Thursday, 29 December 2011

Top 10 Tips For Hosting! AKA The Things We Wish We Knew Sooner!

This is part 2 of a blog about hosting/guesting that came out of a discussion with my friend C.  Here's Part 1, if you missed it. are some ways we find ourselves in a rut when we host and here are some great ways out of them!

#1 - OMG - you're not ready when the guests arrive!  This has happened to you.  The doorbell rings and you are in your pi's or your sweats.  Oops.  Now what?  Right.  So - RULE:  one hour before the party is called to start you go in the shower NO MATTER WHAT.  No matter what you are doing, stop and go get ready.  No matter what.  No matter what.  Seriously.  You will come back to it.  If people are coming at 7, stop at 6 and get in the shower.  You may not be 100% when the first guest arrives, but you will be at last 90%.  Now, if you can pull it together sooner, do.  But don't leave it for later.  If you are co-hosting and can tag team - leaving one person to greet the first guests, that's great.  If not, be sure you are wearing clothes and not a towel with wet hair when the guests arrive.  Don't lie - it's happened.

#2 - Make a playlist (and check it twice)!  I'm a big believer in making playlists for each event I do.  It allows me to set the mood and not worry about music all night.  With an iPod or a computer's iTunes, you can pre-program the party from quiet to it's peak to quiet again.  I am also a big fan of  letting a good playlist run on shuffle.  I usually do one-two hours more music than the actual event to allow for skipping songs that seem to come on at inopportune moments!  Do a pre-party test to make sure that it's all working!

#3 - Do a party rundown.  I'm a schedule person.  I like to be realistic about what I can accomplish in a given time period.  (Well, within reason - I'm a bit of a chronic over-reacher, but I self-monitor!)  A list is great, but it doesn't tell you when you're going to do things, and usually at some point, you abandon the list, or it splits off into different lists, or you've just run out of time!  I like to do a rundown of whatever event I'm doing, that includes mine, and other's (if any) tasks at specific times - when to pick up pre-ordered items, when to put what in the oven, when to cook what, when to take the cheese out of the fridge, when to put the beverages in the fridge, when to start the music.  Start from the party time and work backwards.   It helps me stay organized without panicking.  (I generally expect to run 15-30 minutes behind schedule - if I'm running on or ahead of schedule, I check everything again to make sure I've not forgotten anything.)

#4 - Leave the easiest stuff for last, whenever possible.  Final touches on decorations, place settings or buffets, putting out ice, prepping lemons and limes, garnishing platters are awesome things to do at the last minute.  Not awesome things to do at the last minute:  major cooking (messy!), cheese plates (cheese wants to be room temperature when you serve - not refrigerator temperature), last-minute supermarket runs (being home when the guests come is a pretty good thing!).  Like everything in life - you'll feel best if you do the hard stuff first!

#5 - Include options.  Lots of people are gluten free, meat free, wheat free, alcohol free and many people have food allergies.  Make sure to have some foods that don't have meat or dairy, and don't rely exclusively on bread products (pizza, crackers, bread, pot pies, pigs in blankets, sandwiches).  Have some sparkling water for people who don't drink alcohol, or stay away from sugars.  It doesn't have to be harder, or more expensive if you plan in advance.  One option is to separate foods so people can combine them in a way that works for them.  I also love using fruits or vegetables instead of bread or crackers with cheese - pear slices, cucumber slices, roasted tomatoes, sliced cooked potatoes - all can be an alternative.  Non-dairy alternative spreads can be as easy as hummus, tapenade, caponata, pesto (w/o parmesan!).  I like to be sure I have at least one thing that everyone can eat or drink on hand.  Don't go crazy - if someone can only drink sulfite-free wine, they should probably bring it themselves.  You don't have to make the party perfect for everyone, but it's always good if you can not make it unpleasant for anyone!

#6 - Check the fridge and the oven one last time as the guests arrive.  I find there is always one item I am about to forget to serve.  (Previous to implementing the double-check, I'd usually find the item after the party or the next day.)

#7 - Don't start drinking until your guests do - at the earliest.  For obvious reasons.

#8 - The art of the disengage - You know the guest - the let's catch up right now I haven't seen you in 2 years cause I can't make plans but now that I'm here I want to hang out with you, you, only you and besides I don't know anybody else while you're trying to host a room full of people.  Yeah.  That person.  What to do?  As a host/hostess, you will eventually be saved by the bell -- the doorbell, the phone ringing, or some other necessary task to attend to.  However, sometimes that is not soon enough.  You are standing there holding two coats to put away, 3 drinks to distribute and your friend is now telling you about having to put down her sick cat.  There are some moments you just have to stay present to - if the guest is oversharing (for the situation), dampening the general party mood, or just super-needy, you may have to ride it out.  If the guest is socialy clingy, not a great party person, or otherwise uncomfortable, there are ways out.

Introducing guests to each other is always the best strategy.  As soon as a guest comes in, I like to make sure they have at least 1 other person to talk to.  Throughout the event, it's great to keep introducing people to each other.  This makes for a great partier, easier entertaining in the future, and sometimes some interesting things occur.  If another guest comes up to you while the monopolizing guest is monologuing, it's a great opportunity to introduce them, and after a conversation takes hold, excuse yourself to attend to your hosting duties.  If not, then it's really okay to say, "I'm so sorry - I would love to hear about this, and talk to you more, but I've got to (check the oven, chill the champagne, run away to Fiji)..."  You may also try things like, "May I freshen your drink?" - which will change the mood and possibly your location - or "I would love to hear about this - I've got to do something in the kitchen, feel free to join me if you don't mind that I'm going to work while you talk" -- usually they will get the message, and if not, at least you can continue being a host!

#9 - How to make the party over - so...if you're like me, people don't want to leave your parties.  The subtle hints don't seem to work.  You get up and start clearing things, or doing dishes (which seems rude, but oh well).  Your roommate/co-host/partner goes to sleep.  Still, there are stragglers.  A secret I learned way too late - make coffee.  Apparently, coffee is the international symbol for 'the party is basically over,' everything after this is just you having coffee, tea, an after-dinner drink and leaving.  Yup.  The amazing thing is - it works. Even for a cocktail party, one where you didn't serve dinner.  Even if no one actually wants coffee. (Hint:  make it anyway, it's the making of it that seems to do the trick.)  This means you need coffee, some kinds of creamer and sweeteners, decaf something, and tea on hand.  But it's worth it.  You'll never need enough for everyone, so don't sweat it too much.

#10 - Lastly - have fun yourself!  The best way to make a party great is to enjoy it - the people, the food, the drinks, the entertainment.  Laugh a lot and enjoy the energy you've created.

Feel free to leave your tips below!

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