Hosting a dinner party is so much easier than you think, and a seasoned host has tons of tricks up his/her sleeve that you had no idea existed! Whether your hosting a party for 4, 40 or 400 the secrets are all the same. I’m here to share the deep and dark secrets to hosting a stress-free dinner party. These 10 little secrets are simply everything to you need to know.
My Personal Truths
TRUTH: I love to host parties! However, It’s not a skill I picked up as a little girl. I started small and have worked my way up to hosting full dinner parties (appetizers, dinner and desserts) for over 200 guests…all with the help of just 2 servers who are hired to pour drinks and clean dishes.
TRUTH: I’ve had many embarrassing fails, some that have happened just recently. Side Note: I
sometimes regularly burn bread, overcook rice and over-season dishes with salt. It just happens.
The Top 10 Party Hosting Secrets
Secret # ONE
Plan Ahead! Okay, listen carefully because you might have missed this one. PLAN AHEAD! This is the NUMBER ONE SECRET for a reason. If stressing out it is your thing then bless you and all your fine wrinkles and gray hair. I like to keep my life as stress-free as I can and planning ahead is the ultimate secret. How do you do this? It’s really easy! Make 4 lists, each on its own sheet of paper.
List one is your Guest List.
Send out invites (make sure to add an RSVP date) and keep track of RSVP’s. This will give you your total count of guests.
List two is your Menu List.
At the top of the list write down the 2-3 appetizers you’d like to serve. In the middle of your paper list your main dish and 2-3 side dishes. Closer to the bottom of your paper write down the 1-3 desserts you’d like to serve.
List three is your Grocery List.
Review your menu and list all the items you need to purchase to prepare your food. Keep it handy- you’ll be adding to it along the way. Don’t forget items like disposable plates, napkins, cups, ice, and items to stock your bar, like drink stirrers and beverage garnish.
List four is your Planning/Timing Chart.
This is the MOST valuable of all these lists, as you will be referring to it from start to finish. Basically it’s a time sheet of exactly what you need to do down to the second. Don’t let me scare you, here. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Below is an example of my last party menu and time sheet.
Have I scared you off?
Please don’t stop reading yet! I promise that secret #one is the toughest it gets. As you can see, I’ve completely timed out exactly what I’m supposed to do and when I’m supposed to do it. I even include the temperature and length of time that each item is to bake. These are great last-minute reminders. This time sheet is also a must because it gives you the ability to clearly see what can be delegate out with ease. I like to mark off each item as I move along so I don’t miss anything. Click HERE to print the above time sheet and use as reference for planning your next party.
Secret # TWO
Set Up in Advance! This is a huge help. My above time chart shows that I set up my bar two days before my party. I also create my centerpieces and set up my table the day before my party! GIANT time-savers!
Secret # THREE
Choose Your Menu Wisely! Okay friends, this is NOT the time to try out a new recipe. Too much can go wrong. Choose menu items you’re comfortable with and items you can prep a day or two in advance. My Chicken French recipe and my Eggplant Parmesan recipe are a fail-free way to go. They both can be prepped the day before. My homemade bread is so crazy simple and it yields amazing crowd-pleasing results. Who doesn’t like fresh homemade bread, right? I love that I can prepare the pastry dough to my Caramel Apple Hand Pies a day in advance and then make the filling the day of the party. A HUGE BONUS is that the apple pie filling fills your home with the yummiest natural scent of cinnamon spice.
Secret # FOUR
Think About the Flow! This is just common sense. If you’re hosting a buffet style dinner you’ll want to have your plates at the front of the line. Is your bar far from where you’ll be mingling? Mine actually is! I have a full bar located in the basement with a built-in ice maker. There are times, however, that my party is located on the main floor. In this case I make sure to add a second bar somewhere close to the where the guests will be hanging out. I have a walk-in pantry that works perfectly. If you don’t have extra counter space consider a rolling bar cart. I have 3 and I use them all throughout the house. Click here to see how I use this one on my front porch. Make sure to include a bucket of ice for those who like to serve their drinks over ice.
Secret # FIVE
Delegate Accordingly! This is going to save your sanity come the day of your party! Take a peek at your time chart and see where you feel comfortable delegating out tasks. Items like lighting candles, filling beverage tubs with ice, and stocking the bathroom with toilet paper are all easy areas to delegate. Referring back to my time sheet I made the homemade dough at 9:30 in the morning the day of the party. Then, I assigned my daughter to make the salad at 12:30. This freed up my entire morning from 10-1, allowing me to take care of whatever other business I had to get done that day. That’s the beauty of having a stress-free day! It leads to a stress-free party! Consider giving someone a specific time related task. For example, I assigned a friend the time-sensitive task of turning on the burner to boil the pasta water at 6:10. This allowed me to greet guests, mingle and keep the beginning of the party flowing well.
Secret # SIX
Keep the Table Setting Simple! Don’t go crazy here! Everyone enjoys a simple bouquet of flowers. If your party is smaller and you’ll all be dinning around the table get creative with simple and unique pieces. Click here to get the DIY on simple tablescapes and see how I used half-cut grapefruits to decorate our plates. If your party is larger and you’ll be hosting a buffet table then simply create a simple floral arrangements using what you have in your own backyard. Click here to get the DIY for this project. Our last party I cut fresh Dahlia stems, arranged them in 3 different pitchers and placed them in the center of my table. Easy Peasy!
Secret # SEVEN
Don’t Forget the Bathroom! How many times have you visited a nasty restaurant bathroom and made a mental note to never go back? We’ve all taken a squat on a toilet seat (cringe) and stared at the dusty baseboards, dirty floors and water-spotted (sometimes grimy) sink faucet. Friends, don’t let this be the one thing your guests leave your house remembering. You want them to rest assured that your home is hygienically safe. Please take some time to clean your bathroom. Give it a good cleaning the day before and then pop back in a couple hours before guests arrive to do a spot check.
Make sure that your:
- Toilet seat is clean. Take a good look at those seat brackets. I’ve seen some pretty nasty grime hiding in there…at someone else’s house, of course!
- Toilet paper is well stocked!
- Soap dispenser is full
- Your hand towel is clean. This is another one of those important areas to really inspect. You wouldn’t want to dry your clean hands on something dirty, right? Please make sure your guests don’t have to either.
- Baseboards and cabinetry is clean. Believe me, when your guest is popping a squat he/she has a little time to get close enough to this
$#%&stuff! Clean it up!
- Blinds are clean. I get it, dust finds its way here overnight and these suckers are tough to clean. Just give your blinds a once over with a dry microfiber cloth to pick up any dust.
Secret # EIGHT
Clean As You Go! This is a very debatable topic. Some who follow proper etiquette will declare with great emphasis that cleaning as you go when you are the host is a huge no-no! However, I disagree. Here’s why: A clean space is a relaxing space. I like to keep my kitchen clean so that my guests feel comfortable and I feel comfortable. I’m NOT suggesting that you do a full clean up. Noooooooo! Simply collect dishes and serving-ware at the sink, do a rinse and then stash away in the dishwasher. Your goal is to keep your hosting space clean enough that all of your guests feel comfortable.
Secret # NINE
Keep it Cozy! This all has to do with ambiance. To encourage a relaxing atmosphere set the music to a pleasantly-audible decibel. Have you ever been to a gathering where you’re forced to yell just to be heard? And then the next day your voice is hoarse and you sound like you spent the entire previous night raging at a concert??? Yep, me too! Another nice way to create a comfortable ambiance is to dim the lights just a tad. Soft lighting sets the mood…and the fine wrinkles on one’s face. Wink, wink! Last, light up those candles. There’s just something magical about the live energy of lit candles that can’t be created in any other way.
Secret # TEN
Chill Out! Seriously, the success of your party is going to come down to your attitude! If you’re running around like the house is on fire no one is ever going to be able to settle in. As a matter of fact, they may even feel like they’re inconveniencing you! So, whatever the situation, chill the heck out! Your entire party could be going to pot, but if you just laugh it off and keep a positive attitude your guests will laugh with you and it will all be okay. Greet your guests with a refreshing smile, keep calm, speak at a recognizable pace and float around the room…slowly!
What are you waiting for? Call your friends! Send out your invites! Plan your menu! You’ve got this!!!
Hope these secrets to hosting a stress-free party have given you the confidence for your next get-together! Remember, at the end of the day you’re just here to have fun. 😉