Dinners with family have been our company’s focus for 15 years now; however, entertaining was a focus for our company’s founder for many years before 2002, during Stephanie Allen’s pre-Dream Dinners life as a caterer. Even today, Stephanie is the “the hostess with the mostest.” She invites groups to enjoy at her home and before people know it, there is a spread of food that could feed an army.
The mystery is that you never see her leave the gathering. She spends so little time in the kitchen and so much time with her guests, you have to ask yourself where she hides the elves. Surely, she has a merry band of chefs working with her behind the scenes. No, she doesn’t. She’s Stephanie. She’s learned through the years that it’s absolutely possible to focus on her guests because she’s taken the time before her gathering to prep and pre-cook what she can.
She once wrote that guests can pick up on a host’s mood quickly. If a host is stressed, the guests can’t really relax. Stephanie exudes a sense of relaxation that can only be emulated by pages in a lifestyle mag, where everyone is smiling and every plate and glass is filled: Cheers! Always laughing and with an ear to listen to the many stories, Stephanie quietly goes about the final touches. She is eating with her guests, laughing around a fire pit and cracking crabs at the beach because she’s taken steps ahead of time to make sure she’s not stressing and is focused on her guests.
In a past blog, she wrote that relaxed entertaining has everything to do with:
- Being flexible
- Focusing on people
She encouraged readers to be aware of what typically stresses them. Notice your triggers at your parties and plan a way to alleviate them the next time.
“I used to stress about running out of ice and didn’t like scrambling with my make-up when company was arriving,” Stephanie said. “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.”
Here are her top 10 tips for relaxed entertaining:
- Do the work ahead of time. Two to three days before the event she typically cleans the house, shops and prepares food, sets the table and the beverage station.
- Make lists. Lists for the days prior and lists for the day of the party. She sets out her serving platters and serving ware and labels what will go in them. She stacks them out of the way until she’s dishing up.
- Plan a doable menu. Avoid too many labor intensive recipes. Keep it simple and easy to prepare. She uses a lot of Dream Dinners’ meals for company. It saves her preparation and clean up time so she can give more attention to her guests.
- Give yourself a buffer of time. She aims to be ready about an hour before guests arrive so she 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, she’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, she stops and focuses on them. She doesn’t fuss about her messy kitchen and begin loading the dishwasher.
- Be flexible and don’t sweat the small stuff. She typically invites people about an hour before she anticipates serving the meal. Once they arrive, there’s no schedule. She enjoys 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. She always burns a lovely scented candle in the bathroom.
- Make room to linger at the table. Play a board game, visit, play cards. She might clear the table, but, will clean the kitchen after they leave.
- Most importantly, laugh and have fun! If you’re having a good time, most likely, so are your guests!
Not only does Stephanie use Dream Dinners meals at her dinner parties, she also has the knack for turning them into appetizers at any time. Here are a few ways you can turn dinners into appetizers in the snap of a finger. No elves needed!