With many of the holidays (and the weekend) just around the corner, it’s time to start party planning!
The ultimate hostess makes entertaining in her home fun in every way. She has learned her skills and combines them with a warmth that makes friends and family feel that their presence makes the evening special. And, with her eye for detail, she will make you feel that she spent hours preparing to welcome you.
Entertaining Guests the Right Way
My entertaining role model was my Aunt Essie. She was a great hostess. From the time I was a little girl and into womanhood I revered her entertaining prowess. I watched her do everything with her outgoing manner, from greeting our family with open arms and her beautiful smile to her ability to set a magnificent or casual table. She did everything with grace and style. She was fun and that is what set her apart from most hostesses.
Wonderful memories flood my mind as I see her hosting an easy barbecue of chicken and ribs she served with fresh corn on the cob dripping in salted butter, ranch baked beans with brown sugar and a delicious dessert of shocking pink watermelon fresh from the market.
A huge smile was always on her beautiful face. Her arms were outstretched, expressing warmth, as delicious aromas of foods flowed through her home. Her dining room table was set to perfection and, as a young girl, I admired her beautiful taste and her impeccable attention to detail.
When I grew up I wanted to be just like her. What did I admire most about her entertaining skills? My Aunt Essie was fun at her own party! She made every occasion joyful!
Over the years I have entertained hundreds of times, always keeping in mind that I had the responsibility to set the mood in our home.
What I’ve Learned
I learned what one does NOT need to entertain flawlessly. You do not need…
- A lot of money
- A large home
- Elaborate catered foods
- A staff
I also learned the essentials of entertaining at home. You simply must have…
- A hostess with warmth, joy and organization skills. That is you, darling!
- A festive air in your home or condo to set the party feeling. Light your candles, dim your lighting, turn on the music to set the mood and light a fire in your fireplace if you have one.
- A mix of guests who are fun, interesting and a few who are ‘new on the scene’ that you know will help you make the night a success.
- Plenty of delicious foods.
- An unexpected surprise!
All of the MUSTS on my list start not with what you have, but with who you are and what you will create.
You are the driver of your party whether it is for four people for a casual dinner and cards or fifty plus for a special occasion. Every successful party revolves around you, the hostess. Period.
Now that we have established that your attitude, the setting in your home, and your guest list are the rocks on which all successful entertaining rests, we have to think about the menu because food and drink have always been a symbol of hospitality.
Hosting a Gathering
I am always standing at the door when my guests arrive. I immediately give my guests a kiss and a warm smile. I then offer them a glass of champagne or send them to our small intimate bar where my husband will pour wine or make them a cocktail of their choice. There are arrays of goodies of all sorts surrounding the bar. With music playing, the room perfectly lit, a crackling fire in the fireplace, and a drink in hand… the mood is set. I am determined that everyone will have a great time.
My dining room table seats fourteen. I always use place cards. A hostess should be eager to please her guests; not have them wonder where to be seated. My place cards are not paper but white china (not expensive and reusable.) I write the name in magic marker for the evening and then store them away for my next party. And, I use different colors of ink depending on my table setting.
After my guests are seated my husband makes a welcoming toast. This is a party ritual in our home. At the end of every toast, Shelly asks all of our friends to raise their glass as he says, “God bless the United States of America.”
Everyone is happy as they start eating their plated salad followed by the main course with festive and simple American food. I always have color in a veggie, pasta or risotto on the dinner plate to add gaiety.
Don’t Forget Surprises
Here are a few unexpected surprises you can pull on your guests!
- Invite a special guest no one knows. We invited a musician friend for dinner. After we finished dining he surprised our guests by playing our piano to the music of Irving Berlin and telling Mr. Berlin’ life story.
- Have a casual beef and cheese fondue dinner party where everyone chooses and cooks their own meal. It is so much fun!
- Let your guests make and serve their own salad! Place large wooden salad bowls down the length of your table or in the center of your table depending on your number of guests. Use the bowl as your festive centerpiece! Fill the empty salad bowl with lettuce wedges (one per guest), whole tomatoes, whole cucumbers, scallions and radishes, and a cutting knife! Tell them to make their salad! It is really laughable and fun.
- Greet your female guests with a long-stemmed rose in a small glass vial they can take home.
- Ask each guest to talk about something important or funny that happened to them in their lives. It is always a successful interchange and makes for very interesting unexpected conversation.
Create a Schedule
In order be the hostess that enjoys her own party, organization is key. Here is my detailed schedule if I am having fourteen guests for a beautiful dinner party.
9:00 am: My table is set. I always set my own table. I want perfection.
11:00 am: Shelly, my husband, makes sure the bar is set up and stocked to perfection.
12:00 Noon: All platters, trays, wines, etc. are organized.
2:00 – 3:00 pm: Flowers arrive.
4:00 – 5:00 pm: The cook, bartender, and servers arrive.
6:00 pm: Shelly and I dress and discuss the evening to come.
6:30 pm: Shelly modifies the lighting, turns on the music, rechecks the bar and opens the front doors
6:45 pm: I light my dining room candles. I give the kitchen a once over and check with the chef and bartender. And then Shelly and I sit at the bar and toast the happy evening ahead.
7:00 pm: I am at the front door to welcome our guests. Shelly is at the bar. Friends and guests arrive for the cocktail hour.
8:00 pm: Everyone is seated. I sit at one end of our table and Shelly at the other. We exchange seats at dessert. Shelly begins by making a toast that ends with all of our glasses held high, as he says, “May there be peace in the world and God bless America!”
My job as a hostess is to make my guest want to come back. Throwing my parties is work that intrigues me. I am excited to see the finished product… with old friends and new friends and family who delight me!
Bon Appetite, darlings!