and alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. As guests arrive, direct them to the beverage station and encourage them to help themselves. The same goes for appetizers and desserts. The popularity of charcuterie and grazing boards have made them such a beautiful and easy way for guests to help themselves, they provide the perfect opportunity for you to relax and enjoy your guests.
Tip 5 – Know when to ask for, and accept, help. Throwing a party or entertaining others doesn’t need to be a one-man band. Asking for help can be as easy as paying a grandchild or neighborhood teen to answer the door and take coats. It can also include allowing someone to bring a portion of the food. My middle daughter makes charcuterie boards that could be featured in Food Digest. Knowing this, I will purchase the items and then have her put them together. Not only does this free up my time, but the end result is much better than what I could achieve on my own. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and asking for help can go a long way to allowing you to be a guest at your own party.
Tip 6 – Be relaxed. The best hostesses are relaxed hostesses, and sometimes that just comes with practice. In my younger years, I would spend hours cleaning and cooking to prepare for guests. It was exhausting, and by the time everyone arrived, I probably looked a little haggard:) In those early days of learning how to entertain, I was making the party more about me than my guests, whereas today, it is just the opposite. I don’t know if this is due to all of the wisdom I’ve gained at my old age or that I’ve lowered my standards, but these days when we entertain, I am not out to impress anyone, I am just excited to spend time with our family and friends.
Obviously, the list of ways to be a guest at your own party could go on and on. Hopefully, some of these suggestions will kick-start the process for you and give you some ideas on how to be the relaxed hostess you’ve always wanted to be. When done right, rather than being exhausted as the last guest leaves, you’ll be saying “oh, that was so much fun!”