August 6, 2014
At Home with Friends

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What guarantees a great party? It’s not the fanciest food, most expensive wines or exotic flowers. Your party is guaranteed to be a success if you are relaxed and having a good time. Your guests take their lead from you. If you are uptight, flustered and nervous, they will feel it and be the same. So you have to stay relaxed and calm whatever happens.

A quick true story. Last Thanksgiving, I invited a newly married young couple to dinner. I had never met the husband who was quite quiet and reserved. I assigned him the job of carving the turkey. His wife told him in advance he would be doing this. He did a great job and was feeling totally at ease. At dinner, we lifted our glasses in toast. As he stood up and reached across the table to “clink” glasses, he tapped his wine glass on the bronze chandelier. The glass shattered and he froze. The room became silent.

I instantly pointed out that in many cultures no celebration was complete without breaking glasses or dishes, and I thanked him for adding this tradition to Thanksgiving. (I also immediately handed him a new glass. I had extras on hand.) He relaxed and went on to enjoy the evening and has been back in my home many times since and is always at ease. When the glass shattered it was my responsibility to relax and put my guests at ease. Everyone looked to me and followed my lead. There were more stories about the tradition of breaking glasses.

No matter what happens, you need to take a breath and relax.

You might be thinking, “That’s easy for her. She knows how to give parties.” It will be easy for you if you follow these 3 tips:

  • Make detailed lists of everything you need to do, buy or prepare and follow the lists.

Don’t try to remember every detail. You won’t. I’ve given catered parties in the past, with elaborate menus selected, only to get to the end of the evening and find that the caterers forgot to serve something. Lists and organization are key to being relaxed. Also, it feels great to check things off the list.

  • Do everything you can days or even weeks before the actual party.

I’m including game plans on the blog. I never do everything the day of the party. I like to be rested and relaxed on the day of the party. I always plan a menu that includes several items that can be made ahead. I make sauces and dressings and dips all ahead, and store them in the fridge with labels. I get out ALL the serving dishes and utensils and put Post-It’s on them to indicate what food goes where. Of course, I set the table and always get out a few extra dishes, utensils and glasses just in case of an accident. Running around at the last minute, frantically searching for plates, serving spoons and table napkins — while trying to pull a party together — creates unbelievable stress. DON’T DO IT!!! Get as much done as you can, and relax and enjoy the party.

  • Think about jobs you can assign to your guests.

Most guests arrive and immediately say, “How can I help?” Somewhere we got the idea that the perfect host or hostess says, “No, thank you, everything is done.” Even if this is true, it doesn’t put your guests at ease or immediately make them feel included. Giving guests jobs to do puts them instantly at ease; they are immediately part of the celebration. Everyone likes to participate, so let them.

You don’t have to do everything yourself. But you do have to think ahead, to be prepared with jobs. Some of the jobs I assign are:

  • Opening wine
  • Filling up water glasses
  • Lighting candles
  • Arranging or plating the food (Warning: Make sure if you assign this job, the person is artistic, or make up one plate and ask them to copy it.)
  • Tasting (Even though I have already tasted everything, again this makes your guests feel like they are in.)
  • Wrangling puppies.

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