Let me give you some quick tips on how to plan a great party, starting with the key duties of a hostess. When I entertain, I take my job as a hostess very seriously, meaning I try to do everything I can to ensure that the presentation of the drinks, appetizer, and desserts are clean, creative, and yes, a bit fancy too. As a hostess, your job is to entertain your guests, and hopefully pamper them just enough that they feel like they stopped off at a ritzy hotel to grab a bite to eat. This may not be everyone’s agenda, but it is always my goal when I host a party.
To accomplish the goal of providing comfortable luxury for your guests, you first need to know what that looks and feels like. When you go to a nice hotel, it has comfortable lighting – not too bright, not too dark. A grand hotel serves complimentary ice water in the lobby (sometimes infused with oranges, cucumbers, or strawberries). Some have fresh fruit or freshly made cookies and coffee in the lobby as well. The decor matches well and is pleasing to the eye. The food both looks delicious and tastes delicious too. The wait staff are friendly, helpful, and accommodating. This is the job of the hostess, to serve your guests and create an experience that they will always compare other evenings to.
This style of entertaining doesn’t have to be expensive, just classy. It doesn’t have to take longer amounts of time to prepare, it just takes a plan. Obviously it takes more planning if you are hosting a larger event, which I will address in another article, but for now, I am just talking about entertaining a couple friends or a very small group.
When preparing to be a good hostess, you need to always remember the golden rule: Keep it simple. By adding unneeded stress to the event, the entertaining is no longer enjoyable, it is simply exhausting.
Here are some of my quick tips to successful entertaining.
How to be the Perfect Hostess
Choose a Theme and Stick With It – Branding is everything
If you are just having a group of friends over for appetizers and games, maybe there doesn’t need to be a theme. When I have couples over or a girl’s night, I don’t have a theme, I just try to keep it classy and simple. But for themed parties, brand consistency is imperative! Seriously.
For birthday parties, I always have a theme. Last year for my son’s 13th birthday he chose the Lego Movie theme. We made it a costume party and everyone dressed up as someone from the movie. I chose a specific scene from the movie and made that the theme for the inside of the house. I chose the coffee shop. I researched the branding, the scene, everything to try to recreate the coffee shop with decor, signage, and even snacks. We served decaf iced mochas, cupcakes that look like they were made by a professional baker, banana and waffle kebobs. I served water bottles with the coffee shop brand, I converted picture frames to look like the windows of the coffee shop from the street view and put the coffee shop logo on the “windows.” I made signage for the coffee using typical LEGO style dollar signs and used the coffee shop logo. I created coffee signs for the “menu” and created whimsical drink names that I thought would fit into the LEGO Movie‘s coffee shop theme, and I used the coffee shop logo. In case you have missed it, the key is to pick a theme that is easy and fun, and then stay committed to it. If you go to Starbucks, you will see their branding everywhere – the logo, the font, the look, it all ties together and is repeated over and over. The same branding ideas work great when planning a theme party. Check out some of my images from the LEGO Movie party we had.
What to Do
This is the hardest thing for some people to figure out. What do you want to do with your friends? Do you want to sit and talk? Do you want to play games or watch a movie? When you are planning the party and before you send out the invites, have a few ideas of what you want to actually do at your party. If your party is a themed party, your activities should always coincide with your theme. Always.
Pick a Color Palette
My go-to color palette that I use for all occasions from birthdays to girls nights is black, gold, and white. I love this combo! White dishes, platters, and cake stands. Gold silverware, napkins, straws, and chargers. If I am really trying to go easy on myself, to cut back on dishes I put out my small black paper plates and small black paper cups. I throw in a touch of silver with the platters and serving spoons. If I am hosting a themed party, the color palette matches that them. The key is to not go overboard with the color combo. In general, the entire color palette should be no more than five colors, but there should only be two main colors so everything can blend well together. Remember that most times with decor, less is more. If you want to incorporate animal print into your decor, do so with the napkins, or a banner, please don’t make everything out of animal print.
Check out this lovely table from Apartment 34. Notice the simple, yet beautiful color palette. Orange, purple, honey-toned browns, green, with a splash of red, white, and black. The dominant colors here are purple, orange, and green. But the other colors blend so nicely. Notice that not everything matches identically. It actually is a bit more interesting when things don’t match perfectly. I think it’s beautiful and I too confess that I have been using this color scheme since 2008 during the fall and especially for Thanksgiving entertaining. Love it.
Keep the Food Simple and Easy to Eat
I usually serve appetizers because they look great on plates, it gives people the opportunity to try more things, it is usually not messy or socially awkward, and multiple appetizers can really help create a balanced meal. I also love appetizers because most times people ask me what they can bring, so I have them bring an appetizer of their choice. It’s easy for me to set it on the table and it’s easy for my guests to grab it on their way over. Let’s face it, we live busy lives. Fitting friends and other social events into our schedule can be work, unless we -the hostesses- make it easy. If someone has to prepare a casserole to bring to your house to socialize with you, it might cause them stress and take away from the focus of the meet up which should be to enjoy being around friends.
For my son’s 13th Birthday party we served yummy, easy to make finger food. This was not the healthiest food around, but it was delicious. (*Note- I will be coming up with easy AIP recipes for parties very soon!)
Limit the Options to Reduce Stress
There is no need to serve multiple options, just pick one and stick with it. For example, cake vs. cupcakes, should you do both? Nope. Pick one. If you have time, help, and the finances to do multiple cakes, pies, and cupcakes, do that, but if you are trying to host a party on a budget, just stick with one dessert. Since I like to serve appetizers, I also like to serve cupcakes. I don’t have to worry about cutting the cake, serving it, etc. With a cupcake display, people can grab one when they are ready for one. Every time I have served cake and cupcakes, I have always been left with the cake. No one eats the cake unless I only make cake and I serve it to them. Part of being a good hostess is being a free hostess. If you are fussing over the food all night, you will not get to enjoy the company of your guests. Free yourself up. Put the appetizers out and let people eat. If you notice the food is looking sparse, add more food – I usually do this once or twice throughout the evening, but that’s it.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Buy all the food you need at least three days before the party. If you are serving food that comes frozen, buy it a week or more before so you don’t get into a last minute bind. Some appetizers you can even make weeks ahead of time and freeze them. I usually do this with my cupcakes and meatballs. Remember, keep it simple. The less you have to do the day of your party, the better it will be for everyone. So stock up on your paper plates, straws, napkins, cups, and gift bags ahead of time. I actually buy extra of these in case I need to whip something together for a last minute get together.
About a week before my parties I walk around and through my house and see what my house looks like. If you are anything like me, you usually have messes in corners and piles of papers and laundry that have been on our to-do lists for weeks, but this is not what we want our guests to see. I start in my driveway and walk up to my house. How does it look? Do I need to move my trash cans? What do you want your guest to think and feel as they walk up to your house? What do you want your guest to think and feel once they get inside your house? I love having people over to my house because I love entertaining, but also because it really gives me extra motivation to tidy up and finish projects. 🙂 I always make sure that I vacuum, dust, and clean all the bathrooms. I am sure to put out fresh towels. Although the main focus of the party will not be on your bathroom, you always want to have your bathroom looking and smelling wonderful. I put vanilla scented candles in my bathrooms for the night. *Side note that is very random: When I was a little kid, every time we went to a restaurant I wanted to see the bathroom decor. Apparently, if I liked the way the bathroom was designed, I told my mom that it was a good restaurant, if the bathroom and overall design was bad, so was my opinion of the place.* I am not sure why I shared that with you, except to emphasize the importance of a clean restroom.
The day before the party is when I begin working on my bar cart and food tables. I like to arrange my tables and carts in a multi-level, multi-layered way that is both practical and pretty. Display food, drinks, plates, etc. at different height levels. Serve some food items on a pretty platter on the table surface, but for the next appetizer, serve it on a cake stand or something that brings the food up off of the table. This type of layering looks great on tablescapes. Tablescape is just a fancy word for the table scenery/display, FYI.
Clear communication is key to a successful party. Ask your guests well in advance and remind them the week of the event. Think like Evite. Evite helps the hostess send a notice with the time, place, date, and all the details of the event, and then the week of the event, it sends a reminder email to the guests. Remember that people are busy; make the information about your party/event easy, clear, and timely. Also, make sure your address is in a well lighted and easy to see location on your property. If a guest is coming to your house for the first time and can’t see your address, they will have a hard time finding it.
Where will your guests sit? Plan ahead to provide comfortable place for your guests to relax and unwind. Have floor pillows easily accessible for the floor sitters, have side tables and coasters available for those who will lounge on the sofa. If you really want to prepare – and this is a design trick/tip that I do when designing my clients’ homes and offices, I sit in every sitting spot to see if it is comfortable, convenient, facing the object of focus, etc. If you do this prior to your party, you can rest assured that your guests will be quite comfortable.
The Night of the Party
You must remember this one tip: make sure you are completely dressed and presentable one hour prior to the start time of the party. Something will always need to be done, but you must to look presentable. No one wants to see a frazzled looking host. Remember your experience at a fine hotel, all the staff look presentable, so should you. If you still have cooking to do, you can do that while talking to your guests, however, you can’t curl your hair or put on your clothes with your guests. There might be some things that you just don’t have time to get to, and that’s okay. Remember the point of the party is to have fun with your friends, so be sure to do that.
I love having people over because it gives me a way to connect with people, laugh, and hopefully encourage them on this journey we call life. It’s important to celebrate the little things as well as the big things. I strongly believe that people will remember you and how hospitable and welcoming you were to them.
Stay tuned for more party planning tips and tricks, and in the meantime, please enjoy life and have fun with your family and friends! Do you have more tips to share? Please comment below!