If the last time you had people over, you felt like the party was a total blur, that you hosted your way into feeling like you must have had fun because your guests had fun, or that, after all the serving and clearing, you finally did start to enjoy yourself, this one’s for you.
Step One: Prepare A Little Bit Every Day
Whatever you’re going to do with your house, cleaning-wise, do it days in advance, so the day of the party, you’re doing only quick stuff, like cleaning the bathroom sink, running a cloth over the coffee table and giving the high-traffic areas one last sweep.
Take a cue from East Fork’s Emily Bukoski, who is the executive assistant to our CEO, Connie Matisse. Emily says, “When I’m going to entertain, I’ll start bringing out the folding tables and extra plates and utensils over the course of the week. Even for a smaller gathering, like my book club, I go ahead and set out the wine glasses and arrange the chairs and light the candles well ahead of everyone arriving, so when people get there I’m truly just enjoying the gathering like everyone else, and not rushing around looking for the wine opener at the last minute.”
Step Two: Aim for Ease With Your Food Menu
Have a cocktail party! It’s all the fun of a dinner party with a small fraction of the work. And your stove can play a much smaller role in the proceedings, meaning you’ll be hanging out with your guests instead of your oven mitts for much more of the time.
Aim for a mostly-room-temperature food menu. A charcuterie board piled artfully with cured meats, tinned fish, cheeses, pickled vegetables and crackers is always a hit. (We sell a gorgeous white oak board, if you’re looking for inspiration.) A caramelized onion dip, a smoked beet hummus or baba ganoush with crackers, pita wedges or vegetables? All delicious candidates for being made in advance, too.
Also inspired? A few of your favorite shareable dishes from restaurants, picked up in the afternoon, and served in Coupes so that everyone can try a few bites. Think strategically about how to use your oven here. Maybe you toast some bread or roast a tray of vegetables to round out the offerings. If you’re into mini meatballs, go for it. Maybe you made them yourself, but maybe they came frozen—no one will notice or care. Use that still-hot oven to roast spiced nuts, or gently reheat the bread pudding you baked or bought earlier in the week for later in the evening.
A few days before the party, think through each thing you’ll serve and what you’ll need to serve it. Do you have enough bowls? What about big spoons or forks? Glassware? What’s your little plate and napkin situation? Yes, these are annoying questions, but knowing in advance so you can buy or borrow what you need sure beats realizing it the day of the party.
Step Three: Let’s Think About Drinks
You’re not a bartender! Unless you are, and even still, you’re off duty tonight. Gear your party around one or two cocktails that you (or a helpful guest) can mix up by the pitcher. Maybe have a second pitcher waiting in the wings if the pours are coming fast? Have some mixers on hand for those who just want a simple gin or vodka tonic or scotch and soda.
And expect the unexpected: the people you know as consummate beer drinkers have gotten into wine since you saw them last. And some guests may have gotten more into socializing without alcohol these days. Don’t stress! But it’s always a good idea to have more of everything on hand than you think you need (you can return what you don’t use). And always have a few good options that are alcohol-free. We like a nice locally-made kombucha or seltzer punched up with simple syrup infused with herbs here. Also nice for winter entertaining: an electric kettle filled with water and surrounded by an assortment of teas so guests can help themselves.
Step Four: Relax! Really.
About an hour before guests arrive, set up your zones for food and drink, aiming to have all but what you plan to serve hot in place when guests arrive. Stack your plates and glasses.
One last sweep of the rooms where guests will gather, dim the lights, cue the music (we’re partial to our East Fork playlists), light a fire or some candles. Change into your favorite outfit. Stop cleaning the kitchen!