When my friends were over for dinner the other night, they asked me how I was able to make our meal yet still have time to relax and enjoy their company during their visit. After thinking about it, I realized that over time (with a lot of practice) I’ve learned some strategies to be a hostess who actually enjoys myself when I have company. This did not happen by accident — believe me, I learned the hard way. But now, I find it easy, and you can too. Here are my tips for stress-free casual entertaining.
1. Plan a meal you’ve made before with ingredients you know. It’s tempting to try fun, new, or exotic recipes when you have company, but this can be stressful and time-consuming. Instead, make a recipe you’ve had success with before, or a family dish you love and have made a million times. The guests will never know either way.
2. Keep the food simple and hands-off. My favorite entertaining meals are soup with salad and stews or braised meat dishes served with fresh bread. You can easily make soup, stews, and braised meats ahead of time and then keep them over low heat on the stove. Make a simple salad ahead of time (leave untossed in the fridge) and buy a loaf of artisan bread. Though serving traditional meat + starch + veggie meals may sound like a good idea, it’s very hands-on and getting the timing right (where everything’s hot and ready at the same time) is difficult even for an old pro.
3. Prepare ahead of time. Wash and cut veggies, make salad dressing, chop fresh herbs, slice bread, set the table, pull out wine glasses, and refrigerate beverages well before your guests arrive. If you have every ingredient chopped and ready-to-go, you can assemble the meal in just a few minutes and won’t miss out on time with your company.
4. Decide what time you’ll need to start prepping – then start an hour before that. On the day I’m hosting people for dinner, I always think about what time I should start getting ready, and then give myself an extra hour in case I underestimate. This prevents last-minute freak outs, and gives you the best chance of feeling ready and relaxed. Worst case scenario: you have an hour to kill before guests arrive (and I’m guessing you can find a way to fill that hour!).
5. Entertain near the kitchen. If you have a big house, serve the meal at your kitchen table or your more casual table instead of in the dining room. This may feel kind of informal, but for a low key get-together, it’s plenty appropriate and will allow you more interaction with your guests. It makes everyone feel more comfortable if you get to participate in their visit.
6. Accept guest offers to help. If you get overwhelmed when you entertain, allow people to bring something. Wine, dessert, or appetizers are great places to solicit help, because you don’t have to worry about guest offerings not “going” with your meal, and you can remove your worry about those whole courses.
Follow these tips and you really will find entertaining easy!