So many people fear entertaining a guest list greater than two, but with these 7 invaluable tips, entertaining like an expert is something you ARE capable of, I promise. It’s much easier than you think, too. They key is in the prep work and the magic is in the detail. I’m going to share with you tips to making entertaining small and large parties as simple as buttering bread. Follow these tips exactly as I suggest and then sit back and enjoy your party.
Determine Your Guest List
Set the date of your party, communicate with your guests via a formal or informal invitation, and ask that your guests reply with an RSVP at least two weeks before your party. This will allow you plenty of time to evaluate the amount of money you choose to spend that night and plan the menu accordingly. Impromptu parties, however, are some of my favorite. If you don’t have two weeks to spare, then you’ll just have less time to think about this step.
Set Your Budget
You can better determine your party budget once you know how many you’ll be serving. If you’re serving a large crowd on a tight budget consider foods that don’t kill you at the cash register. Here are a few ways you can stretch your dollars serving the masses without compromising the quality and style of your event:
1) Consider a menu that is easy on the pocket book, like this slow cooker shredded BBQ Beef sandwich recipe by Taste of Home, my Mexican Carnitas, Rachel Ray’s Buffalo Chicken Hoagies, Chicken Florentine by Paula Dean, or the Pioneer Woman’s delicious Hawaiian burgers.
2) Ask guests to bring a bottle to share.
3) Ask guests to bring a side dish/ or dessert.
4) Save money on decoration and use the local florals and greens from around your yard to create a beautiful centerpiece.
I don’t typically ask guests to help with appetizers for two reasons: 1) If you leave appetizers up to your guests you lose the ability to “set the stage” for the party. You want to be able to have appetizers in place so that the party starts off looking and feeling right! 2) If the guests you’ve assigned to bring an appetizer show up late then the guests who show up on time are stuck with nothing to munch on.
This is by far the most important tip here! Without a plan in place your party is guaranteed to be a disaster. The best way to entertain large and small parties with the least amount of stress is to create a make-ahead menu. This will free up your time right before the party and during the party. The last thing you want to do is become a slave to your kitchen while your guests are just sitting there. I created an entire easy make-ahead Mexican fiesta dinner. Click here and here for the 2 part Mexican food themed menu. For the budget-friendly recipes listed above under step two you can prepare most everything in advance. For the Hawaiian hamburgers you can prepare the condiments and toppings bar in advance, make the meat patties ahead of time and grill them at the last minute.
Homemade French Fries:
To make inexpensive but oh-so-yummy homemade French fries I simply cut my potatoes in wedges and toss them in a little olive oil, garlic salt, paprika, garlic powder, chili powder and onion powder. Then I bake at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes depending on how crispy you like them.
When creating a menu you will need to come up with 1-3 appetizers, your main entree, 2-4 side dishes and a dessert. DON’T feel obligated to make everything from scratch. If you have a favorite side dish that you order at a restaurant, like a homemade Mac-n-cheese, consider ordering it in for your party. Head to your local Mexican restaurant for salsa and chips. Check out my easy meat and cheese tray. For an easy and delicious appetizer, serve your guests these super yummy cooked Bacon & Tabasco Buttered Oysters below. To save you the hassle and time have your grocery store suck them for you. Make things as easy as possible on yourself, while still serving fabulous food to your guests.
More Inexpensive Menu Ideas
As far as your main entree goes, think of items that can be pre-assembled the day before or morning of your party. My Eggplant Parmesan is a huge crowd pleaser and it is one of my favorites because I assemble it in the morning (sometimes even the day before) and pop it in the oven an hour or so before serving. It’s also an inexpensive main meal. I’ve been receiving the best feedback on my Chicken French recipe here. You can prepare a few loaves of my Crazy Simple Homemade Bread the night before. Pop them in the oven an hour before guests arrive and fill the house with the most decisions smell of fresh bread.
Create a Fail-Proof Timeline
I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this, but my very first career was as an elementary school teacher. I’ve created many lesson plans in my day. Lesson plans are detailed times lines of exactly how a teacher’s day is planned, down to the minute. “Lesson planning” for a party (large or small) requires detailed planning of your time. Determine how long it will take to make and assemble each item, along with how long it will take to get ready (and then some) for your event and work backwards in creating your timeline. If your guests are arriving at 6:00 and you need an hour to get ready, then you need to be done in the kitchen no later than 4:45.
WRITE DOWN your timeline so that you can refer to it along the way and check things off as you go.
Clean up Before They Show Up
ALWAYS plan extra time for 2 important parts to preparing for the night: 1) plating & displaying your food and 2) kitchen clean-up. The last thing you want is for your sink to be full of dishes and your counter to be sprinkled with crumbs as your guests come strolling in. Greeting your guests with a clean home, sparkling clean counters, and perfectly plated appetizers sets the mood for a fabulous night. Not to mention…it looks like you have your sh#% together! If your not ready for your guests you’ll make them feel bad for showing up on time. Nervous energy creates nervous energy! Believe me…I’ve been here plenty of times. I still get it wrong every now and then and when it happens I kick myself for not properly planning my time. Get your crazy on BEFORE your guests arrive so you can decompress with them once they get there.
Basic Bar Prep
Establish where your bar will be located. This should be an area that is easy to access and allows for a good flow of traffic. Set out enough beverage glasses (wine glasses, champagne flutes and rocks glasses are pretty basic). Some drinks require ice, so set out an ice bucket with an ice scoop or tongs. Set up a beverage bucket filled with ice to keep your white wine, champagne and bottled water cold. Pull out your wine opener for guests to access on their own. If your beverages call for garnish, pre-slice a few lemons and limes. If you want to go with an elaborate bar set up check out my Blood Mary Bar post here. Create a signature drink for a little fun flare. On a sheet of paper, print the name of your signature drink, list the ingredients and frame it. For the recipe of my easy Lemonade Surprise check out my post on my Summer-Ready Front Porch.
Here is the recipe to my amazing Spicy Cucumber Margaritas!
Set the Table
If your serving food buffet-style determine well in advance which trays, bowls and platters you’ll be using. Decorate your table with these items in place a whole day in advance to determine what your table will look like during your event. Label each platter with a sticky note reminding you of what food item goes where. Determine where your floral arrangement will go. Plates should be placed at the beginning of your buffet table and flatware and napkins can be at the beginning or end of the table. Make sure all of your dishes have serving utensils. Preparing for this the day before the party prevents you from running around, looking like a nut, all while your guests stand patiently at the buffet table staring at you (I’ve been there before…).
Formal & Informal Sit-Down Dinner
Just like the buffet table, do exactly the same for your sit-down dinner table. Pre-set the table an entire day in advance with your your plates, napkins, flatware, glasses and flower arrangement. To serve family-style set up chargers in the center of your table of various thickness to create differing levels of display height. One of my most favorite ways I like to display food is on natural wood stumps of various thickness. These work out nicely because guests know where to set each serving platter once it has made its way around the table. Before you sit down to eat, remove the flower arrangement and fill water glasses with ice and water. Enjoy!
The Hostess with the Mostest
I hope these 7 invaluable tips give you the courage to entertain like an expert. Honesty, with a solid plan and the proper amount of time for prep you can create the best (and easiest) party ever! I’ve shared with you ways to avoid spending lots of money. I’ve explained why it’s SUPER IMPORTANT to plan out everything to the last minute. I’ve provided you with easy make-ahead recipes! You got this!
Now, go plan a kick-butt party and earn the title “hostess with the mostest”!