10 Party Preparation Tips

How to entertain the easy way

By Amy Wisniewski

Prep Your Fridge
Prep Your Fridge
Prepare Serving Dishes
Prepare Serving Dishes
The number one rule for holiday entertaining: Work ahead. Any detail that can be attended to early is one less thing for you to become frenzied about on party day. Because as host, you should enjoy the festivities as much as your guests. Consider these tips.

1. Stick to What You Know. Parties are not the time to experiment, because who needs the added stress of unpredictability? The best recipe is one you can make with your eyes closed. If the urge strikes you to branch out, give it a trial run beforehand.

2. Buy in Bulk. If you entertain often, choose a few go-to recipes (vary them slightly if you’re entertaining the same people). You can stock up on the basic ingredients at the beginning of the holiday season.

3. Prep Your Fridge. Before you come home with 80 bags of groceries, clean out your refrigerator and freezer. Toss old condiments and anything you can no longer identify. Fill your fridge safely as well as smartly: Place raw meats away from fruits and vegetables. And keep an eye on the temperature inside with a refrigerator thermometer—the more stuffed your fridge gets, the more difficult it is for the cold air to thoroughly circulate.

4. Prepare Serving Dishes. Don’t waste valuable time on the day of the event trying to remember where you’ve stashed the holiday platters, plates, stemware, serving spoons, and linens. Plan out what dishes you’ll use, and clean and polish them a few days in advance. For sit-down dinners, you can set the table ahead of time. For cocktail parties, lay serving dishes and napkins out for snacks the day before.

5. Plan on a Realistic Amount of Food and Drink. Don’t make enough food to feed the NFL (unless you’re feeding the NFL) or buy enough alcohol for a frat party (unless you’re throwing a frat party). A good guideline for a three-hour cocktail party is about three drinks per person, or about one bottle of wine for every two to three guests and one quart of liquor for every 10 to 12 guests. For predinner hors d’oeuvres plan on three to five pieces per person, and for a three-hour cocktail party, about four to six pieces per person per hour.

6. Stock the Bar Essentials. Alcohol is expensive, and your guests won’t storm out the door if you haven’t picked up a 14-year Oban. The basics—wine, sparkling wine, distinctive beers, or a couple of types of spirits and a few mixers—are fine. Premix a house cocktail. Remember to always have water and nonalcoholic choices available, and don’t forget the ice.

7. Show a Little Flair. Whether your thing is cooking, origami, or playing a little jazz flute, show your style through personal details. Don’t go all Martha Stewart on your guests, but a few unique touches make your party memorable.

8. Vibe Out. No one wants to linger very long in a room that’s lit like an airport lounge. Choose lighting, music, seating, and a temperature that are conducive to eating, drinking, and socializing.

9. Put Your Guests to Work. But only if they ask, and just enough to make them feel useful. Keep the tasks simple: opening wine bottles, putting coats in the bedroom, or bringing out some hors d’oeuvres. You shouldn’t ask guests to take out garbage or put away dishes.

10. Clean as You Go. Don’t make guests feel like you’re tidying up because the party’s over. Instead, try to grab crumpled napkins, toothpicks, unaccounted-for glasses, and plates on your way to the kitchen. A little cleaning here and there will ease postparty cleanup, but don’t obsess over every dish in the sink.

Amy Wisniewski is the kitchen editorial assistant at CHOW.

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