Along with friends and food, ambiance is a third key element to any get-together. But you don't have to buy fresh flowers and have the cleaning lady come before having friends over. While you should still clean that pile of clothes off the floor, straighten up pillows on the couch, and certainly clear off all that clutter on the counter, music and lighting matter most. Put on your iPod or Pandora, then dim the lights and light a candle — instant party atmosphere.
If "entertaining" to you conjures images of seated dinners and cocktail parties that last into the wee hours of the morning, good for you. But it can be as simple as afternoon tea with a friend, a picnic lunch in the backyard, or even wine and cheese after work one night — it's about bringing people together. So grill a steak and pick up some McDonald's fries. Grab cheese and crackers at the deli, and a bottle of red wine, on your way home. Even consider a potluck. Cooking isn't required!
Isn't a party supposed to be all about the people, and not material things like the house, the table, the old couch, or outdated dishware for that matter? It's the guests who make the party a party (though food and drink helps, if you ask us).
No matter what you're doing or where you are, it helps to always be prepared for whatever may come your way with shelf-stable items for appetizers and sweets. That way, when it comes to bringing people together, you'll always have food and drink on hand. Serve up coffee and chocolate truffles, a bowl of pasta with butter and cheese after a long night at work, or even cookies and tea. Don't get so stressed that you say no when friend who happens to be in town calls on you to get together. Say yes and turn to the cabinets instead.
Now that you have the cabinet stocked with some basic crackers and spreads, frozen appetizers in the freezer, and perhaps some cheese or wine in the fridge, turn to your serving plates and glassware. Did all your wine glasses break in the move? Buy more — they don't have to be fancy, but they're nicer than drinking out of plastic (and you won't be embarrassed). Same goes for serving platters, baking dishes, etc. With the proper supplies, you'll be excited to have people over and actually put those dishes and utensils to "work" when you have them at your beck and call!
Do you have a signature dish, a go-to that you can cook in your sleep, or are you always testing out the latest recipe? You don't need to roll out a red carpet when friends come over — simple comforting foods are sometimes even better. For example, I recently had a friend visiting from out of town, and within 12 hours, we'd planned a dinner party in her honor. No fancy curry, no dinner table, and as we had little time to prep, cooking didn't start until 6 p.m. It was a simple supper of roast chicken with vegetables, cheese and crackers for snacking, and of course, some wine, and it was sublime.
At the very least, when friends come over, all you need to do is give them something to drink to make them feel welcome. It can be water, but really, it's not hard to have a couple bottles of white or beer in the fridge, and a red or something harder in the cabinet. Heck, if your fridge isn't bursting to the seams like mine, those bottles might even help you save a couple bucks on your electric bill by regulating the temperature!
It doesn't have to be a girls' rom-com night, a pirate party, or any sort of theme, per se. More a unifying theme or a purpose for bringing people together. Is it random cocktails right now, just because, or a dinner party with two other couples just because you went overboard at the farmers market and now need someone to help eat up all the food you've made? Then let that intention guide your planning and meal.
When you're planning a formal party, rather than something impromptu, it helps to do as much prep in advance as possible. Makes sense, right? That way you can actually enjoy getting ready for your party, perhaps rocking out with a cocktail or bubble bath before guests arrive.
It's why potlucks are so appealing. Have you ever noticed that the food at potlucks almost tastes better (certainly guests are more excited to eat it) than what might be presented to you on a plate at a more formal party? So don't hesitate to make that get-together a potluck, opt for buffet or family-style rather than plated, or host a leftovers-only fiesta. It's easy, helpful to you (less work!), and lots of fun — we promise.