Entertaining Made Easy: 3 No Fail Tips for Rave Reviews

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Somehow, despite my best efforts to avoid entertaining, I’ve become the go-to hostess with the mostest. How did this happen? I had, over time, become adept at dodging that duty with a whole list of excuses like; too busy, too broke, house too tiny or shabby, can’t cook, or just too darn lazy. But if you’ve accepted invitations from others, sooner or later you’re going to have to reciprocate. Here’s how I learned to make entertaining painless and enjoyable.

1). Start small. Nothing will kill your enthusiasm or stress you out like trying to pull off a big party as your first effort. Invite 2 or 3 friends over after the movie and serve wine or a pitcher of your favorite cocktail with a few easy appetizers. A frosty batch of Raspberry Vodka Lemonade… crispy Chicken Cutlets, sliced and served with barbeque, honey mustard and teriyaki dipping sauces…lean Sausage, grilled or broiled and sliced into rounds…throw together a platter of green and red Grapes, Strawberries, a hunk of good Cheese, some Crackers…and boom, you’re done and you look like a genius. You don’t even need utensils, just pretty toothpicks, small plates, and some napkins.

If you truly can’t boil water you’re in luck! You can still pull this off with already prepared goodies from your neighborhood pizza parlor, ethnic takeout, or gourmet deli selections. Just remember, presentation and attention to small details delivers big impact and makes your guests feel special. Rim your cocktail glasses with sugar, and put fresh lemon slices, raspberries, and a sprig of mint in your lemonade. Never serve anything straight out of the box, always take a minute to transfer to a pretty plate, platter or bowl. Some supermarket flowers and a few votive candles are an inexpensive but elegant touch. A get-together like this is hassle-free, fun, intimate, comfortable and affordable. Your friends might even be inspired to try hosting the next evening out at their place!

2). Divide and conquer. You’d like to host a special occasion Dinner Party. Maybe it’s a dear friend’s birthday or Thanksgiving. But you’re a little intimidated by the cost, cooking and coordination involved. Never fear, here’s how to get it in gear. Outline a menu by category: appetizer, soup and or salad, main entrée, starch side, vegetable side, and dessert. If budget permits, set up a basic bar. If not, offer a signature cocktail or fresh Sangria by the pitcher, a decent red and white wine, something non alcoholic like apple juice, punch and or water, and coffee.

As the host, you should provide the main entrée, unless you have a friend who is known for that dish and wants to take it on. Otherwise, ask your guests if they have a specialty they’d like to bring to the party. Most people will ask if they can bring something anyway, and are happy to contribute a dish they can confidently prepare and has earned them rave reviews in the past. Even guests who can’t cook can manage a salad, a bottle of wine, or a store bought dessert. This should leave you responsible for cooking only 1-3 menu items at most. You can make it even easier by special ordering the main entrée. For example, many places offer mouth watering roasted or deep fried turkeys, and Honey Baked Hams are always delicious.

Make your home warm and inviting with comfortable seating, soft lighting, and of course, fresh flowers and candles. Play some jazz, Sinatra, or other cool background music low to stimulate conversation. And last but not least, set a pretty table. I wouldn’t use paper here. Instead break out your best china and stemware. If you don’t have enough place settings, see if a friend has some dishes that would compliment yours, borrow them for the night, and mix and match. If not, you can buy inexpensive boxed sets of plain white dishes (try Walmart, Target or Costco) that will work with whatever you have. That’s it, you are good to go. Instead of being frazzled you’ll be able to relax, spend time with your guests, and enjoy your own party.

3). Tackle a big crowd. Ok, you’ve taken some baby steps, and now it’s time to jump in the deep end of the pool. This is honestly going to take a little more effort, energy, and cash– but here are my tips for hosting a big party without tearing your hair out. First, establish a theme. Down Home Bar-B-Que, Jamaican me Crazy, Mexican Fiesta, 80th Birthday Tribute, Happy Halloween, Old School Fish Fry, and Super Bowl Sunday, are just a few of the fun parties I’ve had. Setting a theme gives you a direction for menu, décor, and music.

Decide if you are going to offer a full meal, heavy appetizers, or light appetizers. Chicken, ground beef, rice, pasta and potatoes are affordable crowd pleasers that help you stretch your budget and will work within any theme. Try to plan your menu around whatever’s on sale to help save money. For example, if I saw fish on sale for around $3 per pound I might do a fish fry with french fries, hush puppies, salad, rolls and lemonade. For a Jamaican theme I might offer curry chicken, rice and peas, ground beef patties, Red Stripe beer and Rum and Cokes. When cooking for a big crowd my golden rule is Keep It Simple, set up a production line, and get 1 or 2 reliable friends to help you in the kitchen. Do as much as possible in advance without sacrificing texture, color, flavor or freshness. If you want to offer a more varied menu definitely cater all or most of the food. Trust me it’s the only way to have time for your guests and maintain your sanity.

For a big crowd it’s best to allow people to serve themselves as much as possible. So I always set up an attractive buffet table, with plates, utensils, napkins on one side. It’s OK to use paper and plastic to serve that many people and you can find such sturdy and festive disposable options available. They add to the décor and expedite clean-up. Set up beverage tubs filled with ice, beer, sodas, wine, water, and where needed, a separate tub or cooler for kids beverages. If you are having a bar, rotate 2 or 3 designated bartenders, (give everybody time off to have fun), or hire a pro. Bright colors, some inexpensive props, and balloons, swags and streamers will help carry the theme through. If you don’t have a DJ, get a friend who’s into music to create or suggest a few compilation CDs just for the occasion and loop the music. That way you won’t have to babysit your CD player all night long.

You might want to consider having an optional adult activity or two planned like karaoke, a golf putting contest, or a dance contest. They are energizing, fun and encourage your guests to mingle and make new friends and connections. Be sure to have someone take lots of pictures. And if possible, have a designated driver or a free guest room or couch available just in case. You want everyone to have a safe drive home.

Congratulations! You’ve mastered easy entertaining. When the night’s over, all that’s left to do is sit back, kick off your shoes, and pat yourself on the back for pulling off a party they’ll be talking about for a long time!

write by gonzalez

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