What are the little things -- or the special things -- that you make sure to remember to do before hosting a party?
Plan plating ahead of time. I always take out and wash off my serving dishes and label what dish is used for what food item. I also spend a few days prior deciding on the music playlist. Depending on the season, the guest list, or the atmosphere I want to create, I never rely on iTunes genius to figure it out. My wine glass collection consists of twelve unique glasses. That way each guest gets a different glass, and they always know which one is theirs! I also like to wait until an hour and a half before the party starts to make homemade granola. It's easy to prepare, easy to clean up, guests love it, and it makes the house smells great as friends arrive.
I love having fresh flower arrangements throughout the house when I entertain.
I make a list of easy tasks for guests who ask, "What can I do?" I put it on an index card with a pen close by. I sometimes look at it to figure out what's appropriate for the particular person. For some guests (regulars, good cooks, neighbors who know where everything is) I just hand the list to them and they know what to do. I probably have a dozen other items I could add in response to this. I'll check back after others have contributed and fill in whatever's not been covered. ;o) P.S. I keep a master list of these items in a Word document (as well as a separate checklist of things that I only delegate to family).
I just stop.
Pour a glass of wine, or mix a cocktail if I'm feeling fancy, tidy (myself) up, breath. By that point, I usually have the major stuff together - and that few minutes to decompress makes me a far happier - and more user-friendly - hostess, even if those pesky napkins still need folding.
I try to remember to take off my grungy apron before I sit down to dinner with guests.
I like to write name and description of each dish on cards/placeholders and sometimes even make little decorated menus for each guest. I sometimes add a photo, or illustration, or pressed flower, and the names of the guests -- my folks love to take them home and remember the gathering.
What a generous thing to do. Those personal touches make people feel so welcome.
Well, as General Dwight Eisenhower said, plans are useless but planning is everything. :-) So the last thing on my list is to check my list. (I save them with notes about the event, what worked or didn't. Referring back to them makes the next event so much easier.) One thing I'm military about is getting out every serving item that could possibly be needed for the meal because I don't like people ransacking my drawers and cupboards looking for a gravy ladle or a bowl for dip when I'm trying to welcome guests and finish off things in the kitchen.
I love Antonia's suggestion to keep a mini-list of "things people can do to help."
p.s. I try to never run out of aluminum foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper, storage containers, ice (stash a an extra bag of ice in the bathtub if you don't have room in the freezer), seltzer, liquor, toilet paper, Tylenol. I keep disposable foil pans and take-out containers for sending leftovers home with guests. (Get your hands off my Tupperware!)
Shower, dress, and put on mascara.
Mascara? I try, but with all the steam from the stove-top and oven, I normally look like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Queso and Chips with Mexican Martinis are a great way to kick off a night!