The key to entertaining is to make guests feel welcome and send them home well fed.
Some people are born to entertain and others have to work hard at it, but who doesn’t love a good party? The cheerful clinking of glasses, boisterous laughter, the oohs and aaahhhs, mmms and yums. Those are the sounds of friends nibbling casually on an antipasti appetizer or savoring a decadent alfresco feast.
The rule to making it easy is keeping it simple.
Here are my top 10 essential tips for easy entertaining:
1. Greet your guests with a festive cocktail
If you’re having a Moroccan spice market party, serve a colorful cocktail that evokes images of the market, vibrant and exotic. Imagine a ruby-red pomegranate cooler with fresh mint or a spicy herbal-tea-infused vodka drink with a hint of Ceylon cinnamon. Doesn’t that sound like much more fun than saying hello with the same old question of “red or white?”
2. Create a sense of place
Choose a theme or create an ambiance that will transport your guests from their ordinary everyday world. Throwing a good party doesn’t have to include expensive entertainment or lavish party favors. Think more of the unexpected that will surprise your guests. Branches from the backyard or jars of fresh herbs instead of flowers bring the outdoors in. Glowing candles in every corner of the room. Cushions strewn on the floor next to a low table where guests can sit comfortably and nibble on antipasti or linger at the table for a casual meal.
3. Keep it simple, sweetheart
It’s often what we leave out that lets what really matters shine. Instead of trying to do it all, do something simple and delicious. Guests won’t remember how much they’ve had; they’ll remember how good it was. Buy the best and leave out the rest. I like to use a mixture of fresh and jarred foods for antipasti and make the main course from scratch. Fresh fruit for dessert or something sweet from your favorite bakery will put a nice finishing touch on any meal.
4. Make a checklist of things you’ll need
As soon as you’ve stamped and sent (or emailed) the invitations, start jotting down your wish list of what you are going to need. Does your party call for cocktail napkins or champagne glasses? Will it be buffet or passed on pretty platters? From cocktail to dessert, plan it on paper first.
5. Shop and stock
Trust me, there’s never enough time to accomplish what needs to be done on the day of before the clock strikes party time. Stock your pantry with provisions and your fridge or freezer with food well in advance of T-minus the festivities. Get yourself to the grocery a day or two ahead and buy what you need. Artisan cheeses, jarred antipasti or a tub of orange-scented antipasti olives keep well a few days ahead. Fresh produce and proteins are ideally bought the day before. Not only does it make it easier to shop ahead, it ensures that there is no panicking about menu changes because you can’t find what you need.
6. Prep ahead
For those who have never picked up a knife and only pick up takeout, know that prepping ahead is the key to reducing chaos in the kitchen. There’s nothing sexy about a sweaty chef who’s running around like a chicken when the guests arrive. Whether you cut and chop, slice and dice, pre-platter or pre-bake, get it ready ahead of time.
7. Plan your presentation
From setting the table to choosing the plates, platters and serving utensils you will need, work out the presentation logistics ahead of time. Pull your plates and platters out and put Post-it notes on each one so you’ll know where everything goes. It’ll take the guesswork and presentation anxiety out of last-minute plating.
8. Let self-service be self-serving
There is nothing in the party book that says the hostess with the mostest serves it all herself. Go with an elegant and easy “get-it-yourself” theme. Whether it’s platters placed throughout the space or a table that never needs restocking, set it up so that it’s positively pretty, interactive and fun.
9. Hire a cleanup crew
If you’re going to invest your precious pennies in a party, set aside some of the budget for hired hands. Trust me: when the party’s over and the sink is spotless, you will be glad you did.
10. Relax and have fun!
Why throw a party if you can’t indulge in the fun? When you’re having a good time, your guests will too. Lighten up and let the party begin. Salute!
*Alisa Barry is an author, artist, and entrepreneur. She is the creator of the award-winning artisan food company Bella Cucina. Bella Cucina is based in Atlanta and has a retail store in the Virginia Highland neighborhood. www.bellacucina.com