Entertaining Advice For The Unexperienced Host

Inviting over guests for cocktails and dinner instead of going out is often more relaxing and enjoyable for many hosts. However, there are always those who aspire to host a party, but as soon as party date arrives, who would rather crawl under the covers than prepare a three-course meal for eight and stay collected enough to partake in the conversation. For those not in-the-know, entertaining expert Jenny Steffens Hobick is here to offer her tips and guidance.


Any tips for someone who is usually too busy with the food and drinks to actually sit down and enjoy themselves in conversation with their guests?  

Menus for entertaining should be simple, and remember, the oven is your friend! I like to serve anything that cooks in the oven and goes straight to the table, or that can go easily onto one simple platter and served family style. This method allows me to prepare everything ahead of time and get all of the pots and pans cleaned before any guests arrive. I write down an oven schedule and time everything so I know exactly when to put it in the oven so it all comes out at the same time. When my guests arrive, the kitchen is on autopilot and I am free to have a great time.  


What are some smaller, less intimidating options if a full dinner party seems like too much for me right now? 

I love hosting brunch on a weekend morning when the pressure is off and everyone is in a relaxed mood. Most brunch foods can be made the day before which makes for a very laid-back way to entertain. I like to make monkey bread that proofs and rises over night, and egg strata that is best in the refrigerator overnight and baked off in the morning. Before I go to bed, I assemble a big platter of berries and fruit that is ready for the morning. A Bloody Mary Bar is as easy as putting out bottles and filling bowls with olives, limes, and celery. In the morning, I put on a pot of coffee and a pitcher of orange juice. Everyone helps themselves from the kitchen island.  


Do you have any advice for those looking to start entertaining but aren't sure how to throw something together? 

Start small and make something you love. Have no more than five guests, six including you. It is easier to manage a small group your first time. Try serving something like Lobster Mac N'Cheese that is made beforehand but is special enough for company.      


How can someone put together a great dinner or evening with friends on a budget? What are some shortcuts that can be made without sacrificing too much style? 

I like to have one show-stopper on the menu, which means I splurge on one thing — maybe truffle butter, sea scallops, or great heirloom tomatoes. If you make one thing shine, you can make everything else very simple. Try to figure out what your guests will rave about on the way home and invest in that to be the star of your party.


Any dinner-table ideas for keeping the conversation flowing?

Seating arrangements may seem stuffy, but they are absolutely necessary to ensure great conversation. You have to have the wittiest, most talkative, or most interesting person (or people) in the middle of the table. Also, there is a reason the hostess and host traditionally sit at the head of the table, they can foster cross table conversation by asking a question to the person at the other end of the table.  

Jenny lives in Concord, Massachusetts, and is an event and lifestyle expert. Visit her site at Everyday Occasions

Kinfolk is guide to small gatherings, a marriage of our appreciation for art and design and our love for spending time with family and friends. Click here to read more of Kinfolk online.

This story was originally published on August 2, 2011.