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Favorite entertaining tips

Now that the holiday season is over and fresh in our minds, I'd love to hear about your favorite entertaining tips, either for a dinner or a cocktail party.They can either be from the vantage point of the host or from the guest's viewpoint. As a host, what do you do to make your party less stressful/more successful? As a guest, what little thing did the host do that made your visit special?
Here's one to start: When having a large group over for a buffet dinner, always use place cards. The first year that I hosted 22 people at my house for Thanksgiving, I thought I would just let people sit where they wanted to instead of forcing them to sit next to someone they didn't want to sit next to. BIG mistake. After setting out all the hot dishes and announcing that everyone could begin the buffet, people stood around and debated, deliberated and/or argued about where to sit. Meanwhile, the hot food grew to lukewarm, the lukewarm grew to coolish, and so on.
I've never made that mistake again.

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  1. If you're having a small dinner party, clean the house as your guests will notice. If you're having a big party, don't bother as they will be looking at each other.

    1. I agree on placecards and I always use them for holiday dinners. I can't stand when people just mill around waiting for someone else to sit down. In fact, I find it stressful as a hostess and as a guest.

      When hosting a big dinner, I keep a list of all dishes to be served, including what needs to be heated when (and where -- toaster oven or top/bottom oven or microwave), at what temperature, and what serving dish will be used. This makes it less stressful on me when trying to get all the food out in a timely fashion.

      1. the tip I always have to work to remember - the guests are there to socialize and enjoy each other. Any food crisis will be far more apparent to me than to them. Even the worst food crisis can be laughed off & fixed with takeout in extreme situations. The people are more important than the food.

        1. I have several times opened the fridge the day after entertaining to find something I forgot to serve. So my tip is to have a checklist of everything that has to be done - right down to 'put the salad on the table' - so I don't miss anything!

          1. Formal Entertaining

            Have Black linen napkins on hand and offer them for guests dressed in black.
            Have a variety of non-alcoholic beverages or cocktails you can make for people.
            Have a pre-printed drink list and a list of alcohol that you have on hand. It’s so much easier for guests to pick what they want rather than a “what do you have moment.”
            Print out menus for the evening along with the wines that are served with each course, many guests like to know what they are eating and what wine it was.
            New guests must be introduced to old friends and key facts that the couples can talk about be pointed out as an ice breaker.
            Steam wine glasses and check for odors before the guests arrive.
            If you guests must bring kids hire in a baby-sitter and set up a special kids area away from the adults.
            Chargers make a formal dinner table look very formal.
            On the invitation print out what time dinner is served and what time the party starts, it helps keep the confusion down and forces people to be on time.
            If you don’t RSVP there is no place setting for you and we aren’t going to create one – they were the rude guests don’t destroy the party, place settings or flow of the kitchen for their faux pas.
            Divide duties between host / hostess and keep that line drawn clear.
            You can never have too much ice.
            You may need to direct parking or hire a valet service depending upon your house and parking situation.
            A limo service that picks up and drops off guests (even several couples at a time) adds an elegant note and also allows people to drink alcoholic beverages without the risk of driving.
            For coffee service have cream, ½ N ½ and milk on hand.
            Serve GOOD coffee.

            Informal Entertaining

            Have plenty of beverages for kids and if you are worried about carpets/stains keep them light in color.
            If you are doing a special toast or celebration, involve the kids, martinelli's is champagne for them.
            Buffets allow people to pick and choose and come back for seconds.
            When people are going to eating throughout the day cook buffet food in batches to keep it fresh.
            Put the buffet on lower tables so kids can help themselves.
            If whether permits do it outdoors so spills and whoops are laughed off
            Paper plates and large trash cans allow guests to clean up after themselves.
            Put someone in charge of the bar.
            Mix large amounts of certain theme drinks (colodas, margaritas, etc) but don’t add alcohol. The kids can have them too and guests can put in their desired amount.
            You can never have too much ice.
            Be kind to your neighbors and let them know, discuss parking problems ahead of time.
            Make sure you have activities for the kids (We have a large outdoor projector for showing movies in the summer. The kids can sit in the pool on floating chairs while watching a huge screen while the adults are on the deck enjoying a fire and company yet able to see the kids.)