When I host gatherings, my friends and family often say, “You’re so relaxed; how do you do it?” I didn’t know I was relaxed, but, I guess I am! Through years of practice, both at home and in the catering business, I’ve found a rhythm that works best for me.
My style is informal entertaining. Whether we’re in the yard serving a buffet or at the table eating family-style, my aim is to focus on our guests. I want to enjoy our company instead of fussing over something I could have done earlier.
Guests will pick up on our mood and quickly notice if we’re stressed or relaxed. Our emotions set the tone for everyone else. Relaxed entertaining has everything to do with:
- Being flexible
- Focusing on people
What typically stresses you? Notice your triggers at your parties and plan a way to alleviate them the next time. For me, we always run out of ice and I don’t like scrambling with my make-up when company is arriving. So, I always delegate the ice to a willing guest and I’ve formed the habit of getting ready first, followed by touching up the house, and finishing the food prep.
My top 10 tips for relaxed entertaining:
- Do the work ahead of time. Two to three days before the event, I typically clean the house, shop and prepare food, set the table, and set up the beverage station.
- Make lists. Lists for the days prior and lists for the day of the party. I set out all my serving platters and serving ware and label what will go in them. I stack them out of the way on my dryer until I’m dishing up.
- Plan a do-able menu. Avoid too many labor intensive recipes. Keep it simple and easy to prepare. I use a lot of Dream Dinners’ meals for company. It saves me preparation and clean up time so I can give more attention to my guests.
- Give yourself a buffer of time. I aim to be ready about an hour before guests arrive so I can relax and welcome them without a sense of hurry.
- Delegate jobs in advance. Anticipate your needs and get commitments from helpers before you’re in a last-minute stressful bind. Accept offers from guests and assign a course. Typically, I’ll have guests pour water or help transfer food into serving dishes.
- Focus on the people. Ask interesting questions. The most important thing is the guest. It means putting relationships above tasks. Even when unexpected friends drop in, I stop and focus on them; I don’t fuss about my messy kitchen and begin loading the dishwasher.
- Be flexible and don’t sweat the small stuff. I typically invite people about an hour before I anticipate serving the meal. Once they arrive, there’s no schedule. I enjoy the moment. If they come late, food can be held on low for a bit.
- Create a cozy ambiance. Appeal to the senses with music, soft lighting, and candles. I always put a lovely scented candle burning in the bathroom.
- Make room to linger at the table. Play a board game, visit, play cards. I might clear the table, but, will clean the kitchen after they leave.
- Most importantly, laugh and have fun! If I’m having a good time, most likely, so are my guests!
If you put these tips into practice, you’ll soon be hearing your guests say, “You’re such a calm hostess!”
Relaxing with company,
Stephanie Allen is Co-founder and President of Dream Dinners and a New York Times best-selling co-author of The Hour that Matters Most. Naturally a visionary and optimist, Stephanie hopes to inspire America through her nurturing voice of encouragement, assuring families… “You’re doing a great job!”