Inviting people over almost always seems like a great idea. Great food and good conversation are the best parts of life, right? But as any host knows, the reality of entertaining isn’t always as we imagine it: You have to clean your home and yard, create a menu, prep a ton of food, stock up on drinks…and that’s before anyone has even arrived! Too often, hosting can turn into a stressful juggling act.
Entertaining doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You should get to enjoy the gathering and the company of your family and friends, as much as everyone else. We’ve got 10 tips to help you entertain with ease, so that you can actually have fun at your own party!
1. Simplify your offerings
Think back to the gatherings you’ve enjoyed most as a guest: It’s the warmth of good hospitality that creates lasting memories, much more than elaborate multi-course dinners or exotic ingredients.
So, our first tip is to simplify. Cook hearty, tasty dishes that you love, from recipes you trust. A few snacks to graze on are plenty, and then for the meal, one protein or main dish, a salad or veggies and some good bread will be more than enough. You don’t even need to worry about dessert (more on that later)! If people are coming with dietary restrictions, it’s great to have an option for them, but the menu doesn’t need to be extravagant or complicated. On the drinks side, one cocktail, one wine, one beer, and a non-alcoholic option are all you need. Trying to stock a full bar or having 25 kinds of beer on hand just adds to the stress and expense of planning. And when it comes down to it, your guests will be glad to choose from a streamlined selection.
2. Start the night with an empty sink and dishwasher
We know this might be asking a lot. But, before anyone arrives, take a few minutes to do the dishes and—this is essential—empty the dishwasher. This small effort will pay off in dividends at the end of the night. When the sink is full, dishes start piling up on the countertops, which just adds to the feeling of chaos when you’re trying to serve food during the party.
3. Consider the flow
For larger gatherings, take some time to consider the layout and flow of your home and outdoor spaces. Remember other parties you’ve hosted and which spaces felt crowded in a cozy way and which ones just felt overcrowded.
The doorway often causes an immediate bottleneck, especially if everyone is arriving around the same time. Do you have an entrance to the backyard or patio that you can point people toward? During colder months, can you assign coat duty to one of your kids or friends, so that your foyer or living area doesn’t become piled with parkas? People often head for drinks first, so consider creating two drink stations.
If folks are gathering to watch a game, consider setting up a second TV or computer to make room for two smaller groups of people. If you’re not relying on cable, you have the freedom to put a second screen anywhere: a study or den, the basement, the porch, or even the garage! Strategizing in this way can really help to keep the flow moving.
4. Kick 'em out of the kitchen
The kitchen is usually a place where people congregate during parties, which is bad news for the host, who’s trying to take snacks out of the oven, refill pitchers, freshen up chip bowls, and so on. Water pitchers and drink stations, as well as a few different areas with selections of food, utensils, and napkins help keep people out of the kitchen. Fireplace mantles, wide windowsills, and fold-out tables all work well to encourage guests to enjoy other rooms of the house.
5. Put out plenty of trash receptacles
Even your most considerate guests will inevitably leave an empty cup or beer can on a side table or on the floor. Instead of using your regular trash can (which is likely in the kitchen), place a number of trash/recycling receptacles in strategic spots.
A pair should go outside, a few should discreetly be placed in the living or family room, and, this might sound odd, but put some outside the bathroom door. Trust us! Don’t just use bags, as they can rip, collapse, and cause spills. A solid receptacle is key. If you’re using real glasses and dishes, consider putting out a large plastic storage container to act as a restaurant bus tub, and whisk it away to the kitchen once it’s full.
6. Keep everyone comfy outdoors
If you’re entertaining outside, have some essential items on hand to help keep guests comfortable. We suggest sunscreen, bug spray, and hand sanitizer in the warm weather months, and extra blankets and hand-warmers in winter. Not only will this help everyone feel taken care of, but it will also relieve you of the stress and annoyance of people asking you if it’s OK to look through your linen closet for some sunscreen.
7. Give them a game
If you’re not gathering to watch a game, have some fun of your own! Simple games and activities help keep kids (and let’s be real, most adults) entertained. Cornhole and horseshoes are classics, if you’ve got the space, but a frisbee or foam football can be just as much fun. For small kids, you can’t go wrong with sidewalk chalk and bubbles. During colder months, a deck of playing cards, Cards Against Humanity (depending on the crowd), a set of dominoes, or even just some old Trivial Pursuit cards can help keep guests entertained.
8. Outsource ice and dessert
There will always be one person, and probably more, who ask what they can bring. The best answer to this question is always: ice and dessert. Running out of ice is a hassle, and even the strongest in-fridge ice maker can’t usually keep up with demand. Plus, you’ve got to save the good cubes for your nightcap! Bagged ice is an inexpensive and super-helpful item that anyone can bring. The other is dessert. Unless baking is your de-stresser, either ask a friend to bring a sweet treat along to share, or get store-bought ice cream and cones. Seriously, everyone loves ice cream cones, pretty much any time of the year. For any dairy-free friends, consider a sorbet or sherbet.
9. Have a late-night plan
Are people having a great time and staying into the wee hours? Great! But a few tricks up your sleeve can help keep things festive…but not too festive, if you know what we mean. Make sure there is plenty of water and other chilled non-alcoholic beverages available, like craft sodas, sparkling water, and iced tea. Don’t clear all of the snacks, in case people need a little something else in their system. Keep an eye on the music or TV volume to keep the neighbors happy. And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, guys, this has been so fun, but I’m ready to start winding things down!”
10. Assemble your clean-up crew
You don’t need to clean up all on your own. Seriously! Enlist your family and a few good friends who you know will be the last guests to leave, and give them each one task. Dividing and conquering when you’re dealing with the aftermath helps it feel so much easier. Delegate the dishes, surface wiping, trash can collecting, and any other relevant tasks, and tidying up will be over before you know it!
With these tips in mind, you’re well on your way to hosting streamlined, stress-free gatherings. Remember to enjoy yourself and the company of your guests! For more stress-free products, approved and curated by Hungry Fan, visit our shop here!