10 Rules of Easy Entertaining

Kennedy dinner party

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to entertain. This statement should not be misread as: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been good at entertaining. When I first started out, I’d choose recipes by how they looked in the photo instead of by degree of difficulty. (Which is how I’d end up serving coq au vin to my dinner guests at midnight.) But I’ve picked up a few golden rules along the way, and in honor of summer, arguably the easiest time to entertain, I thought I’d present a few…

Just Do It
I don’t know what to make. I can’t cook. My friends are food snobs. I don’t have time to clean the house. My couch is filthy. These are all valid excuses, but I’m here to tell you that they are indeed just excuses, so invite your friends over anyway, because if they are your real friends they will show up with a bottle of wine, not a pair of judgment goggles. Inviting three or four people for dinner a few weeks away is the equivalent of registering for a 10K race. Once you put down your money, you are committed, motivated, maybe even a little excited. (Yes, you could always cancel the invitation, but then you’re the person who cancels the invitation.)

Outsource, Outsource
Chances are, as soon as you send the invitation, one of your guests will email back, “What can I bring?” I used to reject this offer out of pride — somehow I believed that being a good entertainer was doing every single thing myself from appetizer to dessert. Then I had kids and I thought, You know what? I think I’d rather go to the playground than pipe meringue onto a fleet of tartlets. Tell your very generous friend, “Thank you! I accept your offer, please bring dessert.” It’s one less thing for you to coordinate and your guest will be thrilled to contribute. If you have a specific request (fruit salad? ice cream?), by all means, request it. (Golden Rule for Another Kind of List: We are all kids at heart who just want someone to tell us what to do.)

Make Food Beforehand
If you come to my house for dinner, 90% of the meal will be already made. If it’s summer, it means three or four healthy, fresh salads have been assembled hours in advance (one grain-based like barley or wheat berry tossed with herbs and feta, one market green salad, one in-season vegetable with “structure” like asparagus or bok choy or carrots), and one soon-to-be-grilled protein that has been marinating in yogurt or herbs or both all day long. If it’s winter, that means some sort of braised pork or short rib that has been transforming into melty goodness all day long. This way, when it’s time to wrap up the last few details of the meal, no one has to abandon their cocktail-sipping guests for more than a few minutes.

Keep Cocktails Simple
While I love and respect a good wax-stached mixologist, I have no interest in muddling or doing math at cocktail hour. We are purists in my house, preferring to serve our guests the same drinks that were probably served by our grandparents in the Eisenhower era. A Gin and Tonic. A Dark and Stormy. Both of these are simple to assemble (booze + mixer + lime), and, most important, are quintessentially summer.

Crash Clean
Two things to do before you have people over: 1) Make sure the powder room’s trash can is empty. 2) Shove all clutter and paperwork in a closet or in the basement or in the bathtub without organizing or putting a single thing in its proper place. Seriously! Busy, happy houses are messy! So many people tell me this is what they stress out about the most before guests arrive. Why? Crash clean the rooms that count, and order Marie Kondo in the morning.

Decorate the Table
In the summer, fruit is always a beautiful centerpiece. I like it when it’s a lot of one thing, like apricots or peaches. In a modern white bowl, like this one.) Or just in a row down the middle of the table. I also really like table runners, versus tablecloths. Somehow they feel proper without being too formal.

Stock Up Ahead
If you’ve cooked for people, you know that cooking for people involves so much more than cooking for people. There are all the other little details: Do you have enough plates? Ice? Do you need to dig out a few platters from the recesses of your cupboards? Here’s what I say: If it can be done ahead of time, do it ahead time. Before families come over, I’ve been known to even stock the fridge with cups filled with water because it is The Law that one of the toddlers will ask for something to drink just as the Porterhouse goes from medium-rare to well-done.

But Save One Thing for the Last Minute
It’s nice to be holding a glass of wine when the doorbell rings, ready to shower your guests with your undivided attention. But it also creates a fun vibe to prepare something easy before their eyes, to create the illusion that you didn’t spend all day anticipating their arrival and that you’re the type of host who can just be all, Me? This? Just something I just thought to throw together for your immediate enjoyment. Guacamole is perfect for this. So is assembling a plate of snacks and starters. Lately, I’ve been favoring a big ball of burrata surrounded by prosciutto, baguette slices, spring vegetables (sugar snap peas, radishes, little carrots) and a generous drizzle of good olive oil.

Start Sparkling Conversations
Fall-back conversation for grown-ups: Travel. Especially in the summer. Have you been anywhere? Are you going anywhere? Fall-back conversation for little kids: What are you going to be for Halloween? (Doesn’t matter how far away Halloween is, I find they always have an answer!)

Always start the evening with an empty dishwasher and sink. Your post-party self will thank you, no, love you.

Jenny Rosenstrach

Jenny Rosenstrach writes the blog Dinner: A Love Story and is the author of two fantastic cookbooks. Thank you so much, Jenny!

P.S. Dinner party tips from 15 genius hosts, and how to get your kids to talk at dinner (made me laugh).

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  3. Connie Alderson says...

    Thanks! You’ve just given me the courage to get off my duff to invite some friends over in spite of our cluttered home. LOL! Plus you make it sound doable for the make ahead appetizers and salads. Sweet! Thank you!

  4. So many perfect dinner tips. I can totally relate to serving guests at midnight (as the kids go crazy with hunger). And I totally agree with serving simple cocktails. That’s why things like sangria, mimosas, bloody marys, beer, and wine are all so popular.

  5. Wow this was a great, well-written, and super informative article! Thank you for sharing!!

  6. I love this post! Thank you for sharing! My husband will love the ‘messy house’ is a happy house . . . which is soo true!

  7. I love this! I will be keeping this as my “go to” list for my 1 Party + 1 Project. Starting in June. The Dark and Stormy – :) – heading to the store right now.
    Hellooooo Summer.

  8. I adore this post! I have loved to entertain since I still lived at home with my parents. I watched my Martha Stewart-like Mom host all my life which is where I think I got this gift!

    Highlights of this post: Busy, happy houses = messy (true!), stashing away in bathtubs re: KonMari Method and the understanding that not everything has to be crazy perfect when one entertains. Thank you for this!


  9. This is amazing! I have to say, I do most of these things….but your post couldn’t have come at a better time as I have a cocktail party scheduled for Tuesday! Happy Summer!!

  10. all of this is so spot on. i live with a roommate, but as soon as i live in my own place and own a kitchen table (it’s just a rite of passage for all 23-year-olds to only eat on their living room couches, right?!), i will make it happen

  11. I think the most important aspect is not to stress and just relax. We entertain quite often and the one rule of thumb I have is to just make the guests feel comfortable.
    If a dish doesn’t turn out 100 percent–it’s not going to matter. It’s the mood and the company that count.
    Also–keep the menu simple and prepare in advance.
    Nice article!

  12. Alisha says...

    Thank you for this simple and actually usable advice! You are right; life is short; enjoy spending time with people and not stressing over every tiny detail. Love the drink suggestion.

  13. Such practical, wonderful advice! You’re right — I need to let go and let people bring something over. Simply brilliant, Jenny and perfect timing for this post, Joanna. I’m sooooo ready for our first outdoor gathering of the season now. xo

  14. EM says...

    What you call “crash clean,” my sister and I call “stuff and fluff.” Definitely part of our pre-guest routine.

  15. Totally agree on that one last thing to assemble! Something I just learned recently. Being a pretty organized person, food would all be out before anyone arrived and it looked weirdly pre-planned. So recently I have been slicing up mozzarella and drizzling it with olive oil/sea salt, assembling a cheese platter, etc. and I think it makes everything feel more informal, as long as it’s something really truly easy to prep.

  16. lana says...

    Some of the things I haven’t seen mentioned is lighting a candle in the bathroom being used for guests. It’s a nice touch and keeps the area smelling good. I turn on lights in rooms that we will be using. I close doors I don’t want people to use. I open blinds as well, even if it’s nighttime. I try and have a nice entry way with either holiday decorations or flowers in pots. I try to keep the house a good temperature, usually a bit on the cool side especially in the summer. Hot bodies tend to heat up a place. I try and have a platter full of fruits, veggies and meats and cheeses on a a bed of greens. I also love to have nuts, crackers and one warm appetizer if we’re doing finger foods. I like the idea of sorbet and champagne in a a champagne glass as dessert on a hot night.

    • Cookie Flores says...

      I came across this article pretty serendipitously! Not only did I host my first dinner party today (a little late for the tips now, hehe), but I lit a Volcano scent candle in the guest bathroom downstairs as Lana recommended….8 hours later, I just remembered that I never it blew it out! haha! Thanks Jo for posting this! And thanks to Lana’s post I didn’t have to wake up to a candle fire.
      p.s. The bathroom smelled marvelous :-)

    • Connie Alderson says...

      Good suggestions. Thanks!

  17. Thanks for sharing Jo! It looks so simple when you say it like that :)

  18. Samantha says...

    My boyfriend and I haven’t done any formal entertaining, unless inviting his mom over for brunch one time counts. It’s usually just casual gatherings for which I make burgers or burritos that our friends seem to love. My boyfriend doesn’t drink and I don’t drink too much either, so whatever we do is BYOB. Some people might feel offended that you literally have no alcohol to offer, but we never drink in this house, sorry! And I’m making dinner, we’re all young and kinda broke here, so please meet me halfway, man :(

    There was one time that his sister told him about coming over on a Friday night and she literally asked him to have something to eat there (not like I was planning on not offering anything). His sister and her husband are extremely picky with their meals because they’re always on a diet and their calorie allowance is ridiculous (she’s like 4’9″ and 95 lbs, eats 900 cal a day when she wants to lose weight, and about 1000 when she’s maintaining it), so I made very light apps (it was so hard to try to think of super “clean” apps, btw). One was little chicken pieces filled with mozzarella and mini mozzarella/cherry tomato skewers. They did not even touch it. They said that they had just had dinner, but hours went buy and I was the only one who had tried the food, then my bf. Why would you even ask for food if you’re not gonna eat it? If it wasn’t “diet” enough for you, why didn’t you ask for an specific thing? His sister even said “oh, don’t worry, once [her husband] gets hungry, he’ll eat all of it!”. It was kinda of upsetting and left me wondering if I ever wanna prepare/cook anything for them ever again.

    • Connie Alderson says...

      I agree with you! One of my siblings and his wife does the same thing.

      Cook what you want or can afford. If you cook for them, incorporate a food that you like since you’ll most likely wind up eating it later anyways. ?

  19. I loved these tips. Especially the fall-back conversation starters for adults and kids!!

    Also – outsourcing. My Dad recently turned 70 and wanted more than anything to have dinner with my mom, my sister and I, our husbands and kids. But we had moved from city flat to house three days before the big day, and my sister had just had her first baby. We couldn’t all go to my parents’ in the country, 2.5 hours away. In the end we had a fancyish dinner at my sister’s: my mom brought the starter (a tray of delicious antipasti that she had bought from a favourite deli), my brother-in-law made the main course (steak frites) with veggie alternative and a few store-bought cheats from me, and I brought and assembled a banana split bar. We all took all the shortcuts we could, but by getting the good stuff it still felt like a treat, and my Dad got his favourite menu and the home dinner he wanted. It was so easy and fun that we might make it into a quarterly tradition!

  20. Also, put a fresh roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. (Especially now that it seems the rolls are half the size they used to be.)

  21. Nat says...

    Great tips! I moved to nyc 12 years ago, and have moved three times. Only one of those kitchens had a dishwasher. Sadly, not my current one. Be forever grateful if yours does! ;-)

  22. I love the crash and clean tip! Now that we have two I can never stop cleaning! So there will be a pile of ninja turtles hidden in the ottoman storage or maybe even the bathtub!

  23. I need to print these tips out, put them on my fridge, and then hide them before guests come over.

    Whenever my in-laws come for dinner I always seem to set something on fire, break a dish, etc. The last time they came over, it had finally dawned on me that I should prepare something before they arrive and then put the finishing touches on in front of them. I still managed to almost light some sausages on fire, but I realized that my blunders usually end up in them being able to enjoy pitching in. Sometimes the most entertaining part of entertaining is when something doesn’t go perfectly according to plan. I’m learning to let things become comical while entertaining instead of anxiety-making.

    • Connie Alderson says...

      You are a gem and very wise! Keep your sense of humor. These events make for great family memories! Plus it might just make your mother in law feel needed and still a part of her son’s ‘new family’. LOL!

  24. Kate says...

    I just had two friends over for dinner, and it was a hot mess of an evening. We were going to a play so there was a strict schedule, and I had to work until 5pm. Knowing that my evening would be rushed, I had made a meal ahead of time, but then I heard about the Listeria outbreak from a coworker while I was at work and, of course, realized that some of the food I used was included in the recall. Not wanting to give my friends food poisoning, I panicked, had to run to the grocery store, had to make an entirely new meal and was not the cool, calm hostess that I had hoped to be….

    To say that this article was helpful and welcome is an understatement :D

  25. patricia says...

    I’ve been known to set the table the day before for most dinner parties. Good ice cream works. I’ll set out liquors to pour over and you’ve got dessert and after dinner drinks in one. I’ll only make one dish that takes work and like most commenters, I like it to be nearly done before guests arrive.
    Great post.

  26. Ivy says...

    Love this! “Crash clean the rooms that count, and order Marie Kondo in the morning.” made me LOL

  27. jill c says...

    Love this! Every tip is gold, and I’m definitely keeping this list to refer to later. I particularly love the suggestion to leave one simple thing to prepare while your guests are there so you don’t look like an over-prepared weirdo (even if you secretly are) :)

  28. Summer says...

    Love this! Regarding the cleaning, I had an ex that liked to have dinner parties every couple of weeks, bc it forced him/us to clean the place and is motivation to keep the place clean. It really does help, and is something I still try to do (I call it the “can it be cleaned good enough in 30 minutes?” rule :P) ! Glad something positive came from that relationship. :P

  29. Allie says...

    just hosted my first dinner party last weekend and made (rather, assembled) the yummiest apps!

    Mozzarella balls & cherry tomatoes on toothpicks with a drizzle of balsamic glaze (3 ingredients, 3 easy steps). i used red, yellow & orange tomatoes to make the presentation pop a bit, looked beautiful against a crisp white plate!

    sliced baguette lightly toasted w/ apricot jam, wedge of brie & cracked pepper. again, 3 easy ingredients, 3 easy steps!

    we served some sliced salumi and bell peppers w/ homemade tatziki, too. just the right balance of sweet & savory, indulgent & healthy. already looking forward to my next hosting gig :)

  30. Lauren E. says...

    I consider myself pretty skilled at hosting, and it’s because I do 99% of the preparations before anyone gets there. I’ll serve cold apps, have one hot one in the oven, and then serve something for the main that can either be served room temp or something that gets better as it simmers.

    I’ve also saved myself a ton of time/stress by realizing that people really love quality ice cream and good shortbread cookies more than anything else. And HUZZAH both of those can be bought in the market, already prepared.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oooh, love the dessert tip. thanks, lauren!

  31. Inge says...

    I always try to have appetizers and dessert prepared almost completely in advance. Appetizers that can be put in the oven, or things like olives, cheese. Desserts like trifles, creme brulee, chocolate mousse, moelleux… I only choose things that can be made beforehand. That way, you have time to chat with your guests in the beginning of the evening, and you can completely relax too after the main course.

  32. Despina says...

    I love the crash cleaning tip, however I was mortified when one of my dinner guests while checking out my apartment decided to open my messy wardrobe in front of every one else!! I found it very rude and it taught me to never ever show parts of the house to my guests again. Like kids they are confined to the designated dinner area, gyest bathroom and veranda. The bedroom, master bathroom and my home office are off limits lol

  33. Alice says...

    Great post! Bookmarked! I love entertaining and my husband and I are notorious for opening our doors. Pre-kids we used to do larger house parties or small outdoor boozy drinks evenings, as my husband was an award winning mixologist in a previous pre-kid life (yes, it’s tough, but someone still has to test his concoctions). Now I like to host brunches. There’s not too much expectation, but if you go the whole hog people are delighted. It’s quite easy to delegate and the decoration can be really fun. They’re inclusive for all ages and those with or without kids. Or I cook big roast dinners which, traditionally, are served for Sunday lunch, or mid afternoon. I also really love Spanish and Italian al fresco long lazy meals that run from lunch through to night with dishes coming and going…and wine and negronis flowing :)

    All my ideal entertaining set-ups are now multi-generational, I realise, and if I’m going kid free I prefer to put a nice frock on, go out, and not lift a finger!

  34. Emily says...

    Thank you for the smart tips and inspiring post. Also this is reassuring validation that I’m not the only one who crash cleans and stuffs clutter in any spare drawer before guests arrive!

  35. Meg Webster says...

    This woman. She’s my goddess.

  36. I have no idea where I read this years ago but it’s something I ALWAYS DO when we host a party. Someone inevitably spills and when they do, I arrive with a wet towel in hand and shout, “Don’t worry about it. If it stains, it’ll be a memory of how great this night was!”

    I can’t tell you how many times it has eased a nervous guest!

    • Aw, this is so smart and kind. Thank you for sharing. :)

  37. I don’t really like to host get-togethers (I prefer to meet people outside) but in the event that I do, I’ll take note of these pointers! I’m pretty sure that I’ll be the type of host who will let friends contribute… (if we’re close enough, I’ll probably even force them to haha)

  38. Graes says...

    Loved this post!

    We just hosted a garden party this weekend and I certainly agree to several of the tips. I handed my 11 yr-old a big basket and he went around the counters and grabbed papers and unnecessary clutter and took it to our bedroom. We also had 2 bins – trash & recyclables but we added a small bucket marked “Food Scraps” for the compost. We didn’t use disposables but have plates & cutlery that are used solely for eating out in the patio or for picnics. A lot of stores now carry BPA-free tumblers and goblets that are beautiful. By doing this, we don’t end up with a lot of garbage. Everything goes in the dishwasher. Another tip regarding lighting, thrift stores are treasure troves for oversized glasses that can be used as quasi-hurricane glasses – all you need to do is drop a tea light in it and voila!

    It can be stressing, but as I tell my husband, having guests mean we get to tidy up the house and have fun with friends at the same time.

    Happy entertaining!

  39. Love, love, love this post. TOTALLY agree with two points – outsourcing: YES!! And not just drinks but dessert – I HATE cooking dessert! And the empty dishwasher – always! Yes, I agree!

  40. Alice Quin says...

    I love Jenny and her family! She is like a role model for me.

  41. Corinne says...

    We have very young kids and If we have guests with small children too, we slice some of the meat and veggies into bite size pieces and add it to the serving platter. It gives all us parents more time to chat and eat our own food rather than working on our kids’ plates the whole time!

    • Bianca says...

      Great idea! I am going to do that this weekend!

  42. Absolutely loved this post!

  43. Lindsay says...

    One factor that I haven’t seen mentioned is temperature. I attend many dinner parties, and casual gatherings, at the homes of friends and colleagues and I notice that guests are often sweltering. Temperature is key for comfort.

  44. Katie Larissa says...

    These tips are all wonderful. I grew up as a Baptist preacher’s daughter (read: company all the time,) and was always inspired by how laid back my mama SEEMED about people coming over for meals unexpectedly, or how special she made company suppers when she had time to plan ahead. (Always a tablecloth. Usually cloth napkins…they make it seem fancy but really they’re completely hassle-free.)
    And she wasn’t afraid to invite people over for popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup if she didn’t have anything else on hand.
    I try to entertain as effortlessly as she did, and maybe I’ll get there eventually. I always like to light a candle or two before people walk in. It gives some atmosphere and distracts from toys in the corners. :)

    • My father-in-law is a Baptist pastor and we are really close to my husband’s family. My mother-in-law sounds a lot like your mother…never frazzled by company, even if they are unexpected. Last night there were 60 youth kids in their backyard swimming and hanging out. I found it lovely how she was in the midst of it all and as calm, cool, and collected as can be.

      I, on the other hand, would have had to go to my room and stare at the ceiling for a few moments to compose myself. Haha

  45. Such a great post!

  46. Getting comfortable with crash cleaning is an absolute must for me. I always stress out about having to clean AND put together a delicious spread, so having the cleaning covered will be a huge stress relief!

  47. Amy says...

    I agree with the others – I love when Jenny posts!
    I now keep an ‘entertaining to-do’ list on my phone. Then if plans emerge a little too suddenly for my type-A self, I just consult the list of what all needs to get done, knocking off the least essential ones depending on time. (This might tie into what Jenny said about us all just wanting someone to tell us what to do!) Step one is always check the bathroom. Guaranteed one of my kids hasn’t flushed! ;)

  48. Amen to starting the night with an empty dishwasher! I also love to clean as I go or accept the offer from guests when they ask if they can do dishes.

  49. Some small bathroom/powder room additions:

    Refill soap dispenser
    Light a candle
    Put matches next to the lit candle (the sulfur smell covers up many…odors)
    Put your plunger in the main bathroom

    Kind of weird stuff, but I try to keep in mind that the bathroom is the one place in your house where most everyone will go at some point in the night and they have no distractions while in there.

  50. I host popup dinners in my home city and I think all this advice is relevant to my ventures, as well. Almost everything needs to be done ahead of time, otherwise the first few moments of a gathering feel rushed and cluttered.

    Also, I swear by Jenny’s black bean burrito recipe.

  51. Kellie P. says...

    So helpful! I enjoy these meaty posts that have a lot of good info. Love the part about a happy and busy home being a messy one! Makes me feel better about my house being in disarray most of the time!

  52. Tina, nyc says...

    Jenny I love you and your husband and adorable family! Long time Dals reader and your g&t post settled a long debate with my hubby.

    Love this post and all our points are spot on.

    I always treat myself to fresh flowers before guests come over. I love making arrangements and It just makes me feel festive. I also put a few in a bud vase in try bathroom and people always seem comment on that arrangement more than any other.

  53. jeannie says...

    fantastic, inspiring post. Now, I really want to entertain! ps Love the tip to ask kiddos what they want to be for Halloween! They dream of it all year!

  54. Most of our closest friends have been in the same life stages us as for years now. We were couples together, had babies and toddlers together and now have elementary schoolers together. We all love to entertain and take turns doing it continually. It’s been fun watching our evenings change over the course of time. Before kids it was spotless houses and fancy cocktails, during the baby stage it was often shared take-out and early nights, and now we put all the kids with a babysitter at one house and then enjoy quiet conversation and potluck with just the adults at another house (it helps that we pretty much all live within blocks of each other!)

    • Katharine says...

      This sounds heavenly! What a wonderful community you have :)

  55. “Busy, happy houses are messy!” I love this. Thank you

  56. Natalie Brennan says...

    I love this! I’m going to bookmark it for the summer and make those salads for friends — so low key and casual. i love the idea of classic drinks too. a great reminder than you can just have fun, not worry so much about being fancy!

  57. Teresa says...

    I don’t enjoy entertaining much. It stresses me out too much to make it worth it. By the time I clean and cook,
    I’m too exhausted to also socialize.
    Any one else feel this way?

    • Jules says...

      Yes!!! Whenever I am watching House Hunters and the people say they need space for entertaining, I’m thinking ‘why??. Who entertains that much?’. Haha.

      Maybe when I’m out of the infant/toddler stages with my kids I’ll be more likely to enjoy entertaining, but I doubt it.

    • Theresa says...

      I don’t enjoy entertaining much either, maybe with just two friends, but not a big group. Every time I do it, I ended up not enjoying myself much as I’m too stressed about it. Now that I have a toddler, I’m too tired. I have my husband’s family coming into town this weekend and have no idea what I’m doing for food. My sister in law is entertainer extraordinaire, so I never can quite do what she does. I think I’m being gentler with myself that I don’t need to be the great entertainer.

    • Another yes. And being among the Intentionally Childless, I am terrified of people’s kids. They will for sure gash their pretty faces on the stone staircase in my garden!

    • Brianna says...

      Yes. When I was a kid, we had birthday parties and celebrated Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, but beyond that, I do not remember my parents entertaining. If they got together with friends, it was a BBQ involving the whole family or they went out to eat.

    • Carrie says...

      Glad I’m not the only one. I don’t mind attending other people’s events but hosting my own? I just don’t have it in me. However I really admire a great host, it’s definitely an art form!

  58. Love love LOVE this so much.

    • I always feel like John Legend’s first two albums make for good music during gatherings.

  59. Elizabeth R says...

    What kind of music does everybody play at dinner parties?

    • Alabama Shakes (Sound & Color), HNNY, Beach House, Beck (sounds weird- but Morning Phase is so good), Arcade Fire (Reflektor), Gaucho (Part-Time Sweetheart), Holy Ghost!, Borns…. I also like Spodify playlists a lot!

    • Sabrina says...

      Love the You Tube idea! Thanks for sharing…

  60. Celeste says...

    Awesome advice. I love the save one thing for the last minute. I’ve also found guests love to help and if it’s suuuuper easy you can delegate tasks to kids (like “add a pinch of salt to the guacamole”) and they are suddenly all in.

    Love Jenny!

  61. Cinda says...

    Wow , wish I had these friends that you’ll have. My goodness if I was not turned off from the get go to entertain because of some snobbery. My dishes-the choices of what I served-the ” different” sets of attendees and their inability to converse outside of their known circle. It was just troublesome and my shyness and confidence just went downhill. I just have not had another dinner party for 8 years. Mere thought sends me into a cold sweat. Thanks for the info/advice. Seems it works for some.

  62. Susan says...

    Love this list, love Jenny but I think she forgot one important detail: music. I would suggest making a great playlist on Spotify the day before and letting it go during the party so you do not have to worry.

  63. Elizabeth R says...

    There are never enough chairs!

    • Samantha says...

      Tell me about it, we have a small dining set for only 4 people and the rest of our chairs are either to low or to high for that table lol

  64. Keep it simple and try one pot meals or huge roasts that almost cook themselves. I like to offer simple desserts and then put plates of broken up chocolate, little cakes and big bunch of grapes to have with coffee/wine. Sit back and relax. It’s only food.

  65. Kate says...

    ” Busy, happy houses are messy! ” – yes! Now if I could only convince my husband of this….

    My summer dinner party hack is kebabs! Soak the skewers all the morning, assemble the kebabs ahead of time, and put them on the grill when the guests start arriving. They’re absolutely foolproof and simple, but for some reason they look so impressive! It’s also an easy way to make veggie and meat options at the same. Plus, you can grill fruit for dessert!

  66. I entertain all the time, and usually have friends over a few times a week. Two things that people often forget, which I can never figure out why:

    1. Turn down the lights! For goodness sake, people- we don’t want to feel like we’re in a dentist’s office. Just dim them and make it cozy. We always have tea lights as well-candles don’t need to be for special occasions.

    2. Put on music.

    • Sophia says...

      Agreed. These two points are so key.

    • We have friends who always have all their overhead lights on. I don’t understand!!!

    • Emmanuella says...

      I was kinda waiting for both of these as well. By the end of the article I thought “oh maybe music and lighting are givens”. :)

  67. Decorating the table is my favorite part of the planning and getting ready process. Thanks for sharing this awesome guide :)

  68. I love this list so much. It’s perfect! And my kids want to be a bird and a dinosaur for Halloween. Haha.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      My kids have a running, ever-changing, very serious list. :)

  69. Bianca says...

    Great list! My husband and I are now seasoned entertainers, but yes, we have learned a lot of things along the way. No more 6 course meals served around midnight! Another tip for outdoor, summer entertaining, is I keep a small recycling and trash can outside on my deck, so people don’t have to keep asking me where to put things. Also I keep all serving platters, BBQ tools, brushes, paper towel and dish cloth out by the BBQ. Saves me from running in the kitchen 20 times! Could not agree more with the empty dishwasher!

  70. I’ve tossed all desk detritus into the bathtub just before a party on MANY occasions! Also, I love Buy My Drap for disposable-but-classy-looking napkins and runners + bodega branches as an alternative centerpiece.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      ha i love that!

  71. Kristin says...

    This list was really helpful. Thank you! One question to anyone out there who knows better — how do you decorate with a row of lemons and have room to serve food?

    • Elizabeth R says...

      In a long skinny narrow bowl down the center of a table like where a table runner would be.

    • Kristin says...

      Ha! Thanks for responding Elizabeth, but I meant where do you put the food on the table? I see so many lovely tables and I wonder, “how is there room for serving dishes alongside the row of lemons and rosemary sprigs?” Does everyone just go for a buffet? Or is plating actually a thing?

  72. Katharine says...

    I love all of these! We used to try and have people over once a week to ensure we deep cleaned, ha! One extra tip I’ve found to make the evening nice, especially when living in smaller places, is to wash/dry/put away as many of the prep dishes and mess before people arrive. It somehow makes everything more enjoyable and peaceful!

  73. Bethany R says...

    Oh man. This is exactly why Jenny is the best. I LOVE WHEN SHE POSTS!

  74. I love this list! My fiancé and I bought a home with an open floor plan with the intention of entertaining often and it was the best decision. I love having friends and family over – but with 2 under 2 our house in never NOT cluttered. I loved reading #1, just do it! I always tell myself, I’ll do what I can to clean and prepare, but the fun is in being together – not worrying about how perfect our house appears!


    • We have found the best ways to keep our house clean with two little ones are A) Baskets. Lot’s of Baskets. Baskets everywhere. You just pick up toys by the handful, and throw them in! Then when they’re a little bit older, you make them do it (we set a timer or sing a song and make it a game)! and B) Invite people over often! It’s amazing how quickly you can declutter when people are about to show up! And then you get tired of cleaning up the clutter, throw your hands up, and say “who cares! our friends will love us anyway!” and pour yourself a glass of wine :)

  75. Laura says...

    Dang, I love this Jenny! All valid and wonderful advice to get off my bum and invite some friends over. Happy summer!

  76. Limit yourself to one complicated dish (if that). Better to have simple things that you aren’t fretting over and to spend time with your friends. Good food is nice; good conversation and company are essential.
    It might be a reaction to my mom, who spent more time on centerpieces and decorations than on cooking, and who never, ever was ready when company arrived, but I don’t decorate the table. This might also be because people where I live now (in France) don’t do buffets–you stay in your seat for the entire meal. And I don’t really like plating; I think people should take what they want and how much they want. Anyway, there’s no room on the table for anything but the food.

  77. Roselyn says...

    I can’t tell you how much I needed this post. I love the IDEA of having people over, but I am such a planner and over thinker that I dissuade myself from even beginning. Any rules on how to measure out appetizers/snacks? How much is too much/little? I feel like I will have three dips, a huge bowl of fruit, pita hummus, cheese, salami, and just overstuffing my guests before they even eat what I eat!

    • dhannon says...

      Don’t overserve appetizers/snacks, you’re right, people will fill up on that and not enjoy the meal as much. I’ve cut back to few bowls of raw nuts, maybe some olives, little pretzels. Then, everyone will be hungry for dinner! Remember, hunger is the best appetizer :)

  78. Cynthia says...

    I’ve never heard of a Dark and Stormy until I read this post. Gin and tonic is my favorite, especially when I have a new bottle of tonic water. I agree, when I entertain, I do as much ahead of time as possible. Nobody notices whether or not your house is spotless, or looks like something out of a magazine. It’s all about the food and the company.

    • Elizabeth R says...

      Dark and stormys are SO good.