After over twenty-five years of entertaining at home both as a single person and coupled, I have some ways to take the stress out of having people into my home. It's easy in the beginning to focus on food and drink to create the wow factor of having guests over for dinner, but in the end it's the people that make for enjoyable times. I've been to friends, relatives or business associates homes where fabulous food was over whelmed by the lack of mixing the right guests, stressed-out hosts or hostesses, and too little or too much liquor. Finding the right recipe for entertaining is easy.
-Invite the right amount and mix of people. Invite a couple or a single that you really enjoy being around, this will help keep you smiling no matter what happens. Bring together people that have something in common, that creates conversation beyond what do you do, the children, and the house. I like groups of eight to ten, that way if some are quiet, it isn't a party killer.
-Start planning your dinner party eight weeks out, send out invites six weeks before. People are extremely busy today, to get on their calendar you need long lead times.
-Skip the Internet web site group invitation route. From what I've heard people don't like disclosing why they can't make a party publicly or having invitees shop the guest list before they commit.
-Query potential guests by email. Ask if they are available on a specific date. Then send snail mail invitations, people love to get mail that isn't bills, plus it sets a tone for your dinner party. Request in writing an RSVP by a specific date, typically a week before the party date. The RSVP answer should be yes or no, maybes don't work in entertaining, find different guests.
-The key to having a stress-free event is to plan and prepare in advance of the party day. Take an inventory and create lists of food, beverages, flowers, candles, music, glassware and dinnerware that you have and what you'll need.
-Do your major shopping 3-5 days before entertaining. I'll guarantee you'll go at least a couple more times, but for little things. You'll feel better the more organized you are.
-Forget doing repainting or decorating projects on deadline with your party, you'll be grumpy from the self imposed pressure.
-Cook and prepare as much of the food before the party so you can spend time with your guests. Find make-ahead recipes. Keep food simple, with minimal last-minute preparation. I like dishes that can coast while guests finish conversations or arrive late from traffic or other issues. Flexibility is a life saver.
-Set the table 2 days before the event. You'll enjoy the time to tweak the pretty picture your dishes, stemware, flowers, and candles set.
-Locate a beverage station away from the dining table and food preparation area. I think of this as a gathering zone, so find a hospitable place. Make the bar self contained so there is no running back and forth to the kitchen. Remember a trash can, cork screw, cocktail napkins, stir sticks, ice bucket, coolers for refrigerated drinks like beer and soda. If you have left over flowers from the dining table, place in a bud vase to zip up the bar.
-I'm a big fan of moving the party from room to room during the event. If you like to have people in the kitchen or assisting in food preparation, bring in a couple of chairs to send the signal that your guests are welcome in the kitchen. Serve dinner in the dining room and have dessert in the living room. Different spaces set tones that can help transition your party.
-If conversation gets slow, have some topics in mind to spark new interest. Movies, books, and cool web sites are good safe topics. Stay away from politics and religion, they're dangerous social territory.
-Music is a must, it can really energize a party and change a guests mood from sulky to spunky. It also creates some filler when one conversation ends and before a new one gets going.
-If guests linger at the end it's a good sign of a successful party. Don't allow intoxicated guests to drive home.
Mark Nash is the author of “Fundamentals of Marketing for the Real Estate Professional", “Starting & Succeeding in Real Estate", “Reaching Out: The Financial Power of Niche Marketing", and “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home". Mark is a contributing writer for: Realtor (R) Magazine Online, Broker Agent News, Real Estate Executive Magazine, Principal Broker, and Realty Times. His tried and true real estate tips has been featured on CBS The Early Show, CNN, HGTVpro.com, The New York Times, and USA Today. Purchase his books at http://www.1001RealEstateTips.com .