Food

10 Tips for a Small-Space Dinner Party

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

I’ve always loved to entertain. But since moving to New York City, I’ve barely hosted in my 400-square-foot apartment that I share with a roommate. My kitchen table has space for exactly two seats, and I never thought I had the budget to serve more than cereal. But the Ina Garten in me has always wanted to make something work, so I decided to throw a super casual, super cheap dinner party for friends last weekend. Here are 10 tips I picked up along the way…

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

1. Take out the trash and recycling beforehand. Emptying your garbage pre-party will set your night up for success. You won’t risk having a smelly house when guests arrive, and your future-self will thank you when cleanup time comes.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

2. Keep the menu simple. If you have minimal counter space like I do, a low-key menu is paramount for keeping your night stress-free. I chose dishes that had five or fewer ingredients and could be made in one pan in under 15 minutes. To start, we had goat cheese with crushed pistachios and rosemary crackers, followed by a simple arugula salad with shaved parmesan; and easy ravioli with brown-butter sage sauce for the main course.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

3. Set the mood. When it comes to candles, the limit does not exist. Tea candles, along with deli flowers and string lights (what is it about these that scream ambiance?) go a long way for creating a cozy, relaxed atmosphere.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

4. Have bites and drinks readily available. I heard three magic words once and never forgot them: scatter the snacks. Set a bowl of chips on the bookshelf and a cheese plate on the end table, along with a carafe of water nearby. That way, mingling is contained in the common area and foot traffic is kept out of the kitchen while you put the finishing touches on the main course.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

5. Use your table as a buffet. Rather than have everyone bump elbows all night at a small table, set everything — plates, flatware, drinks and food — on the table instead and invite guests to serve themselves, then disperse to where there’s more room to breathe. Plus, all your hard work will be on display, so you can sneak a proud glance or two at your epic spread.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

6. Embrace unconventional seating. I have two wobbly dining chairs and a white love seat, so my friends and I ended up spreading out to the windowsill and surrounding floorspace. Had I ever sat there before? No. Was it comfortable and breezy? You bet.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

7. Mix and match plates. Don’t panic! Have fun with this! Now’s your time to show off all the cereal bowls you’ve collected over time from the Anthropologie clearance table. People won’t care what they eat off, as long as it’s clean.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

8. Wear a dark top. When you eat standing up or with a plate in your lap, the odds of dribbling butter sauce down your shirt increase exponentially. Save your delicate blouse for a movie night, and instead choose a dark top that can conceal stains (just in case!). Finish your look with a bold red lip if you really want to feel like a Host™.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

9. Get creative with storage. The hour leading up to your event is not the time to tidy up like Marie Kondo. After my friends left, I pulled my laptop back out of the hamper and my unopened mail from my sock drawer. For the time being, those were perfectly fine places to store such items.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

10. Bust out a game with dessert. Let my nerdy truth be told: Old school games are A. Good. Time. Consider serving something pre-made that won’t keep you in the kitchen. I swear by Trader Joe’s lava cakes with a dusting of powdered sugar and fresh berries. They take two minutes to microwave, and your friends can play a raucous round of Boggle while they wait.

How to Host a Small Space Dinner Party

Bonus: Lean on your loved ones. They’ll still like you, even if you make them sit on the floor and drink out of old salsa jars. :)

What about you? Do you have any hosting tips you swear by, regardless of space?

(Photos and styling by Christine Han for Cup of Jo. Special thanks to Kerry and my friends Erin, Eve and Alu for coming over to hang and model.)

  1. I appreciate this post SO much! I live in 600-something sqft and I thought I had it bad! My layout doesn’t allow space for a dining table but I believe I could get my bar to serve the same purpose. Totally using this to FINALLY host in my tiny cube, as I lovingly call it.

  2. Ah this looks absolutely amazing! The menu you had is making us drooool – yum!! Great tips too & we’ll definitely be taking them into account at our next shindig. Thanks for sharing!

    xo, Brooke & Kelcy

  3. Anne-Marie Hamilton says...

    I loved reading this article! I’ve always dreamed of throwing elegant dinner parties but never really had a place where I felt it was possible (although after reading the comments I realize I basically should have just gotten over myself and had people over anyway). Well, I finally got the place of my dreams, a spacious 3-bedroom apartment with a large front yard and I can’t wait to throw a housewarming party! I’m definitely going to use many of the helpful hints listed here, especially just staying relaxed and remembering that it’s the company that’s important and that a party is supposed to be a treat, not a treatment 😊

  4. Wow, I absolutely love these ideas! Ravioli with brown butter sage sauce is my absolute favorite go-to – easy, yet always impressive and delicious. :)

  5. Jessica Garrett says...

    I remember after a year of living in NYC, I realized that we hadn’t had anyone over. We just had too much furniture to make it comfortable. So…we started over – sold our bulky furniture and shopped IKEA and Craig’s List. Before we knew it our space was transformed and we were having people over what seemed like almost every week. Even though our friends’ apartments were larger and more central, we always ended up coming to our apartment for game night and dinner parties because it was warm, inviting, and always had good food…even if we had to eat it on our laps around the coffee table.
    The big tip? Lighting. Lamps for the win – it makes everything seem cozy so people stay longer. Plus, it hides the dust bunnies :)

  6. C. says...

    Good list! My suggestions- give people the option of an activity. Put some games out – a couple decks of cards, Uno, a Magic 8 Ball. Also, in addition to taking out the trash and recycling, empty the dishwasher and/or clean out the sink and clear the counters off. Small spaces get crowded fast, and you need room to work.

  7. jaime says...

    Stupid-easy dessert for my teeny apartment: Apple tarts made on puff pastry.

    Put a roll of puff pastry in the fridge (from the freezer) a couple hours before dinner — you’ll eventually cut the sheet into six individual rectangles. After dinner, slice up a cored apple or two (no peeling) into thin, crescent pieces. Toss the apple with generous shake of cinnamon, a pinch of salt and a coating of maple syrup (not too much because it’ll just drain off onto the baking sheet and burn). Artfully-ish arrange the apple pieces onto individual rectangles of puff pastry — you can cut the puff pastry with scissors and it comes on top of parchment paper that can go right onto the baking sheet. Bake at ~425 for ~18 minutes (you’ll be able to smell them when they’re done). Serve with a scoop of nice vanilla ice cream, and encourage guests to finish the pint because you sure AF don’t have room for that in your freezer.

  8. Mel says...

    I love to serve “nostalgic” food at parties. Think French onion dip with Ruffles as a snack, ice cream cones or Oreos and milk for dessert. People love it, the food is a great conversation starter, and it’s easy!

  9. Erin says...

    One of my favorite parties I ever hosted was a hot chocolate party on a Sunday afternoon in mid-March one year. I made a crock pot of hot chocolate and some cookies, and everyone brought their own mug. The mugs were a great conversation-starter, and at the end everyone took their mug home with them (no dishes to wash!!)!

  10. Kate says...

    What a great post, and wonderful comments.

    I have been throwing parties and dinner parties since my crappy dorm room on the upper east side and love nothing more than having people over. From brunches for 20 to cocktail parties for 60, I’ve found a few rules that hold true across all size gatherings:

    -Drink the drink you want your guests to drink. If you make an awesome punch, but are drinking the champagne, everyone else will drink the champagne too. People look to the host for clues.

    -Your spouse will inevitably become obsessed with some totally pointless task 5 minutes before people come over. Don’t be surprised by this.

    -Put water and glasses somewhere folks can help themselves.

    -Get dressed an hour before people come over. You do not want to be in your robe if someone shows up right on time.

    -There will be some thing you do not get to. It does not matter. Bonus scenario you have a trusted friend who comes 20 minutes early to help you get to every thing, but this may not be possible.

    I love love love being invited to people’s houses and gatherings, and know that many are consumed with anxiety over the prospect of hosting. People just really love the invite, and do not care if you don’t have the most imaginative menu or drinks. Hosting brings me so, so so much joy. try it!

    • Kathleen says...

      “Your spouse will inevitably become obsessed with some totally pointless task 5 minutes before people come over.” Never fails. I have learned to allot time for it. :)

    • Lindsay says...

      The spouse tip – oh heavens, yes. “Why are installing a new faucet right now?!” …the other tips are great too!

    • Your suggestion #2 is SO classic and should be told to every new bride regardless. My young husband (20+ year ago) once decided to change the oil in his car, in our driveway, 10 (count them) minutes before I was to host a baby shower for our dearest friend.

  11. Lisa says...

    Tip No. 4: MIND BLOWN.
    It’s always bothered me when you have snacks at a party or in general life, and they’re all grouped in one area. So do you sit next to them and look insanely greedy, or spend the whole time asking someone to pass you the snacks? No! have things of snacks everywhere and that eliminates the problem.

    Most of our entertaining over the last few years have been shabbat dinners / lunches, which generally means that you have to cook most of the food before hand. It’s actually great. We normally do some cooked salads, then fresh salads, and the main is always cooked the day before. It’s so much easier when entertaining because everything is ready and you don’t spend your evening in the kitchen

  12. Emma says...

    Urgh, hosting is my favourite thing.
    We have an old I renovated kitchen, mismatching cheap cutlery and crockery and a tiny dining room. And two tiny kids.
    But we eat outside, the kids run around wild, and the adults listen to music and chat.
    I serve one main and a side, and a dessert if they’re lucky. but those 2-3 dishes are a knockout – no compromises, top notch ingredients, served hot.
    We all have a ball, and I clean up, totally exhausted the next morning, happily reminiscing about the night before.

  13. Jen says...

    I don’t mind hosting but it’s not my favorite lol I have okay spacing furniture not to much. I have so many nice pillows and I have an ikea table that I place the food on. I always put snacks all over and cards against humanity or monopoly are the favs but the most is Mario party and Mario cart. People play other games while waiting for their turn lol what’s so cool is the few people I know come and help cook and set up so it’s more of a family thing. They will go get in bed if they need to sleep off that third glass of wine. I guess I give off that atmospheric charm. I also let everyone take the flowers home they love that. My cat doesn’t lol I always wear a jumpsuit or jeans and I will remember to wear a cute dark top next time. Everyone takes theirs shoes off at the door also. We all have slippers. I grew up like this so it’s the only way to go.

  14. Irena says...

    I lived in three Upper East Side studio apartments in my early years in Manhattan. In one, I managed to have a dozen folks over for a buffet-style Christmas party (yes, some perched on windowsills, while others sat on the floor). The food was a bunch of prepared items from Zabars, which at the time was cheaper than trying to make, plus my boss had given me a gift certificate.

    We were young enough that paper plates and plastic utensils, and various wines and beers, were just fine. No fancy stuff or theme. Just each other’s company, which, in the end, is really what it’s all about.

    A few months later, to welcome a much-needed Spring, I had a “picnic” in the living room for about 8 people. We spread out on the floor. Simple food items and beverages.

    One trick we used when we entertained in studios? Asking our neighbors if they could store the coats, bags and paraphernalia we New Yorkers travel around with (duffel bags, gym bags, backpacks, suitcases, briefcases, oversized handbags, yoga mats, racquet ball and tennis racquets, etc.) during the party. They, of course, were invited.

    When that didn’t work out (neighbors not home), we set up a garment rack in the hallway outside the apartment. (Valuables were stashed in our hall closet and we told folks in advance that they should “come light” if possible due to space.)

    When we moved to a one-bedroom on the west side, we invited as many as two-dozen folks to eat, drink and dance (!). The early years were good because we really didn’t have much furniture, but everything did double duty. We cleared off our bookshelves (stashed in tub or closets for duration of party) and used them to serve food and drink. And even though we cooked (so much at one point that I literally forgot to bring out a bunch of food!), we kept it simple and supplemented with stuff we purchased. (Food was not always so expensive and guests were not all foodies once upon a time.)

    We got a bigger clothing rack to put outside the apartment door and, if needed, stashed furniture across the hall at a friend/neighbor’s apartment (this was a true lifesaver, especially when we had tree-trimming parties and huge trees).

    Depending on time of year, we often “entertained” outside. We live near both Central Park and Riverside Park and have packed up picnics for our friends and taken them to the park where we can spread out and have as many folks as we like. The area down by the Boat Basin in Riverside park has a long stretch of shaded green grass that works really well. You can gaze out at the Hudson and the boats (and Jersey!).

    The really important thing about entertaining, something I learned from a friend who is a combination of Ina Garten and Martha Stewart, is to just RELAX and not stress out. Things will go wrong (she and I were so busy chattering that as we unearthed a Champagne mousse mold, we put too much water and it turned into a big liquid puddle. Her save? We turned it into a smoothie-type desert (this is before there were smoothies) and a sort of fancy pudding!) but if you just let it go, so will your guests.

    As she told me, the most important thing in entertaining is a calm host or hostess who doesn’t aim for perfection. I remember that when I’m fretting and fussing over details that ultimately don’t matter.

    The other issue: Clean your bathroom like crazy but don’t go nuts cleaning in advance of a party (unless your home is really messy or dirty). It’s a waste of energy as you’ll only be cleaning up afterward.

    The other big trick: Whatever you can get delivered (flowers, booze, food, etc.) get it delivered. Borrow or rent chairs or tables if warranted.

    And be sure to invite neighbors because even laid-back folks make noise.

    (If you’ve got lots of people coming, and no rugs, borrow some and lay them down. You really don’t want downstairs neighbors complaining.)

    • Marissa DS says...

      Loved reading your comment. <3

    • Jenni says...

      I loved reading this too. :)

  15. I set out platters/bowls & serving utensils wayyy in advance so I’m not un-earthing a very nested platter while guests are standing by that cabinet when hot food comes out. I also use note card labels so guests aren’t asking me all night what something is (if it isn’t obvious, or if I need to indicate meat/dairy/etc).

  16. Katie says...

    love the tip about scattering the snacks!

    my bf and i host a seated friendsgiving dinner every year for ~16 people in our 1 bedroom apartment. we rent a table, chairs and dishes from a local rental company, and then EVERYTHING and anything that doesn’t need to be in the living room/kitchen gets stashed. coffee table turned over on our bed, counter-top appliances in the shower, extra furniture in our stairwell, etc. it’s a bit of an adventure piecing it together the next day (esp slightly hungover), but well worth it!!

  17. Elena says...

    To a NYC dweller, but a small dinner area in my house makes dinner parties… interesting! I’m going to steal a couple of moves from this play list (scatter the snacks, make your table the buffet) and I’m buying boggle pronto! So old school! 🙌🙌 I remember my parents playing it and I loved to pop the top.

  18. Kay says...

    I am 54 and still fall to pieces when we have people over to our house. I completely get that they don’t care about our old furniture, awful bathroom, etc but I always feel need to clean the house from top to bottom and to have perfect food. I always get grumpy and at some point in the run up will possibly shout and/or cry. No matter what I tell myself, or how I try to simplify life it always happens.
    Food wise I love to bake and am known for my cakes, so I make a couple of fabulous puddings/cakes and the main courses are kept simple, e.g. baked potatoes and fillings, chilli, or huge lasagnes and salads. Food I can do, hosting just about kills me. Partly I think it is because I am not a people person and get socially anxious.

    • Oh I feel you. I used to be this way and then I realized that my role model was my grandmother who had to have everything just so. It stressed us all out so much. I used to not let people bring things because the meal had to have a theme and be perfect. One day I just stopped. I realized that I wasn’t happy and I was stressing out my guests. Now I have potlucks and my friends always ask what dish to bring, so we don’t end up with five deserts. A friend who did not know me in my anxiety ridden hosting time period said he loved coming to my house because it was so warm and welcoming. That- that was what I wanted all along.

    • Patricia E Mitchell says...

      Hello Kay,
      I can totally identify with this. My children always knew when they were having a babysitter as I used to run round the house tidying and cleaning before the sitter came. Parties filled me with dread as a small only child and now as an adult it is just the same. I feel anxious too. I guess I am just an introvert but my other half loves a party so we have to compromise. I much prefer a dinner party of maximum six friends in truth. Having said that, the featured party does sound like fun especially the desserts with a game at the end.

    • Kara says...

      I can relate to this! I would go through the house like a crazy person – until my now 21yo daughter sent me the link to the Youtube video -‘Company is coming’! OMG – this used to me – All hands on deck, clean the house so it looks like no one lives there… Major wake up call! Now, I clean the bathrooms and light tidying before company. I clean afterwards. Dinner is always buffet style – chili party, soup and salad, make your own burrito, etc.

  19. ALWAYS have fresh flowers and empty out the dishwasher before guests come. Let people bring food/drinks if they offer.

  20. We also have 400 sq ft. I empty out a cute farmer’s basket that people can throw their stuff in – scarves, purses, water bottles – to free up floor and table space.

  21. Alice says...

    I love this!! I had a group of friends over for supper on Saturday evening, and it was SO much fun. I live in a London flatshare with a minute kitchen (and a flatmate who spontaneously had three people over for drinks RIGHT as my pre-planned guests arrived…), so there were a few stressors… but in the end, it was just great to have everyone there. I’d HIGHLY recommend The Roasting Tin recipe book- supper parties are so much easier when you can just pop something in the oven rather than slaving away in the kitchen. I made the ras-el hanout mushrooms and halloumi, and served with lemony kale and pomegranate/ parsley rice. And for dessert- Smitten Kitchen’s salted chocolate chunk cookies! I made the dough before everyone arrived, and then just chucked them in the oven when we were ready. So simple, so delicious AND the leftovers were GREAT. It reminded me how much I enjoy having people over, and I’ve resolved to do it much more from now!

  22. Julia says...

    Scattering the snacks, brilliant! Unless you have two large dogs, those snacks wouldn’t stand a chance in my house . ;)

    • ray says...

      or a grabby 3.5 yr old! lol!

    • Sasha L says...

      Same! Especially where anything CHEESE is concerned.

  23. P says...

    I love this! Reminds me of when I lived in NYC in a teeny studio right after college. I had a loft bed, a little coffee table, and a milk crate to sit on! Oh and a giant “Love Sac” (monster bean bag) that I got from a friend. I would store stuff in the bathtub, pull the shower curtain to hide the mess, and have people over for parties all the time :) Still one of my favorite memories from that time in my life!

  24. Carla says...

    I have a group of friends in our village, our kids being classmates at one time is what we have in common. Almost every weekend, we eat dinner at someone’s house. One provides the place and we bring the dishes. It could be just anything: soft drinks, coffee, pasta, fried chicken, rice, anything. No rules. The kids take over the living room and the adults stay in the garden. With kids being on their own, they would usually take out and play all the toys that we have in drawers and boxes. When they leave, the house will be in chaos and the host will be left to clean up. So the moms sorted all the toys and gave half away. In our house, we left only the big ones and and those with sentimental values. And we came up with new rules, before we leave all the kids will have to return all the toys and make sure that the living room is clean, back to it’s state when they arrived. And the adults will also help with cleaning the table and the garden before they leave. So the host will only be left with washing the dishes.

    • Carly says...

      Your friend group sounds like my friend group. When we’re together it is 8 kids 5 and under, and their company, and our time together – bagels and coffee on a snow day, BBQs in the summer, potluck on a weekend – are so treasured.

    • Carla says...

      We’re actually a total of 9 families (17 kids in 1 house!). Since most of our husbands work abroad or come home late, we started as kids and mothers only. But now, when our husbands are in the country, they also join.

  25. Julia says...

    Bloody love this.

  26. Erin says...

    My go-to easy dinner party menu is taco salad: Tortilla chips, ground meat sauteed with some tomato sauce and taco spices, black and/or pinto beans, chopped lettuce, shredded cheese, tomatoes, avocado, olives, purchased salsa, sour cream. All the ingredients go in bowls and everyone assembles their own, which makes it simple to adapt for basically any type of dietary restriction or picky-kid preference. It’s cheap, fast, and guests can help with the prep by, say, shredding cheese or chopping tomatoes if I’m not organized enough to finish that stuff before they arrive. Dessert is ice cream or something contributed by a guest.

  27. Jessica says...

    I love love this! Another tip (if you have one) is to start the night with empty dishwasher! You will thank yourself at the end of the evening!

    • lol I just said the same exact thing! makes such a difference.

  28. Loesie says...

    I just recently discovers Ottolenghi’s book ‘Simple’, given to me by dearest Santa. There’s a lot of meals in it which you can prepare a day before your party. I used to be a sort of Swedish (Muppet) chef, I could barely make a decent meatball, and now I can actually cook something! Saying, the recipes are very makeable, and they are delicious! So my tip would be for everyone to buy that book, make all the food a day in advance and surprise everyone with your perfect cooking skills!

  29. Irina says...

    Our house has a small living space and there is no room for a dining table, which, for me, makes it hard to have people over. Russian-style dinner parties are very much about people sitting around the table together for hours, eating, drinking, and talking, and even after spending 2/3 of my life (and my entire adult life) in the U.S., parties where everyone wanders around the room, plate and glass in hand, standing and sitting wherever, weaving into and out of conversations, are still hard for me, both to attend and to host. They just feel like everyone is off on their own and it’s impossible to have a really good conversation with someone because everyone feels an obligation to also talk with everyone else.

    We improvise with sitting on bar stools around our kitchen counter, or on a couch with a coffee table pulled close, and a chair or two on the other side. However, this seating format makes it hard to have more than 2-3 people over. Plus sitting on a bar stool or couch can be hard on some of our aging friends who have back problems.

    I’m still looking for a solution… perhaps if I can move my “office” from the living room into the bedroom we will be able to set up at least a small dining table. To me, there is no replacement for the feeling of community that arises from sitting around a table with a group of people. Standing by a bookshelf or sitting on the floor with one or two of your guests just does not feel the same.

    • jamie says...

      I can FEEL this comment so deeply – but my connection to a dinner party around a big table comes from my southern roots. I doubt I would’ve noticed the parallel without reading your comment, Irina. The way a conversation ‘ping pongs’ around the table is wonderful.

      I wonder if you could “pull the conversation closer” in your small living space with the addition of a traditional Russian toast. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the beauty – and length – of these verbal expressions a few times, thanks to a couple of my husband’s coworkers and I loved every minute of them. People on barstools, people on the floor, people sitting on the couch all turn to listen to the speaker and then have something in common to discuss afterward?

  30. Esther says...

    I have had a ton of people at my house these last two weeks, since I just lost a pregnancy and my husband is overseas dealing with a family crisis. There is nothing in my fridge right now as I’ve been surviving on take-out and food people give me. Last night my friend came over around dinner time and I made Annie’s organic mac and cheese. Obviously the food was not the star of the evening but it didn’t matter at all, we ate, our stomachs were full, and then we had wine and chatted the rest of the night. It was very nice to visit with my friend.

    • ANDREA says...

      Condolences on the loss of your baby.

    • MissEm says...

      I’m so sorry. That can be a hard and lonely road. I miscarried when my husband was out of town too, and some friends brought me to their home, bought Indian take out, and popped in a dumb, cheery movie and it meant the world – still one of the best moments of hospitality I’ve ever experienced.

    • Tricia M says...

      Esther,
      You have some wonderful and thoughtful friends. Sending you love from the other side of the pond. Take care, hoping your husband gets back soon.xx

  31. Laura D. says...

    I’m not one for parties, but I just wanted to say that Christine Han takes such beautiful photographs! All the images look so cozy, warm, and effortless.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’ll tell her you said that! we adore her :)

    • christine han says...

      Thank you so much, Laura! You made my day warmer :)

  32. Cait says...

    Scatter the snacks! Now I will never forget those three words either, and I know what I’ve loved about certain parties. When all the food is clustered on one table, especially in a place without a lot of room to maneuver, like NYC apartment, I often end up not eating as much as I’d like to because of having to push through people to get to the table or not wanting to leave a conversation. It’s a real issue! And I second the comment suggesting to start a party with an empty dishwasher or sink – best thing ever! I also love collecting mismatched plates, particularly dessert sized ones, from thrift stores. I use them every day and it’s not a great loss when my kids break them, and I have a decent stack for serving cake or snacks at parties. I’m always up for adding to my small plate/cloth napkin stash!!

  33. Sam H. says...

    Spread the Snacks — genius!!!

  34. Leah says...

    I hosted a party called “Soup there it is” and everyone was told pair up and bring a soup or a side. There were about 15 of us and crammed into my tiny living room all sampling soups and talking. We voted on the best soup (a late arrival tortellini!) and swapped recipes at the end. It was the best way to spend a cold January night

    • Jenn says...

      This is the best thing I have ever heard.

    • Loesie says...

      I once taught myself the lyrics to that song when I was in 5th grade. Why? Really, why???
      Next time I wouldn’t mind being invited and doing a small performance of Whoomp there it is.
      You won’t regret it whaha. Your soup party sounds wonderful! Especially for those cold January nights!

  35. STEFANIE FARQUHARSON says...

    honestly, these types or parties are the best kind. They’re relaxed and fun; which is all we want anyway!

  36. R says...

    I once served individual 7 layer dip in clear disposable cups with big bowl of chips put in middle and it was major hit!
    It looked little fancy,It didn’t take much time to assemble as you would imagine and there was no horror of double dipping :D

  37. Amanda says...

    Over the holidays we hosted my in-laws for drinks and appetizers before family dinner at grandma’s… I was stressing about getting things picked up in time, having just returned from Christmas with my family, when my husband said, “Why don’t you just throw that stuff in the laundry room and shut the door?” Yah, WHY DON’T I?? Perfectionism? Guilt because my house is 1000 sq feet and I should be able to keep it perfect? Not good enough reasons. So that’s my rule now… as long as the bathroom and living space (we have an open living room/kitchen/breakfast nook) are reasonably clean, all other doors can be shut when needed! No one needs to be poking around in my office, anyway.

  38. Jen says...

    Great tips! Scattered snacks are a GREAT idea.

    I have a friend who excels at hosting amazing gatherings. I was (somewhat anxiously) hosting a holiday party at my house, and she offered to come over early to help me set up. My biggest surprise takeaway from her able assistance? To put away my dish draining rack! It would not have occurred to me to move it from its permanent perch by the sink, but what a great idea. It freed up counter space, looked cleaner and prettier without it there, and it took two seconds to stash it. (I happened to stash mine in the garage, but gosh, you could slip it under the bed, in the tub, wherever!) I loved this idea and now sort of can’t wait to have another party where I get to put that thing away, just because I can.

    Also, I love that you had that tiny space dinner party, Franny. I have a theory for all the hesitant hosts out there. People really just want to be invited! I know I do. So host away, even if it’s not practical in reality to host the kind of idealized gathering you might have in your imagination. Your people just want to be with you and with each other, no matter the setting. (That said, a little planning or the implementation of a genius tip or two can’t hurt.)

  39. talia says...

    I host A LOT of dinner/patio parties. Two things I always do…
    a) have my sister show up first – alleviates that awkward first guest thing (she also is my ‘jumper’ – she runs if we need ice, more mixers, etc… so she has to park where she can get out)
    b) always have a drink in my hand as guests arrive – instantly feel more relaxed and encourages them to jump in!

  40. Alison says...

    OH! And since reading the rules of ‘crappy dinner party’ linked in several comments.. I remembered I have a friend who hosts ‘Scrappy Happy Hour’ at her house for friends in her neighborhood. They all bring whatever scraps they’ve got around…half eaten boxes of crackers or leftover whatever…a bottle of wine and then the kids run amok while grown ups socialize. She’ll talk about them and their text thread as ‘my scrappy moms’ Lol.

    • Ohh I like this one! Scrappy Happy Hour going on full rotation this summer :-)

    • Adrienne Hall says...

      After reading your comment I texted my friends to come over for our first Scrappy Happy Hour tomorrow night. Kids have to play outside though as there are 20 of them. We live in CA though so they can! Thanks for a great idea.

  41. Alison says...

    This is inspiring. I love to entertain and felt like I had really found my groove and then we moved and it has been hard to work up the courage again because it’s new people that I don’t know as well and I’ve been worried they won’t be as relaxed with my random spreads and typical entertaining style—but ya know what? They’ll be fine. Just set the date Alison!

  42. Meghan says...

    One of my favourite entertaining friends meals is hot pot. I got a super cheap, portable tabletop element (for less than $25, it is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made – I even use it on my balcony in the summer as an impromptu BBQ/stove when it’s too hot to cook inside). You make some kind of broth (you can get fancy and make something from scratch, or just use good ol’ powdered stock). Next, assemble a bunch of fixin’s: super thinly sliced meat, dumplings, noodles, all the veggies, tofu, any weird and wonderful packaged delight from the Asian grocery store… Last thing to do before guests come is to make all the dipping sauces. For me, that entails opening all the jars of the random sauces I purchased because I thought the label looked cute, but don’t really know what it is because said labels aren’t in English.

    There are so many things I love about hosting hot pot. It’s really easy for people with radically different dietary needs to (or who are just really picky) to eat exactly what they want. It’s a meal AND an activity in one. There’s very little prep for the “cook” to do (and basically no cooking). It’s really easy to do it pot-luck style (just assign each guest a category: veggies, noodles, etc.). It’s an easy way for people to taste unfamiliar foods.

    But the absolute best part about hotpot is that, towards the end of the meal, it’s absolutely acceptable to unbutton the top button of your pants you can finish the last bit of noodles. Because you don’t want to be wasteful.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, loved this!!!

      “No housework is to be done prior to a guest’s arrival.” = bravo!

  43. Erica says...

    Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten from my mom (sorry, mom?): always start a party with an empty sink and dishwasher.

    It’s a little bit of extra work/planning beforehand, but when dinner is over and you can pop everything in the dishwasher, it’s so easy! I never want to clean up the dishes after having a big dinner but I also hate going to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, so it helps with my stress level!

    • CathyMA says...

      This is what I do! It’s a pain to have everything put away, but SO worth it when it’s clean-up time.

  44. K says...

    I always love seeing the sprinkled snacks in action. It really keeps people mingling. In fact, my whole wedding was like that, entrees and all.

  45. Joy b. says...

    Would love to know where you got your perfectly-sized hoops!!

    • Franny Eremin says...

      Hi Joy! I got them from this sweet shop in Williamsburg: https://www.norbu.us/

      xo

  46. Alison says...

    such a relatable post!!

  47. Christine says...

    As someone who loves salad yet can’t put a single one together, I would love to know what exactly goes into this “simple arugula salad” you mention!

    • Franny Eremin says...

      Oh for sure! I just threw some arugula in a bowl, sprinkled it with toasted pine nuts, fresh parmesan, a couple squeezes of lemon, and a light drizzle of olive oil. You can finish it off with fresh ground pepper, too! xo

  48. Mom of boys says...

    When I was young-ish, living in an apartment trying to host a large-ish party, I always had a dessert that could be consumed without a plate or utensil. At the end of dinner, I found that every plate/bowl/saucer/fork/spoon in the place was dirty, so cookies and mandarin oranges for dessert reduced any anxiety about trying to make sure no one used too many plates and forks during the course of the evening!

    • Sasha L says...

      This is a great tip! Ice cream bars or sandwiches, brownies or other bar cookies, hand pies, a big plate of broken up chocolate bars, COOKIES!!

    • Sarah says...

      Yes! I always go for a grab-and-chomp dessert too— brownies, cookies, peanut butter Rice Krispie treats (seriously, always the first thing gone!), lemon bars, whatever. Something about the easy access makes everyone enjoy twice as much!

  49. Samantha says...

    My boyfriend and I hosted a holiday party this past year for all of our friends and family, about 35 people total. We made it an open house so everyone wasn’t there at the same time (family with small kids came earlier, friends came later) We bought frozen pizzas and pre-made bite sized appetizers, soft pretzels, and chips & dip/salsa- plus some homemade desserts. it worked out so well, there was very little food prep to do, and when a new group of people arrived we’d pop two pizzas and a tray of apps in the oven.
    We used all real dishes as well, all side plates and simple glasses from ikea (https://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/80092109/ so cheap, you don’t care if one ends up breaking! we have about 30) . It actually made clean up a breeze- just put dishes in the dishwasher at the end of the night, and tableclothes/napkins in the washing machine!

    we had boxed wine, a cooler of assorted beer, and a friend brought a non-alcoholic mixed drink.
    i already can’t wait to do it again this year!

    • Emma says...

      Real dishes are great if you can! Our last holiday party I pulled out all the random glasses I have been collecting and kept with a green and gold theme and it was great. It made everything feel so much classier, plus as an added bonus it was easier to keep track of your glass, and kept people from abandoning them on side tables!

  50. Anna says...

    Franny, I was just agonizing over this last week! I hosted a dinner at my 600-square-feet apartment and with the last-minute plus-ones that my friends asked to bring, I was fretting over how many chairs I had, etc. In the end, I said yes to every plus-one, figuring that the livelier and more fun the party, the less that things like seating would matter. And I was right! Some sat, some stood, some would swap seats (it helped that dinner was a taco bar, so someone was bound to be up assembling a taco, haha), and it was not a problem at all. And I 100% agree with prepping as much beforehand as possible, though one thing that I’ve noticed is that some guests genuinely like to have something to help out on, so I intentionally saved some easily delegated tasks (cutting up limes, warming tortillas, etc.) for people to do, and I had many enthusiastic volunteers!

    The only thing that will probably never be un-stressful about hosting parties is the clean-up afterwards (especially now that I avoid using disposable utensils, cups, dishes, etc.). But a good song playlist/podcast rotation will power you through the cleaning!

  51. Elise says...

    Accept offers to bring something!

    I like giving askers their choice of a few options so if they have specific limitations of time or budget they don’t have to awkwardly explain to me why they can’t bring what I requested after all. I also prefer to request things that we can easily do without in case they get get sick or stuck on a train or something. Bread, a drink, fruit, dessert or salad are good options.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      great advice. and as a guest, i love having an assignment :)

  52. Jennie says...

    Scatter tins of altoids, have plenty of water on hand that people can pour for themselves ( I keep old rose wine bottles in my fridge and pull them out as needed), also tip, those molten lava cakes can be made a day ahead of time if you want to do it from scratch – super easy – OR bake the TJ’s ones in mass on a tray in the oven and everyone gets one at the same time. Another easy dessert? prescoop good ice cream in single serving scoops in a muffin tin. Store in freezer. Then just quickly plate them with tongs or even ask people to serve themselves.

    • KL says...

      SOLID dessert tips!

    • Jo says...

      Great tips!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks for these tips!!

    • Nicole K says...

      This ice cream in a muffin tin tip is GENIUS.

  53. I read this tongue-in-cheek post years ago and it really stayed with me, especially now that I am forced to entertain in a house where toddlers live.

    https://www.thekitchn.com/5-rules-for-hosting-a-crappy-dinner-party-235815

    My new rules are:
    1) Only clean the kitchen (mostly because it makes clean up easier after the party like Franny suggested) and the rest of the house be damned (within reason of course)! Everyone will feel more comfortable when they realize, you too, are a human being.
    2) Only provide food that be dumped into a pretty dish and suddenly look sophisticated (I am the queen of pretty crackers, nuts, olives, cheeses, etc). Also – EVERYONE LOVES A BOWL OF GOLDFISH CRACKERS.
    3) Buy some pretty aprons and wear them the whole night.
    4) Let guests do the dishes and assign small chores to everyone, all night long.

    Totally adding ‘scatter the snacks’ to my repertoire!

  54. KL says...

    I love a good hosting opportunity and have come to realize as I get older and older that it’s less about the frills and more about the food (and drinks) and atmosphere. Probably the best I’ve ever hosted was a Soup’s On! get together for six of our best friends. I made a chili, asked the other two couples to each bring a soup or stew, and it was a hit! We had crusty bread, toppings for the soups, and it was SO easy. Plus, we started with an appetizer of tater tots (thanks to an old CoJ post!!) and EVERYONE DIED WHEN THEY SAW THEM COME OUT! We had an easy dessert, imbibed, and played Trouble (four of us, with the others switching in and out/watching on). It was a perfect night.

  55. Christine says...

    Brava! Entertaining is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

    • Myvoiceandyoura says...

      TRUER WORDs HAVE NEVER BE SAID!! I entertain (somewhat frequently), have help( live in a country where’s its common place) and plan multiple things on a existing google doc to make life easier. YET…. If I slack off for a few months, it just feels like an EFFORT,
      All over again!

  56. Clou says...

    Every few months I host a Saturday lunch with girlfriends in my small apartment. The group may be between 6 and 10 friends, and not everyone knows each other. It’s a fun way to meet new people and share our lives. I’m a big supporter of doing as much food prep as possible in advance. There are always simple appetizers — chips, dip, veggies, or cheese and crackers — and depending on the weather a big salad with protein or an Italian pasta bake with excellent bread. Dessert? Usually just store-bought cookies and coffee. There is always fizzy water plus either wine or a special pitcher cocktail. I always check beforehand for food allergies or dislikes, and if guests ask what they can bring I suggest their favorite beverage. I’ve been doing this for almost 50 years and I hope I can do it for many more years.

    • Cindy says...

      This sounds heavenly! How do I get invited? :) I have been trying to plan a “cookbook club” with my girlfriends with no luck. Maybe I just need to send out invites and see who shows up…

  57. Katrin says...

    As someone who stresses out a lot if I „have“ to host a dinner party, these tips are pure gold for me, so thank you! Especially scattering the snacks has never occurred to me and makes so much sense!
    On a completely unrelated note – and I apologize for this -, but since there was recently an article with tips for/ discussions about what shows to watch together with your partner, and I forgot to chime in, here is my belated tipp: the Norwegian series Skam – it‘s a teenage series, but really mindblowingly wonderful. Apparently not so easy to watch if you live in the U.S., but not impossible. I swear that it‘s the embodiment of all the values Cup Of Jo stands for in one wonderful series.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh wow, skam sounds wonderful! going to try to find it tonight :)

  58. Kari says...

    Since moving out of NY and back to Canada, I had nearly forgotten what incredible flowers are available so inexpensively in the city. Your little “deli flowers” (ranunculus!) are only available seasonally through high-end florists here, and they are not cheap! Bodega flower envy. :)

    • Louisa says...

      I came to comment on the ranunculus, too! It was my wedding flower and I can only find them in May. love them.

    • Amy says...

      Once I found freesia at a Canadian grocery store. I bought them immediately! 95% of the time it’s carnations, roses, alstroemerias, and chrysanthemums and gerberas in startling hues. Thankfully it’s tulip season here!

      I tend to be very focused on my tasks and don’t hide my stress well, so I do everything I possibly can before people come so that I can actually look them in the eye and pay attention to them while they’re at my home. My husband is a much better people-person so if he’s there too, he handles the people and I handle the food and behind-the-scenes stuff :)

  59. CaraM says...

    Is there anyone else who suffers from anxiety at the thought of having people over? It could have been the way I grew up (a Mother who rivals Martha Stewart and obsessed over cleaning), the fact that I moved a year ago, or that I have a toddler (laundry piles and scattered toys) and still haven’t finished unpacking, but my heart races at the thought! I love these tips and the ease at which Franny seems in her space. I need to conquer my anxiety because I love to cook and socialize!

    • Rebecca says...

      I was actually about to add the best “tip” I have is advice my father once gave me – keep inviting people over. Don’t care how small your space is. So I’ve tried to embrace not caring! I don’t have room to scatter snacks. People don’t seem to mind. People end up sitting up on the floor or or not at all and no one seems to care. In line with that is advice I heard somewhere (maybe here?), which is, “it’s a free meal.” People are happy to have a free meal :)

    • Nikki says...

      Being in the military I move a ton, my advice for unpacking: if you haven’t unpacked it after a year, bring it straight to the curb/goodwill. Seriously.

      I try to unpack and make my home in three days because after that you just aren’t going to put up pictures or unpack that lousy box so three day or throw away.

      Also the way I unpack is by unpacking every box in front of the thing it needs to go in. Then I observe the mess, and start putting things away. 1 cabinet, dresser etc at a time. With it all out it is easier to imagine where things go AND easier to see when you’ve made progress (because it slowly gets cleaner).

    • Yes! This is me! After having kids, I felt so self conscious of the piles of clothes, the not-impressive dinners, and I basically stopped having people over. But then I went to a friends house–it was a mess and she did not apologize. and little by little, I’m getting there. We have friends over now and purposefully keep it super chill. Potluck, or we take turns bringing soup (or something else easy) or ordering in. It has been SO lovely to lower my expectations of myself in this way (ie having the perfect home at all times, with little kids) and now I find so, so many people can relate. If you’re in RI, come on over!

    • Erin G. says...

      You are not alone! And YES to all of the replies here. I, too, had the same feelings after I had a child and, as a result, spent years not doing something I truly loved. Then, one day, I was invited to a friend-of-a-friend’s dinner party and she had laundry on the couch and kids crafts all over the dining room table, and she ordered pizzas and opened bottles of wine and told people to get their own drinks and snacks out of her fridge and DID NOT APOLOGIZE. And, of course, we all had a wonderful time. I took it to heart and now do my version of that (I’m not laid back enough to leave unfolded underwear on the couch – but if I end up ordering take out and asking people to BYOB, so be it).

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love this thread :)

    • Chelsea says...

      I agree with the other replies here. My house is about half the size of most of my friends’ homes, I have 3 very active kids, and most of my hand me down furniture is falling apart, but I love hosting. So I have learned to embrace the chaos and invite people over all the time. And I think one of the most important things I’ve realized is that people love being invited. It’s so easy to feel lonely these days without much in person interaction. My friends keep coming over and seem to enjoy their time even though my home is not “Martha Stewart perfect” like my mom always kept our home when I was young. Hospitality allows others to feel like they belong, even if it’s in the midst of your chaos.

    • Laura D. says...

      Same here, and I don’t have kids or a recent move as an excuse. The thought just stresses me out. I rather meet people out somewhere–that feels manageable to me.

    • Courtney says...

      I second what Rebecca said – keep inviting people over! Dinner parties have become no big deal to me because I’ve started having people over all the time. If you start yourself out by having a close friend or two over casually, just joining for dinner, it makes your friends more like family. Rather than making a big plan, the night before or the day of, just say, “Hey! I’m making [whatever food] tonight. Want to come over?”. Once it becomes a more regular thing to have friends around the house and in the kitchen, hosting a dinner party becomes just like any other night, with a bit more planning and a few more people.

    • Lisa says...

      This is me the last few days. It’s my son’s birthday tomorrow, and his grandparents and aunt are coming for lunch. This week – we arrived back from holiday on Tuesday morning, my husband flew out on a work trip Wednesday morning, flew back last night, I work full time and had a course in the evening Wednesday, our dryer is broken (why!?) and we have two small kids.
      My husband suggested ordering food and doing some fresh salads. While my head acknowledges that this is the most sensible idea, part of me is still freaking out at not providing a home cooked meal for our guests, even though they’re unlikely to care. I’m comforting myself by planning on putting it in nice containers (my husband would happily put it on the table in foil containers) and use real cutlery and crockery.

  60. Stella says...

    I can really relate to the love of Anthropologie’s clearance dishware. Ever since high school I’ve been obsessed with dishware (idk why, maybe it’s a life-long nesting thing), and Anthropologie in particular is my Kryptonite! I can’t ever stick with one particular style, I like too many color, so I’ve accepted that my dishware is going to be pretty eclectic and that it could actually be pretty fun to have mismatched dishes!!

  61. bonnie says...

    My best tip since I have a very small table, is to use varying height serving pieces – cake stands get used for some items, my go-to dark brown Ikea bowls with pedestals are used (no one knows they’re ice cream dishes when they have olives, etc.) – whatever will give dimension on the table and allow the items to fit in as needed. It provides visual appeal, as well.

    • Jennie says...

      Amen Bonnie! I have placed plates atop overturned bowls!

  62. This is awesome! I love having people over and already do a lot of this stuff (table is a buffet, mismatched stuff is how I roll) but I love ‘scatter the snacks’! I usually have the dinner stuff on the counter and dessert on a side table, but definitely going to put smaller snacks in different places around the living room.
    People hang out in the living room, kitchen and hallway (really just 1 big space with a counter as a divider) and coats and bags go in my bedroom.
    I like to cook but have always embraced the idea of simple is best, maybe have a showstopper entree or dessert item (or my homemade Challah during Jewish holidays) but otherwise simple is the way to go.
    We usually will play Celebrity or Cards Against Humanity after dinner.
    My favorite part, though, is getting all my friends and loved ones together and watching the friendships and connections that form between them over time.

  63. Lauren E. says...

    I love the idea of scattering the snacks! I’m just worried I’d forget about it and a week later I’d find that cheese on my bookshelf…

    Another tip (and maybe this is just general entertaining advice) is to PREP. When I throw a party I like to do 99% of the cooking and prepping beforehand so that when people I arrive, I can enjoy the party, too. Nothing makes guests more uncomfortable than a frazzled host.

  64. Amanda Gwaltne says...

    I haven’t hosted a larger group, but I loooove small dinner parties. I hosted my favorite one ever for a couple of close friends around the theme of a whiskey sampling, so everyone contributed an interesting bottle of whiskey or bourbon! Then I mixed up a LOT of peach whisky smashes with fresh summer peaches, and we grilled some steaks and listened to a lot of Frank Sinatra with all the windows open to the warm summer night. I still dream about that evening!

    • Allegra LaViola says...

      oooh I want to be invited to that party!

    • Cindy says...

      I want an invite too! Sounds wonderfully fun! and delish!