Let me start by saying, I have been entertaining for a very long time! Longer than many would think given I’m in my mid 30’s, but it’s because I’ve been entertaining since I was 16 years old!
Way back when it was completely uncool and I should have been out doing teenagery things, I was setting tables with candles, flowers & napkins, fussing over delicately placed dill atop smoked salmon and cream cheese, and whipping up a lemon vodka risotto (when we weren’t even allowed to drink vodka!).
I’ve always been a homebody and loved entertaining, but I have made many mistakes and had some stressful events in my 20 years since that first dinner party. So, I’m sharing my top tips for stress free and easy entertaining that will help make your next brunch, lunch or dinner party a fun and relaxing event for guest and host!!
Create an inviting table setting
I always have flowers or foliage, placemats, cloth napkins or tablecloth, candles and nice cutlery. It doesn’t all have to expensive but always include a hero piece, or something a little bit fancy, to give your table setting that wow factor. A stunning floral arrangement will elevate even the simplest of settings. Likewise with beautiful table linens or fine cutlery. If you’re stuck for table decor ideas, Pinterest is a great source of inspiration!
Set the table the night before
Or morning of the party! The night before is ideal as it’s one big thing ticked off the “to-do” list and doing it early gives you time to focus on the food and drinks so you won’t feel rushed. Even if your food isn’t prepared (god forbid) when your guests arrive, it’s always lovely to see a beautifully set table on arrival.
Set up a drinks area, so guests can help themselves
Although it’s fantastic if you’re able to continually get around to topping up your guests drinks, and being ready to serve all evening, but sometimes it’s not always possible or you get busy with food. Think about setting up a drinks area and telling guest they can help themselves. It makes things much more casual, and takes some of the pressure off the hosts if you’re not able to get around to everyone all the time. Plus, I also find it allows guests to regulate their own consumption that way too.
If it’s an intimate gathering, keep your flower arrangements low
If you’ve gone to the effort of setting a beautiful table, it’s always a shame to have to relocate the flowers once you’ve sat down, and it’s certainly not conducive to inclusive conversation if your flowers block the view of your guests opposite. Don’t have any low vases? Think outside the box! Glass bowls, empty jars of varying heights, or ceramic pie dishes make great vessels for flowers.
Create a menu than can be (mostly) prepared in advance
This is one area I have failed in many times! So I speak from experience when I say that nothing kills the buzz more than when you see your host in the kitchen the whole time. Guests feel like they need to assist or help out, but you also miss all the fun! Think about food that can be prepared in advance and doesn’t need to be stirred or watched (e.g risotto is a no-go!). A cheeseboard is great if you don’t want to do canapés and guests can easily help themselves. For mains, things like homemade pies, tarts, quiches, slow cooked meats or stews, roasts, barbequed food, salads and soups are great. Great dessert options are things like meringues, panacottas, ice creams, tarts, flans, cakes and puddings are ideal. Just remember to do your prep if the food assembly requires extra attention or detail. And make sure you always have your dishwasher empty and ready to go before guests arrive!!
Set the tone with music
The right music! If you want your guests to end the lunch/dinner dancing, create a playlist that starts with relaxed upbeat tunes over food and then increases to good dancing music towards the end. If you want a more relaxed, laid-back vibe for your party, play music that relaxes your guests like cafe jazz, some old school Blue’s, or “chillout” music. Your selection comes down to personal choice, but a party without any music feels empty and awkward. The same goes for the wrong music. Hard rock and thumping dance music probably isn’t the best choice if you’re hosting a sit down lunch or dinner!
Some of my personal favourites for creating a lovely vibe are the soundtracks from Nancy Meyers movies Something’s Gotta Give (french compilation), as well as It’s Complicated and The Holiday (both movie scores by legendary film score composer, Hans Zimmer). DJ Dimsa is also a favourite as his remixes and compositions are ideal dinner party music or even a lazy Sunday.
My other personal favourite that I discovered about 15 years ago is Putomayo world music. Putomayo have a huge range of diverse and interesting music, with albums like Cuban Playground, African Rumba, Jazz Cafe, and Vintage Italia, although their French Cafe album has long been a favourite of mine. I often play their music while cooking and it really puts me in a good mood!!
Create mood and atmosphere
If it’s daytime, make use of natural light and sunshine. If it’s an evening event, turn off bright overhead lights in place of lamps, candles and twinkle/string lights. You want your guests to be able to see what they’re eating, as well as other guests, but you don’t want them to feel like they’re dining in a hospital. Plus, everyone looks more youthful and prettier in candle light, so your guests will feel good!
For a girls dinner I hosted earlier this year (pictured above) everyone bought a canape to share, then for mains I did individual chicken, bacon, mushroom & leek pies (filling made earlier that day), with saffron mash (made ahead of time) and buttered beans with toasted almonds. Dessert was mini pomegranate and strawberry pavlovas with fresh mint.
Of course, all of the above is useless if you don’t enjoy yourself, and always remember that the most important thing is being around people you love, sharing good food, laughing, and having a good time!
What are your top tips for stress free and easy entertaining? Anything you know that works every time? Maybe a good recipe or playlist? Love to hear from others about what has worked for them!