Do you avoid entertaining because it's too stressful? Believe it or not, it is possible to throw an enjoyable, relaxing dinner party. Your holiday event can be a success with careful planning, and a few creative touches to make your guests feel special.
Having friends over is a great way to get things done around your home, share your creativity and have fun. Thoughtful planning, and knowing that your home looks great will allow you to enjoy your friends while dining.
Start by selecting your guest list to create a table of four to six. A larger number can divide the group into competing conversations and be a little overwhelming. A smaller group assures that you have sufficient seating in your living room and at your dining room table.
Reduce stress by establishing your menu a week before your party. You may want to look through your cookbooks to try a new dish, but make sure you test it out on your family well in advance of the party. Select dishes which can be prepared in advance so you can spend time with your guests, rather than slave away in the kitchen.
Get your house ready
I want my house to look great for my guests, so as soon as I've decided to have a party, I make a list of all the things I'd like to get done around my house. I fit my chores into odd moments in the days before my party. Your "to do" list might include edging the lawn, adding a few blooming flowers to the yard, cleaning the front door, cleaning the front light fixture and doorbell surround, purchasing a new welcome mat, hanging a wreath from the door or setting a large clay pot of flowers on your porch.
Chores inside the home might include spot-cleaning the carpets, scrubbing scuff marks off the wall, buying new candles for the table and fresh towels for the guest room, cleaning out the hall closet and guest bath vanity, tossing or pruning tired house plants, rearranging treasures on the mantel and coffee table or replacing old pillows on the couch.
Being prepared and organized allows you to spend time with your guests and relieves the anxiety of wondering what you may have forgotten or what could possibly go wrong. Follow these suggestions and you'll have a stress-free dinner party.
One week in advance: Clean and iron your tablecloth, place mats and napkins. For fun, make place cards for each guest. For example, write your guests' names on river stones, a pressed leaf or a seed packet.
One or two days before: Shop for groceries. Dust and clean your house, with special attention to the rooms your guests will be frequenting. Freshen potpourri or add candles to the hall table or guest bath. Stock the guest bath with toilet paper and tissues.
Cook anything on your menu that you can prepare in advance. If the weather is cool, set up your fireplace for a cozy fire. Select music and place it by the stereo. Freeze sprigs of mint or tiny sections of lemon in your ice cubes trays to use in water glasses. Run the dishwasher.
The morning of: Set the table and place flowers throughout your home. If you have a partner, divide greeting, serving, clearing and cleanup duties so that one of you is always with your guests. Place wine in the refrigerator. Remove dishes from the dishwasher and empty the garbage. Assemble a bag of favors for each guest: fruit from your yard, a small bouquet of flowers in a tin can or a handmade ornament.
Two hours before: Prepare salad, slice bread and wrap in foil in preparation for heating. Create a serving station on your kitchen counter or table: lay out bowls, baskets and spoons to receive each of your dishes. Set up the coffeemaker and set out dishes that need to be cooked or reheated.
One hour before: Get dressed, light the fire, turn on the music, adjust lighting throughout the house. Sit down and relax until your guests arrive.
Kit Davey is a Redwood City-based interior designer. She is retiring, and this is her final column for the Weekly.