I don’t care what tickets you have, tables you’ve reserved, or TV series you have to binge on—there is no better way to spend an evening than with a group of your nearest and dearest in the comfort of your own home. Not only will you save on cab fare, but you’ll be able to play your own music, eat your favorite foods, and get as weird as you want. After all, there is no one to impress when it’s “just us.” But if playing host sounds difficult to you, listen up: A dinner party need not be defeating. Simply decoded, a great soiree can be yours without hours of prep or a gray hair grown.
Crate & Barrel Maple Carving Board ($30)
My go-to dish is Ina Garten’s Perfect Roast Chicken. It truly is perfect because it’s two dishes in one, as the chicken roasts on a bed of chopped vegetables. It takes about 15 minutes of prep, makes your house smell like the Contessa’s East Hampton utopia, and will fool your guests into thinking you spent way more time in the kitchen than you actually did.
CB2 Campfire Bowls ($20 and up)
While the chicken is in the oven, prep some rice (basmati and wild rice are nice) and a simple salad. And when I say simple, I mean it. Take some arugula or baby kale and toss it with a vinaigrette or equal parts olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and dijon mustard. By the time the chicken is done, you'll have a four-course meal ready to put on the table.
World Market Gold Stemless Wine Glasses ($24 for four)
The most important thing when hosting is to keep it as casual as possible. Doing so will keep you guests comfortable and relaxed. Start by forgoing formal cocktails—sure, they’re nice, but they're far too much work. Wine and beer will suffice, and if your guests feel inclined to mix up an old-fashioned, let them do it on their own (just make sure you have the fixings at the ready).
H&M Metal Candle Holder ($10)
To create an atmosphere that your friends will want to linger in all night, make your space glow with soft light. Instead of flipping on your overheads, opt for lamps instead, and place candles throughout your space. The warm light will flatter faces and keep it cozy.
Tivoli Bluetooth Radio ($260)
Just like in the movies, a soundtrack should underscore all the fun you’ll be having. And that’s not a bad way to plan a playlist either; if you think a song would play during a dinner party scene, add it. Keep the volume soft enough so people don’t have to shout but loud enough that it will fill any lapses in conversation.
Fog Linen Black Herringbone Tablecloth ($64)
To me, 7:30 p.m. is the perfect start time (unless you have little ones). It gives guests enough time to go home after work to refresh, pick up a bottle of wine, or stop by the store to grab a dessert to bring. If you start cooking around 6:30 p.m., you should have enough time to clean up, set the table, and primp a bit. As long as most of the dishes are done before guests arrive and the kitchen looks tidy, it’s okay to keep cooking as they arrive. You don’t want everything to be done right away and the party to be over by 9. Food stays warm, and people like to drink. Sitting down at the table by 8:30 or 9 p.m. will feel just right.
Cards Against Humanity ($25)
As soon as everyone has had some seconds or thirds (serve the food family-style on the table so guests can help themselves), it’s nice to provide some entertainment. It keeps everyone from feeling like they need to help with the dishes or, worse, go home right after their last bite. Play a quick game of charades, Cards Against Humanity, “Marry, Boff, or Kill,” or whatever game tickles your fancy. It gives guests a chance to nibble on dessert, finish their drinks, and digest. Also, the end of the game is a good signal for everyone to leave.
Take all this advice with a big grain of fleur de sel, as hosting is like hairdos; you need to find your style. You may want to make it more formal and plate all the dishes or more casual and have everyone bring a potluck dish. However you do it, stay calm, embrace mistakes (Julia Child was famous for dropping food on the floor and putting it right back in the pan), and have fun! If you enjoy your dinner party, so will your guests.
What are some of your dinner party secrets? Share below.