5 Tips for Stress-Free, Budget-Friendly Entertaining

January 21, 2015

Today: Tiffani Faison, chef and restauranteur, shares some ways to entertain stress-free. 

Throwing parties at home was always a great idea…in my head. The intimacy! The elegance! The deliciousness! The procrastination!

Shop the Story

Invariably, I found myself running around my house thirty minutes before my guests arrived. I began to pride myself on my ability to light candles with one hand and vacuum with the other. I have hit the apartment buzzer while still applying makeup (lipstick on a sweaty pig, literally).  These are not skills to which anyone should aspire, including me. It took my wife watching this ritual unfold several times before she asked, “Shouldn’t parities be fun?” 

I was deflated. She was right. I’d made a sport of what ought to be relaxing and fun: sharing my home with friends and family. With a few adjustments, I’ve amended my bad habits so parties are finally as enjoyable for me as they are for my guests. 

Here are my 5 favorite tips for throwing a fabulous party without driving yourself crazy: 

1. Create a timeline and stick to it.
Sit down a week before the party and make yourself a reasonable schedule. For example, if the party is on Sunday evening, plan out the things that you'd normally run around doing at the last minute. Create a playlist on Monday, give the dog a bath on Thursday, buy and arrange flowers on Friday morning (added bonus: You get to enjoy the flowers longer).  Do whatever works for you, but put it in your your calendar, stick to it, and keep yourself on track. 

2. Pick a simple theme that doesn’t feel like a “THEME."  
This will allow you to stay focused on a visual goal without overdoing it. It can be as simple as “comfort”, “snow” or “French." Now keep it to yourself. It’s a guide for editing your décor and your menu, not a children’s birthday party; it should be elegant and not entirely obvious. 

3. Spend and save your money in the right ways.
Invest in good quality napkins that can be used multiple times, buy more votive candles (unscented) than you think you need, buy quality ingredients. Allocating expense in the right areas will allow the details to shine. 

But set limits and use what you have in creative ways. Those seed packets you never planted? That’s your place card. Extra cinnamon sticks or fresh thyme? Those become your napkin ring with the help of a little butcher’s twine and a well-tied bow. Serve your main course in the beautiful pot you never use. 

There’s a sweetness and accessibility your guests will enjoy from personalized touches. 

4. Think like a restaurant.
Cook almost everything the day before. Have chilled water in bottles on the table. Print a menu to place on the table. Light the room well and play great music. 

5. Let your guests do some of the work.
Pick one thing for them to bring, be specific, and keep it small. They will always ask, so be prepared with an answer. If you’re making a delicious cocktail for the party, ask them to bring a new martini glass for a swap gift. Allow them to bring wine that is appropriate for the meal, ensuring you will have more than enough for the evening. Ask one guest to bring their favorite local bread, while another brings their two favorite cheeses. It doesn’t all have to be you; allow your guests to share what they love and contribute to the evening. 


Those of us inclined to throwing parties tend to also be the type of people to pile our proverbial plates full. Inviting friends into your home is about caring for them, but it should not come at the expense of your sanity or your enjoyment. Take your time, plan appropriately, make smart choices, and have fun. If given the choice between spending time with you or eating Beef Rossini with a stressed-out host, your friends will always choose you.

Tell us: What are your tips for stress-free entertaining? 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Antigoni Sander McCloud
    Antigoni Sander McCloud
  • henandchicks
  • Sewassbe
  • Patricia Lacek Davis
    Patricia Lacek Davis
  • Christelle
American chef, restaurateur, & television personality.


Antigoni S. February 3, 2015
I agree with so many of the tips in the article as well as in the comments. In addition to pulling out my serviceware ahead of time, I like to put post-it notes on each platter, bowl, etc...noting what will go in each of them. This seems rather fussy, but I have also found when entertaining people always want to help when it is time to put the food it, and by doing this I can easily ask them to grab the platter for the meat, or for the potato, etc....This is so much better than thinking on the fly, and an easy way for people to help you when it's "go time!" Another tip that I would add is to shower in the morning if you are hosting a dinner! This might seem silly, but I have found that it is very easy to be tasking all day long when you are hosting in the evening. Whenever I wait to shower until I have finished, cooking, cleaning and prepping it is always the one thing that puts me behind...or my favorite, the first guests arrive early, just before you have put your make-up on or dried your hair! Shower in the morning! Trust me! It's a time saver in the long run :)
henandchicks January 27, 2015
I think having a party where there are few options- but plenty of those few things-makes for a fun and easy event, with the added bonus of being easy to cost control. For example, we have a BLT party where we make ONLY BLTs, cookies and punch. Guests ask what to bring, we say chips, pickles, beer or a date. This inspires people to find crazy chips or pickles, makes prep easy for us, ad the sandwiches are DIY. We do the same with oysters and Cubans, and sweet rolls and coffee.
Sewassbe January 26, 2015
Great tips! I would add make a to-do list. You don't have to stick to it precisely, but it's good to plan out your prep before you actually start. Also get your recipes in order and figure out what should be cooked when in order to maximize your time.

Love the theme thing. I threw a Hobbit "themed" birthday party for myself yesterday. Nobody dressed up, and we were supposed to watch the second Hobbit movie, but never did. But the food (all old-school British comfort food) was well-received, a friend made "lembas" bread, and we did the very Hobbity thing of sitting around and eating for about five hours. It was great.
Patricia L. January 22, 2015
Start drinking before the guests arrive! JK!
I find that deciding what serving plates, platters, utensils, etc to use and having them all out ahead saves the time and stress of pulling them out and figuring it all out at the last minute!
Christelle January 21, 2015
"It’s a guide for editing your décor and your menu, not a children’s birthday party..."

Psyched to see this was written by Tiffani Faison, one of my favorite Top Chefs ever. Great tips!
mbelmel January 21, 2015
all Great tips! Especially "cook almost everything the day before" --!! wow, how great would that be -- but what?? I have very few dishes that I trust will be good enough the next day. Also: generally has to be fish or vegetarian & gluten free (with a vegan option) in my crowd.