Too Many Cooks: What's Your Best Hosting Tip?

September 22, 2015

We partnered with Stella Artois this summer to host Genius Recipes dinners in some of our favorite cities across the country. Today, we share our own hosting success stories.


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:

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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! 


Amanda H.: Put a good scented candle at the entrance to your home so your guests have an immediate sensory experience when they arrive. 

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.  

Ice cream

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.

Cookie dough

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.

Victoria: My mother's mantra is that everyone looks better in candlelight. Dim the overhead lights and bring out your nice candlesticks (or IKEA tea lights).

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!

To learn more about hosting beautifully with Stella Artois, head here, and use the hashtag #hostbeautifully to share photos and tips from your own dinner parties.

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jannelle
  • Bunny Critch
    Bunny Critch
  • Roslyn S. Tate
    Roslyn S. Tate
  • Rhonda35
  • Roger
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


Jannelle November 23, 2015
I set up a small area for a bar close to the kitchen but not in the traffic area. I mix a pitcher of something up and have wine , champagne and beer. All the ice and corresponding glassware is there too. People feel free to help themselves and the meal prep is not constantly interrupted by someone asking where the ice is. It is the best thing I have ever done to have a great dinner party.
Bunny C. November 16, 2015
Make sure guests bring their food contributions pretty much ready to serve. Nothing worse than everyone trying to chop, mix or saute at once in a small kitchen.
Roslyn S. November 16, 2015
Have guests change seats for dessert. This increases good conversation and lets people get to know each other.
Rhonda35 November 12, 2015
I've used Jackie's serving piece strategy for years - it is so helpful in that "putting dinner on the table" rush. Also, if a guest is helping in the kitchen, it makes it very easy for them to figure out what serving piece to use. I love Riddley and Taylor's ideas and will have to try them soon.
Roger October 10, 2015
Enough trash receptacles are often overlooked at non-sit down style parties.
Meg R. September 23, 2015
When dinner is over I clear the table very discretely while guests are chatting. As I clear I put everything in compact piles; pots together, plates stacked, silverware in the sink, etc. That way guests don't see an overwhelming mess in the kitchen and feel like they need to help, I can forget about it until everyone leaves and clean up is easier.
thirschfeld September 23, 2015
Serve copious amounts of good alcohol before sitting down to dinner.
Lynne F. September 22, 2015
Very nice.