Whether you lifted it from your family or an Emily Post-approved book, everyone has a dinner party strategy. So we asked our team: What's your best hosting tip? Borrow their 13 tricks to help streamline prep and make the whole event feel special:
Jackie: I take out all my serving pieces the day before (or two days before if I have time) and put Post-It notes on each dish, reminding me what to serve on each. It helps me stay organized in the days and hours before the doorbell rings!
Riddley: I set out Mad Libs for friends to play. For those who don't know each other well, it's a great way to break the ice. And if they do know each other, hey, it's still funny!
Amanda S.: Do the dishes the next morning. I know this creates tougher-to-remove grease and is frowned upon by pretty much everyone, but my least favorite part of entertaining is trying to convince guests they don't need to help with the dishes. Let everyone stay late without creeping awkwardly back into the kitchen, then fall asleep happy and deal with the mess the next day over strong coffee and a mild, worth-it headache.
Haley S.: Keep vanilla ice cream in your freezer in case of a dessert catastrophe (e.g. everything sticks to the pan, or you have that extra glass of wine and leave the cake in the oven too long—the list of possibilities goes on and on!). You can mix any baked good with ice cream and achieve great results.
Taylor: Invite two good friends and have each of them bring someone no one else in the party knows. That way, you still have a small group but you're able to meet new people! I stole this from a 1960s party hosting book, and it really works.
Jane W.: I try to always have fresh flowers around and something bubbly in the fridge at all times. That way, I can host on the fly. Just give me a second to kick that stray sandal under my bed and come on down!
Olivia: Keep take-out containers on hand so you can send your guests away with leftovers! And always buy a lot more wine than you think you'll need.
Hannah: I always refresh my bathroom when guests are coming. I make sure to put out a new bar of soap, fresh towels, and flowers. It's not something that people notice right away, but can make anyone feel more at ease when they want to freshen up.
Micki: I almost always have homemade chocolate chip cookie dough in a quart container in the freezer so that I have a quick go-to dessert if I don't feel like making a new one for a party, or if my hosting is impromptu and people need a snack or a pick-me-up.
Michael: Have snacks out for your guests for the moment they arrive (or call them hors d'oeuvres if you're feeling fancy). You don't know where your guests will be arriving from—maybe they had a super hectic day and didn't eat lunch—and this strategy takes the pressure off of getting dinner on the table and puts everyone at ease.
Hillary: Ask people to bring actually useful ingredients (lemons for drinks, herbs and lettuce for a salad, etc.) when they ask, instead of another bottle of wine or a dessert you don't really need or want. Everyone feels more helpful—and they might even offer to make you some drinks with those lemons!
What's your best hosting tip? Share your secrets with us in the comments.
Photos of table runner and candle by James Ransom; photo of ice cream by Posie Harwood; photo of flowers by Kyle Orosz