When people ask me my tips for entertaining, I immediately have a simple answer: keep calm and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Last Winter, I had 27 people crammed into my small New York City apartment for a Christmas party, and the smoke detector went off. Over the sound of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” beeping screeched, and I had to jump on a stool to quiet the aggressive alarm. Instead of freaking out, I calmly asked a friend to open the window, another to save the burning crostini and turn off the oven that made the alarm sound, and a third to pour me a glass of punch. The party resumed, and a few minutes later, we forgot all about the chaos.
As someone who gets stressed out easily, I was surprised to have handled that situation with such grace. But then I realized that although I didn’t grow up around a lot of parties, my mom taught me how to adequately prepare to make sure things run as smoothly as possible — and keep my composure when it didn’t. For one, she’s a teacher who has to delegate classroom duties to children (who act the same as adults who are tipsy on Hot Spiced-Spiked Cider), and she also handled every holiday at our house with minimal yelling. As I think up future party ideas, I always keep her advice in the back of my mind. If I could clone my mom and have her with you at your next dinner party, I would, but until that technology exists, I’ll just have to share some of her best entertaining tips.
During the holidays, my mom makes at least half a dozen dishes in advance so she isn’t stressed out the day of the big meals. She bakes hundreds of Christmas cookies and freezes them on individual plates for cookie swaps, she makes a sky-high apple pie and chills a piece for my dad who doesn’t like it room temperature, and she makes all of our favorite side dishes in advance so they don’t have to bake alongside the roast turkey. So when I host a party, I make a checklist of what dishes I can make in advance (like dips that can be chilled and heated the day of) and try to keep any prep the day of to a minimum.
Being the person who has to bring ice to a party is never fun, but it’s a necessary ask! Don’t be afraid to ask your friends for help, and know who is most responsible. If someone asks what they can do, I usually request they bring dessert or something to drink, as I focus on appetizers and snacks that will keep everyone grazing and satisfied, especially if I am trying to make a main entree that is taking longer than expected.
My favorite way to entertain is to make one big thing and assemble a handful of little things. A charcuterie board or a cheese ball with crudités that can sit out for a little while is a great start, then hot appetizers like pizza dip and bacon crescent rolls before the main event. A slow-cooked pork shoulder can turn into a big taco bar, or you can carve up a ham for little slider-sized sandwiches on potato rolls with a bar of mayonnaise, mustard, and other fixin’s. Make it easy by allowing people to serve themselves!
If you can have designated areas for people to throw away trash throughout the party or recycle bottles and cans, that is helpful so you aren’t alone cleaning at the end of the night. But at the same time, don’t be preoccupied with worrying about cleanup or the end of the party when you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself! Spread your time among mingling with your friends, checking on food and drinks, and making sure the kids don’t get into any trouble if there are people of all ages at the shindig. The most important entertaining tip is to enjoy yourself. That’s what my mom would want for me, and I’m sure what yours would want for you, too. And when in doubt, just forget about your troubles and dance. That’s always the key to happiness.