Tips For Stress-Free Entertaining (6+ People!)
We’ve all overdone it, myself included. Nik and I have always adored having company, and I prided myself at a young age on being the ‘hostess with the mostest’, but I’ll be honest, I get suuuuper stressed out if anything goes wrong. I always have this idea of how I want appetizers, food, drinks, games, movies, etc to go, and sometimes it just hasn’t worked out. That being said, I’ve gotten to learn firsthand what you should and should not do when you’re expecting a crowd. This is for those big family gatherings, those friend’s birthday parties, and even those Wednesday night, spur of the moment gatherings because ‘HOLY HELL we can all get together on the same day’ kinda deals.
Do your house cleaning a day ahead of time. If you’re planning on having people over, plan to clean your house the day or night before. Too many times I’ve woken up on a Saturday morning to clean, ran late making dinner, messed something up, and ended up with a so-so meal and disappointment in myself that I didn’t plan better. Entertaining is tiring enough, so try to clean ahead of time… but not TOO ahead of time or you give yourself too much time to make a mess again. I’m seriously a fan of the night before clean up. Side note, if you just can’t get to all of the areas of cleaning your house, don’t freak out! Some people think you have to have all the dishes done and an floors so clean you could eat off them, and while it’s of course your own standard of “clean”, just relax and enjoy your company. Chances are, they aren’t even going to notice that you didn’t wipe down your walls.
If you’re decorating for something, start a week ahead of time OR MORE! I’m the queen of themed parties within our group of friends and families, and I ADORE throwing a good Halloween, Gatsby, 90’s, etc themed event, but one thing I’ve learned over 8 years of throwing these extensive decorating parties is to start WAYYYYY before you think you need to. If I’m throwing a holiday party, honestly, I give myself 2 or more weeks to get the house looking festive. That way you aren’t losing out on the enjoyment of throwing a party and rushing to just vomit decor all over the place. I make a goal of one room at a time, or for Halloween and Christmas, I’ll even just give myself a portion of a room to work on. You may need to move furniture, or take down normal decor items to replace with your theme items, so giving yourself the extra time also allows more time for you to organize all the moving pieces. You can do last minute things like tables ad chairs, big furniture moves, etc the day beforehand, but try to have the rest completed a few days before so you can clean the night before, as per my #1 recommendation!
3. Plan your appetizers, main, sides, dessert, and drinks all together. This one probably seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve gotten all the grocery shopping “done” only to come home and realize I didn’t plan apps or drinks, UGH! So back to the store I go... angrily. With that being said, plan out your menu based on what kitchen setup you have, meaning don’t plan to bake 2 items at the same time if you only have one stove. Don’t plan on using 6 stovetop burners when you only have 4, etc. I ALWAYS plan my meals spread out, so don’t forget things like CrockPots, ovens, stove tops, and outdoor grills/bbqs/smokers. Utilize what you have going for you, and ask for help. If your spouse isn’t quite as good a cook, give them jobs like stirring, checking times on items cooking, or easy side dishes. For a typical dinner, I make as much as I can in slow cookers or with minimal effort on the stovetop/oven. I’ll get a go-to crowd pleaser menu out for you guys sometime before the end of the year! Once you have your menu planned, make your grocery checklist and try to get the shopping done 1-3 days beforehand as well. Do all your planning in one sitting, shopping in one trip, and cooking strategically so all your food is done at the same time.
4. Don’t try brand new recipes the day you plan on entertaining unless they’re insanely idiot-proof. If you screw up an entire menu, you don’t want to have everyone over for Thanksgiving pizza. You’ll just have to trust me here. If you aren’t an avid cook, try making tried-and-true CrockPot recipes, or ask a friend to assist you in one of their go-to recipes.
5. Setting a table is lovely, but don’t think just because you set a table that you can’t do buffet style serving. Anytime I set the table, I rarely allow for room for all of my food. I don’t like to wait for the food to be passed around the table anyway. I’m usually hangry by the time we’re said and done, and I like to keep drinks, salt/pepper, sauces, etc on the table, and keep my food in CrockPots on warm so people can serve themselves, and go back for hot seconds if they so desire seconds. I have guests put their drinks on the table and pick up their plates to go to the serving area, (usually a one way loop set out from my kitchen to the bar area so there aren’t 2 lanes of traffic, i.e. one entrance, one exit that spits people back out to the dining area), then back to the dining area to eat.
6. There’s nothing wrong with half-homemade or store bought appetizers. I’m a big fan of the pre-dinner apps. I usually set out a dinner menu complimenting appetizer about 30 minutes to an hour ahead of time, so guests aren’t peckish, and you’ve bought yourself some time in case your serving time runs a smidge behind. With that being said, don’t make a whole new level of difficulty for yourself in making an appetizer. Go for anything bready or carby here, chips and guac/salsa, my yummy blooming bread, or a simple charcuterie platter with meats, cheeses, etc. I’d say 9 times out of 10, my appetizers are semi-homemade. I mean, I physically make it at home, even if it’s just smooshing some goat cheese in an oven safe bowl, pouring some marinara overtop, and toasting some bread. That’s an appetizer ya’ll (and one of my faves!).
7. Utilize the CrockPots. I’ve said it like a dozen times, but just to be clear, I love me a good CrockPot meal. Did you know, just because you didn’t cook it in a CrockPot, doesn’t mean you can’t keep it warm in a CrockPot?! One of my favorite meals to make for a crowd is a pulled meat, like MIssissippi Pot Roast, mash potatoes, green beans, and bread. I throw my meat in a Crockpot on low first thing in the morning for 8-10 hours. I make my potatoes about 2 hours before true dinner-time and spoon them into a CrockPot on warm with extra butter and milk/cream so they don’t get dried out. that means, when guests arrive, I need to sautee my green beans and warm the rolls, and dinner is SERVED. I started doing this 2 or 3 years ago when I saw how much my mom put in CrockPots at family gatherings. I mean: hot dogs/burger patties, chili, sauces, soups, beans, rice,… frickin’ ANYTHING can stay warm in a CrockPot if you believe in it (except bread products, they turn to mush FYI). I own like 6 CrockPots not an exaggeration, and I’m aware that’s a lot, but it’s for THIS EXACT REASON. This way, you actually get to entertain and be with your guests, not just hung up in the kitchen until after dinnertime.
8. Make your dessert - yep, you guessed it- ahead of time. Even if you want it served warm, you can likely prep a majority of your dish and bake it once dinner is served. I do this often with cinnamon rolls, pies, cakes, cookies, etc, and the turnout is always perfect. Everyone is happy for a slice of warm, melty, something, and I didn’t have to continue cooking even more after dinner!
9. Set a bar area out (next to a sink) and just restock it! I set out all of our liquor on the counter top with cups, straws, mixers, and all the fixin’s. I’ll put an ice bucket in the sink and refill it as needed, but I’ve found this is wayyyyyyyy easier than being everyone’s personal lackey for drinks. They know what they want, and how they want it. Just help them find the cups you want them to use.
10. Take the clean up help when people ask. Seriously! I have never once turned down help when friend offer to do dishes. I’ll of course jump in there too, but you’ve probably already impressed them with your food and drinks, so let people help you clean up! Return the favor next time you’re at their house! Side note, use plastic as often as you can. It might seem chintzy, but it’s going to save you a lifetime in clean up. For the special occasions that you do use glass and silverware, DEFINITELY don’t turn down the clean up help!
11. Have a plan of what to do before and after dinner. My least favorite part about semi-large gatherings is the awkward moment after dinner when no one knows what to do. Are we drinking? Are we chatting? Are we playing a game? Keep your audience in mind of course, but have a few options in the back of your head in case conversation gets stale. You probably won’t come across this issue with intimate gatherings or even close family events, but on those times you know people are going to hang out after dinner, have a game plan. Even just a change in scenery can help jog conversation. In the summer, we like to play board or card games that anyone can jump in if they want! During the winter, we may light up a little fire in the backyard fire pit and curl up with drinks or dessert… or both. I usually put my husband in charge of pre-meal happenings, because it varies on when your guests will arrive. Just a basic meet and greet, drinks and appetizers is usually fine to start the evening out with! No matter what, I like to have a playlist geared up that will suit my audience so there’s no “weird” quiet time. Music has a way of making people feel comfortable too! Wait, maybe that’s wine. Either way.
Make sure to enjoy yourself and your guests! The hosts of the gathering will set the tone, and if you’re stressed out, you’ll make your guests feel like an inconvenience. Take it easy, and remember the key to a good party’s success is PLANNING AHEAD! Enjoy!