The secret to being a great hostess is to make everything appear effortless. If you're relaxed, your guests will be too. Didn't have time to prepare that extra hors d'oeuvre or forgot to polish the silver? If you don't draw attention to it, chances are your guests won't bat an eye. Below, some of my key tips to be sure your next event goes off without a hitch.
Incorporate a theme: Whether it be a holiday, a season or a color scheme, it's always helpful to give your party something to revolve its menu and decor around. This not only narrows down your focus while you plan, but also gives your guests some direction of how the evening will flow.
Have fun with presentation: We eat with our eyes first (if we ate with our eyes only, it would save a lot of calories!), so presentation is everything. Have fun with your plating when serving foods. If you're creating a dessert table, use platters, cake plates, candy dishes and cupcake tiers of different heights and colors for visual appeal. Oversized cocktail glasses or funky vases are another unique way to display your treats.
Get resourceful: Use solid place mats for a pop of color under your platters, place festive silk napkins at the bottom of your utensil basket, use a pretty neck scarf as a runner across your buffet or spread out a clean bed sheet in lieu of a tablecloth.
Be your own guest: Do a walk-through of your party ahead of time to be sure you have everything you need. Pretend you're attending the soiree, and see what you may be missing. Did you attempt to spread cheese on a crostini and realize you forgot a knife? Venture over to the bar and notice you don't have a corkscrew? Catch the details before everyone arrives to avoid scouring for must-haves later.
Create an inviting ambiance: Light your fireplace or scatter pretty votives on a table (unscented if its near the food) to add a feeling of warmth and elegance. A color-themed bouquet in a mason jar or bud vases with dainty, statement flowers add an extra special touch as well. Having music playing in the background can also set the tone. Be sure it's loud enough to create the mood, but low enough you can hear yourself speak.
Cater to individual needs: It's important that all your guests reap the benefit of a great experience, especially if they have food allergies or dietetic concerns. Make it a point to not only prepare or purchase separate dishes for them, but also keep them from being contaminated by other foods. It's always helpful to serve universal options so they don't feel like an outcast. Try veggies with vegan dip, gluten-free chips and chocolates without nuts when necessary. If children (or pets!) are attending, it's a nice gesture to have a treat or special snack to keep them occupied and make them feel included.
Make it interactive: Encourage mingling by placing fun facts or question cards around your house to get wheels turning and conversation flowing. (If you could only have one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be? Or, what cocktail best describes your personality?) This is an especially helpful icebreaker if all your guests don't know each other. Go out of your way to make introductions and point out interesting aspects of one another to make everyone feel like they belong. For example, if your good friend just returned from a trip and your co-worker loves to travel, introduce them and bring up the shared interest for them to discuss.
Get your guests involved: Giving a simple task or direction to your guests helps them answer the famous question about what they should bring and what to wear. Making it clear that it's a costume party or that guests should bring an appetizer allows them to feel like they're contributing, without asking for too much. To get everyone in the spirit, announce on the invites that prizes will be awarded for most creative recipes or best attire.
Be a flexible host: Understand not everyone may want to play along, and respect those who show up in street clothes instead of dressing up, or bring a sweet instead of an appetizer. Always let your guests dictate the agenda. If you wanted to play games, but everyone is deep in conversation, don't force the activity. Read the tone of the room to know when everyone is content and when a change of pace is needed. The point is to make things light and fun, not to stick to a rigid rule.
Offer options: I love any opportunity for guests to make something their own and try new things. For example, a mashed potato station with a toppings bar, or liquors with various mixers allows everyone a chance to personalize their food or drink to fit their taste buds. To avoid misplaced beverages, supply permanent markers and stickers for guests to label their cups, or wine charms when using real glasses.
Stock up: Before your guests arrive, be sure to fill your soap dispensers, toilet paper rolls and paper towels, and empty your trash. Have garbage cans and recycling bins accessible so you're not stuck with additional mess at the end of the night. Always have just-in-case necessities on hand like a first-aid kit and cleaning tools for a spill, so you're not searching for them amidst a crowd.
Enjoy your own party: After all the prepping, shopping, cleaning, cooking and decorating, you deserve to relax and relish in your hard work. The worst feeling would be to hear stories about the event you put together, and realize you missed it all because you were busy scrubbing dishes or hovering over the stove. Prep as much as you can ahead of time, enlist a few good friends to help when needed, and be sure when your guests arrive you can turn off that to-do list and spend quality time eating and laughing with the people you care about. After all, isn't that the point?