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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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™.
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.
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.
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?