Leslie is a work at home mom of one busy little guy. As a writer, she covers a range of topics with a special focus on party planning. She is a regular contributor to PurpleTrail.com, a comprehensive party planning site and has been featured on Birthday Girl Blog, The Craft Monkey. Her love for entertaining has led her to become an expert on budget party planning without sacrificing style. From baby showers to back yard barbecues, she’s done it all – without breaking the bank.
Hostess Tips (helpful hints for “less stress” entertaining)
We all want to be the best host or hostess. Some of you have really perfected the art (Martha is jealous of you). But the remainder of us, well, like anything else in life, practice makes better. As a recovering perfectionist, I have learned how powerful letting go can be. I found the more obsessed with perfection I was the less likely it was I would actually enjoy my party. So, I began to break down the process and find out how I could manage it all better to become the stress free hostess I *hoped* I could be. (And, I think my husband was going to kill me if I didn’t chill out every time we prepared for a party). I hope these tips will help you prepare yourself and your house for an event and allow being the ultimate host(ess) with the most(ess). Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Let time work for you, not against you. This means allowing adequate time to plan for the time of party or even you are throwing. Don't try to throw a baby shower tomorrow. It always takes longer than you think it will so give yourself time to shop for supplies, create any party favors or activities, and time to clean your house. How much time you will need depends on the type of event you are hosting. A small dinner party will require less time to plan than a surprise birthday party with 50 guests. You can't be everywhere or everything to everyone all the time. You'll find that there is so much you can do ahead of time (food prep, decorating etc.) that there is no need to be stressing once the party begins.
Every time I was going to host something, I used to go nuts scrubbing and dusting and rearranging. Then my mother recently pointed this out to me – pick your battles with house cleaning. Base the amount of effort you want to put in to pre-event cleaning on the event. For example, if you are having birthday party for a 3 year old (and other 3 year olds are coming) do not scrub from top to bottom. You’ll just have to repeat it the next day after cake crumbs, juice spills and whatever other accidents occur. Pick up toys, wipe down surfaces, vacuum/sweep and make beds of guest accessible rooms. Seriously, no one is going to look at the dust on your shelves. Now, if you are throwing a housewarming or and more intimate adult gathering – by all means clean until your heart’s content. Just don’t kill yourself doing it. If your guests can’t get over the smudge on your window, reconsider inviting them back.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
Don't be afraid to ask for help! Your friends and family keep telling you they are always here for you, so call in a favor. Ask one of your friends to come over and help with food prep, get your kids to help with household chores, send your spouse to the store for last minute items so you can continue cooking. Ask your artistic, creative friends to help with decorations. Think about who you know and what their strengths are and as them to lend their expertise. They'll be touched that you think so highly of them and will enjoy helping you create a fabulous party experience. Also when someone asks if they can bring something and it would be helpful – say yes and tell them what to bring! If you have children, consider asking a babysitter (or Grandma) to come and entertain them while you prep.
Choose Food Wisely
If you aren't a really whiz in the kitchen, pick easy, make ahead recipes. Even if you are a French trained chef, it's still a good idea to select menu items that can be prepped ahead of time. That way all you're doing the day off are finishing touches, not creating something from start to finish. Also if you are going light on food, try using smaller plates. Little crudités will look lonely on giant dinner plates.
Set the Mood
People's moods are very affected by their environment. Choose appropriate lighting (low light for a cocktail party, ample lighting for kid's party with arts and crafts etc.) Use music to help you out too. If you want the tone to be soft and mellow, playing the new Metallica album probably isn't a good idea.
Have an Emergency Supply
Keep snacks that you would serve to guests in the pantry in case you run low on food or burn one of your dishes. Things like gourmet cookies, biscotti, muffins, nuts, etc. Also, keep plenty of beverages on hand in case you run low.
Once you've set the last dish out, circulate the room. Be sure you introduce people so they feel more comfortable. Think of it like wedding, you want to talk to everyone that made an effort to show up! Also keep in mind it is ok to sit and chat too. You don’t want to hurry off if someone is looking to have a sincere conversation with you.
The Glass Half Full
Keep an eye on people's beverages. Offer to fill them up before they are completely drained. It keeps people from having to leave conversations or activities the might be enjoying at your party! Be sure to offer a place to "rest" before guest's who may have over indulged head home. It also helps to keep a local cab company's number handy.
I like to keep decorations pretty minimal - especially in small spaces. It’s more important to keep valuable real estate open for guests, not decorations. You can really use your food, plates and glasses as décor. Line up all the wine glass in rows near a window or where can refract light; arrange the party cups in a festive fashion. Select brightly colored napkins or plates. A touch of flowers or candles can go a long way. I think it’s nice to spread the decorations over the entire area but keeping the bulk of them on the food table. Keep banners and balloons high so they don’t crowd the room.
You don't have to have a seat for everyone that attends (unless an activity you are doing requires it). It's better if you don't have seats for everyone so people are constantly shifting around and mingling. Move your furniture around to create seating that doesn’t isolate (meaning everyone is facing and has a pretty good visual each seat). For small spaces, consider moving coffee tables out of the room and end tables in between seats. You can also consider investing a few good, oversized floor pillows (if the event is casual).
Separate Food and Drinks
Don't set the drink station right by the food. Otherwise, everyone will stay in the same spot so they can graze. If you put the drinks across the room, they have to move around! If you have TV trays, put them to good use and scatter them around the space and cover with fabric (cut up and old table cloth or visit a thrift store and find a hidden treasure). They make great tables for folks to set drinks and plates down.
Breathe and Smile
Your demeanor will likely set the tone for the party. So if little Jessie spills the lemonade pitcher or Aunt Martha drops her wine, bite your tongue and breathe. There are very few things that could happen that are really worth worrying about so relax and enjoy. If you come off as being stressed, you may create a tense environment and that's not fun for anyone. If you are of legal drinking age, enjoy a pre-event glass of wine/beer/insert favorite cocktail (one, not five) it just might take the edge off (works for me).