One of the very first dinner parties I ever threw, I lined the table with hand painted metallic pumpkins. I think 24 to be exact. 24 pumpkins I painted…for a table. There was no magazine photo shoot. Martha Stewart wasn’t stopping by. No front cover of good housekeeping. I just did it so I could have a pretty table. Literally, just for one night, on a table.
Fast forward 10 years, and now most of my dinner parties consist of paper plates, pizza and opening up a few bags of chips.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still love a great over the top dinner party. But those are few and far between in my home. Instead entertaining and hosting has become a little less gold pumpkins, and a little more….well let’s just say, real.
It has taken me almost 10 years of entertaining to understand that no one cares about a vacuumed living room, fancy desserts, or as it turns out….metallic gourds. What they do care about, though, is a gracious and authentic welcome, a relaxed and inviting environment, and a hostess who pays more attention to them than the oven timer (I have been both said hostess and ignored guest, and neither one felt good).
I have found a few things have helped me over the years create a more stress-free environment when I’m entertaining, so I can truly be present for my guests.
Now I am certainly no expert on entertaining. No one is asking me to write a book on etiquette, or a guide to graceful entertaining. But if you’re like me, and welcoming friends and family into your home this holiday season, then maybe one of these tips may help you too….
1.Make one, Buy one
You don’t have to do it all, make it all, or bake it all. There is no prize at the end of the night for the girl who spent the most hours in front of the stove. So take the help. For every one dish I make, I give myself guilt free permission to buy something. I can tell you that even on Thanksgiving many years I have not only bought precooked mashed potatoes from the store, but also a cooked Turkey (and guess what, it tasted great). Keep a realistic balance of what you can do, without becoming stressed, and then let the rest come from the grocery store, your local bakery, or even your pizza delivery guy. It’s a team effort friends, you don’t have to do it all.
2. Do as coco says…
Coco Channel had a famous quote, “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”. Now your dinning room table may not be the same as a little black dress, but certainly it could use some editing. I always find that there’s one dish too many, one appetizer too many, or one dessert I just didn’t need. After you’ve created your menu, take a step back, relook and then cross one thing off. I promise you don’t need it. I have yet to be at a dinner party where we ran out of food. So trust me, you’re good.
3. There will be a mess, so plan for it and get really cozy with those dirty dishes
I am about as Type-A of a personality as they come. I try to relax about a lot of things, but one that I still have a hard time is a sink full of dirty dishes. I know this about myself. So I plan ahead. Before guests come over I run, and empty, my dishwasher (even if it’s not full). Knowing that I have space to put all the clutter when the night is over helps me relax. I usually leave all of the real clean-up until my home is empty, but so often my fiends or family want to help at least clear the table. My philosophy is to let them (everyone wants to feel helpful). So I ask them to either stack the dishes, or if they insist, place in the dishwasher that I confidently know is empty. Then I use my special magic trick to quickly clean a kitchen…..which is to turn off the lights and go into another room (while carrying a glass of wine). Works every time.
4. Plan a menu around NOT being in the kitchen
I love making scallops, but they have to be cooked perfectly or they get gummy, and they have to be cooked just before serving. So scallops are never going to be served at a dinner party of mine. Ever. Instead, you might get lasagna. See the difference? One keeps me out of the kitchen and relaxing with my guests, and the other one has me hanging by the seat of my pants wondering if I’m about to serve gummy scallops to my friends (remember …Type-A over here). So I’ll just stick with lasagna. No one is coming over to see your impressive culinary skills, or what recipe you found on Pinterest. They’re coming over to see you. Keep it simple. Make the lasagna.
5. Everything has a home
If you live in my home, you’ll know that I live by the idea that “everything has a home”. Tape belongs in the left hand island drawer, Sloan’s shoes in the middle basket in the mudroom, my sugar bowl goes with the coffee cups (which is why it boggles my mind that my mom can never find it!!!). Everything has a home, a place it belongs. The same goes for setting a table. For bigger parties (think Thanksgiving, Christmas, Frankie’s baptism…you get the drift), I like to not just set my table, but also set my serving dishes. I set them out on the table before everyone arrives (along with serving utensils) and label them. This way I already know what’s going in which dish, and where it fits on the table. You can definitely take it all back into the kitchen, but this way you already know where every dish is going to live on the table.
6. Spread it out
Let’s be honest, no matter how spacious a home is, everyone seems to be crowded together huddling around a kitchen island. It happens every time. There’s a reason people say the kitchen is the “heart of the home”. It just is. It’s where everyone wants to be. But I find it much more enjoyable if I can relax with my guests out of the kitchen. So I work at creating other “nooks” around my house that invite people in. I keep our bar in the living room and try my hardest to have all the drinks in there as well. I put appetizers in the family room for people to get cozy and nibble. And most importantly I leave the kitchen, asking my friends or family to come sit with me. If you leave the kitchen to go relax, so will your guests.
7. Be real
No matter what, whether it’s a pizza party with paper plates or Christmas Eve dinner, remember that you are the reason people are coming to your home. Just you. That’s it. They don’t care if your home is messy, perfect, big or small. They don’t care if you have one appetizer or five. They just want to be with you.
You being real and allowing others to witness your authentic, imperfect self, gives them permission to do the same. You set the tone for the night. By being relaxed and showing up exactly as you are, invites your friends and family to as well.
I also think, just as importantly, that by allowing others to see that you have shoes spread out on your mudroom floor, or that you didn’t make all your desserts from scratch makes them feel more comfortable to do the same in their own home. I truly believe one of the reasons people entertain a little less now, is because it can feel overwhelming. The thought of having to show the best version of ourselves, our homes, our cooking can be too much. If we could all be a little more authentic with each other when entertaining, I’d like to believe that people would open their homes up more frequently. It’s in thinking that we need to change something, clean something, perfect something that creates barriers. So let the shoes lye by the mudroom door, or the toys be sprawled out across your playroom floor. I promise instead of judging, your guests will take a deep breathe and think “thank god, me too”.
For all of you welcoming friends and families into your home this holiday, thank you. Keep it up. Keep doing the work and sharing a part of your home, and lives, with others. I truly believe welcoming people into your home is one of the most gracious gifts you can give. I know it’s not always easy, and it certainly can be stressful. But maybe the next time you’re about to open your home you can remember to have a little more grace with yourself and let some of it go.