This time of year, many of us are starting to think about what our New Year's resolutions should be, once all the fun of the holidays is done. Promising ourselves to shed those last 10 pounds, vowing to finally clean out that dumping ground of a hall closet, or just resolving to call home more often — all these are admirable. But have you thought about making resolutions when it comes to your entertaining style?
As one example, when we're hosting a dinner party for 30, we're turning to a caterer for assistance this coming year. It's not cheating but a smart way to be the best host or hostess as you can be. You can mingle with your guests, as you won’t be playing bartender-server-clean-up-crew all in the same evening (that’s their job). Nor does “entertaining” have to mean you prep, cook, serve, and clean up after two or three courses. Instead, recruit your friends or family in the kitchen, or host a potluck. Nothing is wrong with dividing and conquering.
That's hardly the only way you can upgrade your party-giving game. Here are ten suggestions for resolutions that will make you a better party-giver in the year to come.
10. Inventory Your Dish Cabinet
While some of us choose to mix and match plates, others prefer full sets of matching china when setting the table. Whatever your style, open the doors to your dish cabinets and see what’s inside. Check for cracked plates, or plates resting in the wrong spaces. Have a little money and looking to make a smart investment in something new, versatile and stylish? Your one purchase should be a nice set of simple white porcelain dinner plates. You can both dress them up or down, depending on your gathering, and nothing makes food “pop” than a plain white background.
9. Revisit Your Idea of a “Party”
A party, according to Webster’s, is simply a social gathering. So, if your idea of a party is no fewer than six people, some liquor, and some music, think again. A party can just be dinner in with three friends, followed by a movie and popcorn; a potluck dinner party for five couples and all the kids; or an all-out birthday celebration hosted by three friends at a restaurant. Whenever you’re with friends, it’s a party.
8. Spice Up the Décor
If you don’t usually purchase flowers for the table, or set out a series of votive candles, try something new and experiment with creating a signature look and ambience that is all your own. If you already have the flower or candle thing down pat, mix it up a bit. Purchase a new vase or series of mini vases to intersperse with candles along the table, or forgo lights all together, instead dining by candlelight.
7. Think Thematically
Every week you have a dinner party with friends. Yes, maybe you shake it up a bit, going out to a different restaurant or ordering in something new, but why not vary things and add a theme or activity to the evening. Maybe you model the evening after one of your favorite TV shows (a Modern Family or Mad Men party) or favorite song, or mastermind an activity to do together, like making flower arrangements, or learning to cook a new recipe.
6. Entertain on a Regular Basis
You know the type. They’re always working or eating out, and never entertain at home. Maybe they have a small place, with two chairs to sit on around a coffee table, or they are “too busy.” They never entertain.
As we said above, hosting a gathering doesn’t mean you have to labor all day in the kitchen and then reserve four hours of your day for the party itself — start having weekly dinners with a couple of friends. Everyone needs to eat, and it can be a low-key evening sitting around the floor, watching the game, eating soup or pizza. Whatever your style, the more you entertain, the easier and more relaxed of a host or hostess you become.
5. Develop a Repertoire of Signature Recipes
Whether it’s a basic roast chicken, or your favorite double chocolate brownies, perfect a couple of versatile and delicious dishes that you can mix and match for dinner parties. The recipes need not be fancy or time consuming, but they should be delicious. Store the recipes in a special box in the kitchen (or even better, memorize them), so you can put together a wonderful menu in little time.
4. Be Spontaneous
You don’t need to plan for days in advance when hosting a gathering. If it’s Friday and you and your two good friends have had a rough week and have no dinner plans, host an impromptu dinner party. Meet at the neighborhood grocery store to plan and purchase dinner (and beverages) before heading home to make dinner, together. Or, if you’re vacationing with friends, invite them over, on Friday night, for a leisurely Saturday morning breakfast. You’ll already be making eggs, toast, and fruit salad; all you need to do is make more of it.
3. Entertain on Unusual Occasions
Dinner parties aren’t only for, well, dinner. Mix up the time of day — and the day of the week — you entertain this year. Instead of wine and cheese on Friday nights with your girlfriends, instead opt for Saturday afternoon tea, or a weekday morning breakfast. Instead of a formal, Saturday night dinner with some other couples, try hosting a low-key Sunday supper that is a fun and mellow way to ease back into the work week (kids are optional).
2. Enlist Friends and Family
Nothing is worse, as a host or hostess, than being stuck in the kitchen alone while your guests sip wine and nibble on appetizers in the other room. Nor should you be ashamed for asking your guests to give you a hand (even if they don’t ask, which they usually do). There is something wonderful and fun to share a kitchen with your siblings or family as you work together to prepare a meal. Everyone is chatting happily and keeping busy — no time or space for awkward silences or feeling out of place — and you will still get credit for orchestrating dinner, in the end.
Nobody wants to be slaving in their kitchen all day before having five friends over for dinner. Plan your menu accordingly, choosing easy, one-pot meals that can sit warming on the stove, like a pot of chili, while you enjoy an aperitif with your friends. Choose one appetizer than can be made in advance and served at room temperature, like a creamy crab dip, so you don’t have to worry about it going cold or folding lots of little wonton wrappers into dumplings. Or, make your kitchen appliances work for you, cooking a spicy ginger curry in your slow cooker, and serving it with white rice that you can make in a rice cooker. There are no rules that say you have to cook everything by hand, when entertaining. For drinks, you don't need a whole liquor cabinet — just a few basics (a good Scotch, Bourbon, vodka, maybe rum or gin) and mixers, some beer, and decent white and red wine.