27 tips for simple entertaining

I originally wrote this post in the Spring of 2012, but in honor of the holidays I'm reposting these "27 tips for Simple entertaining" in hopes to help simplify your season, and make your entertaining more FUN.

Entertaining and interior design go hand in hand.  In both cases, you are creating an environment with the goal of making people feel happy and special.  Most people spend every day taking care of others.  When people take time to go to a party or come over for dinner, it's a moment to exhale their stress at the door and enter into a moment of celebration.  

Interior design and entertaining are all about the details.  After 12 years of entertaining people in our home I have learned a few pieces of wisdom.  Mostly through my mistakes! I thought I would use this busy season as an opportunity to give you my 27 tips for simple entertaining.  

*Accept Help!   When guests offer to help, it can be easy to say no.  But I've learned to accept help when offered.  I try to have all the food prepped before they arrive.  Then I give each of them a chunk of counter space and put them to work!  This makes the party more fun and relaxed.

*Don't throw a party out of obligation.  As the host, you set the tone for the party.  Entertaining can be a lot of work.  I guarantee, if you are not hosting the event for the right reasons, people will notice.  I was at a lunch at a friend's house in high school when I heard their mom say, "You owe me for this."  I've never forgotten that.

*Coordinate colors from start to finish.  I realize this is slightly type-A of me, but like I said, it's all about the details.  When I chose the invitation, I took into account the setting of the party.  It's no accident that the invite looks like our house...coordinated with the tablecloth...and had the same colors as the party favors.  Yes, slightly over the top, but if you are going to buy these items anyway they may as well be intentional!

*Choose flowers based on your containers.  I love going to the store and pulling cut flowers from the bins and arranging them myself.  But where do you start? Your first task is taking a look at what vessels you have and thinking of those as you choose your flowers.  A few flowers can go a long way to making your house look different (more special) than it does every day.

*Use the same recipes again and again.  This has taken me a while to figure out.  But now I have a handful of recipes I know taste amazing, are easy to make, and can be made ahead.  Ideally, they are appetizers people don't typically make for themselves.  Remember, the goal is to make them feel special.  I'll put together a separate post with the menu for those interested.  You can read the make-ahead menu post here.

*Make food that can be turned into meals later.  This one takes a bit more planning.  But everyone always loves the appetizer pictured above.  The downside is that I'm left with a container of arugula.  Solution?  Plan to make this Lemon Fusilli with Arugula in the next few days.  Ta Da!  No waste.

*Get everyone out of the house a few hours before.  Maybe this is just me, but I've talked to some girlfriends about this, and there seems to be the inevitable pre-party argument between spouses right before the guests arrive.  This can be avoided, and help you stay more calm, if you can have the house to yourself, even for just an hour.  That means no one is using a cup and leaving it in the sink.  If you've cleaned up the toys, no one is getting more out.  You get the idea.  Less annoyance means less stress and more fun!

*Make it personal.  This especially applies to events like showers, but can also be used in more subtle ways for small dinner parties or Christmas parties.  I asked the mother of the bride to bring pictures of the couple-- framed and unframed.  Then we set the pictures all around the house.  It was a constant reminder of what we were celebrating. I also kept their gift personal by framing the shower invitation. At dinner parties, obviously it would be a little awkward if you had pictures of your guests all over your house, but it doesn't hurt to find out what type of food they love and make one of those dishes. 

*No silverware.  My goal is to not use any silverware unless everyone is going to actually be sitting at a table.  It's just easier, and less dishes.  My only exception is dessert. But cupcakes would be a great option. I made chocolate creme brulee with raspberries for this shower, and it was delish.  That's one of my "go to" recipes, looks fancy, (because anything individual feels fancy) and is very simple to make.  More on that when I share the menu.

*Create a drink station/bar area away from food prep.  Not everyone has a bar in their house.  But most people have some type of serving area.  I use our buffet in the dining room.  You want your guests to be able to help themselves without trying to get ice or a glass out of the kitchen. You want to arrange the tray with the tallest pieces toward the back. Include non-alcoholic drinks, and any garnishes they might need.

*Make pitcher drinks.  You will not have time to be mixing drinks for each guest.  By making one mixed drink, like these strawberry basil margaritas, it allows the guests to serve themselves.  Also, they can be made the day before.  That's key to stress free entertaining!

*Label food.  If you look closely at the pictures, you may have noticed that the food was labeled.  Not only does this look nice, but it helps people with allergies and encourages people to try something they may otherwise be unsure of.  I bought two small bags of corks at Micheal's, (super cheap) cut a slit in the top with a steak knife, and used labeled card stock.  Again, if you make the same recipes often you only need to do this once.  Then, just save your corks and labels for next time!

*Invest in votive candles.  This is only a few dollars, but tiny candles anywhere add a bit of romance and help even the most simple event to feel special.

*schedule a pedicure for the day before.  I know, you're already spending a chunk of money on the party, but just book a $30 pedicure.  Otherwise, you'll be slathering your toenails with polish five minutes before guests arrive in a lame attempt to look cute.  I speak from experience!

*Take a shower in the morning.  Again, this may sound like a strange tip. The closer the time gets to the party, the more you find to do.  At the last second you realize your hair isn't done and your dress has a stain.  This is why I say to shower in the morning, and wait to do your hair and makeup until right before the party.  You'll look fresh and feel better.  Less stress.

*Don't wash your floor.  Yep, you read that correctly.  I like to allow my guests to leave their shoes on.  This way, if you just sweep and spot clean before, then after the guests are gone you can wash your floor and call it good.  No sense in washing it twice.

*Focus on the bathrooms!  This is the place where my last tip is void.  The bathroom is the one spot in your home where guests will be by themselves and looking around. You want the bathroom spic and span.  I always have a candle burning and some type of flower by the sink.  Even if it's just a bud vase with one flower from your yard-- take the time.

*Have music playing from the start.  If you want to take time to put together a party play list that you use every time-- go for it.  But I usually recommend using Pandora on your iPhone or computer.  My favorite Pandora stations for events are Motown, Micheal Buble, Micheal Jackson, and Katy Perry.  That's a random mix, I know, but I want something upbeat for when they walk in the door, something a little more subtle while we eat (or in the case of a shower, opening presents) and then bring up the beat after dinner with Micheal and Katy.

*Invite a friend over for the day after.  What?!  More entertaining?!  No.  This is a best friend that will help you finish off those apps and margaritas at your coffee table while you catch up on your week.  Plus, they'll want to either hear all about the party. :-)

*Don't stop the party at the door.  Send your guests home with a little something.  This does not have to be expensive!  I made little turtles and put two in each box.  Who wouldn't want to get in the car and have a little morsel?  Another inexpensive idea include making a mixed CD for everyone...keeping with the event.  So for a wedding shower--love songs.  Baby shower--songs about loving children. Or if you took the time to make a play list for the night, just burn that to a disc for everyone.

*Lay out your platters and dishes ahead of time with labels, or some way for you to remember what food goes where. (above)  This prevents you from leaving anything in the fridge and also allows anyone helping you to know where you want the food to go.

*Use dishes in an unexpected way.  For example, stack two cake plates on top of each other to serve mini sandwiches.  Or use a cupcake tower to present the favors.

*Food looks best against white. 
 If possible, use all white serving platters.  They don't have to match/be from the same collection, but I highly recommend they all be white. This allows you to totally change the look of your table with flowers and linens. Plus, you can find white platters or serving pieces cheap.  All of mine are from Big Lots.  I bought them the first year we were married.  I bought one of each shape they offered, and it was one of the smartest entertaining moves I've made.  

*When planning your menu, think through the colors of your food.  People eat with their eyes first.  The more colorful, the better.  Some things taste amazing but look gross.  One or two of these dishes is fine, but you don't want a table full of "that could be disgusting" food.

*Stay away from paper.  Unless it is a child's birthday party and you are fearful of a huge mess, stay away from disposable tablecloths or paper plates and cups.  If you're going to throw a party then it's worth it to wash a real tablecloth and real plates.  You can buy a box of 12 white, porcelain, dinner plates from World Market for under $20.  If you're having more guest than that, just mix in the china that has been collecting dust in your cupboard.  {Sidenote: for girly showers I truly love using all china plates from mixed collections.  Ask your friends who are helping you with the shower to each bring a few from their set, and use all of them together.}

*Decide ahead of time that it does not have to be perfect.  At Lauren's shower, my husband left for our son's lacrosse game with the bag of ice and the buns for the sliders. When I needed them, they were at least 30 miles away. :-)  Nothing will ever go completely as planned, but more than likely, you are the only person who will know.

*Ask someone to take pictures.  They can be professional or just a friend with a decent camera.  But there are too many moments you will miss as the host.  Odds are you have a friend who would love to capture those moments for you.  I did not do this for Lauren's shower and I really wish I did.  I'm still learning!

After reading all 27 tips, I hope you are less stressed about entertaining and have at least few new ideas for your next party. Just remember that the number one rule is to make your guests feel special.  After that, nothing else matters.

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  1. What a fabulous totally comprehensive post!!! You nailed the perfect party! These are great tips for the entertainer and the novice. When's the next party? I'm coming!!

  2. I am TOTALLY BOOKMARKING this post. I love to entertain and have people over - but I usually am running around trying to make everything perfect and then I look like a mess - not finished getting dressed up, forget the toenails, bad hair... awful! It's supposed to look effortless...
    And I learned about the floors the first time I had Thanksgiving at my house as a newlywed. I had just made them all spotless, and the first guests left dirty prints right across my tile!

  3. The party looks like it was a hit! And love all of the tips!

  4. Great tips! I was amazed and impressed with how many of your tips I already do (: I guess I need to worry less about making things perfect and just enjoying the time with my guests!

  5. Great ideas! Super helpful. I'm planning my brother-in-law's rehearsal dinner so i'll definitely be using this as a guide!

  6. I am totally bookmarking this...I am *horrible* about even attempting events because I know what a witch I turn into when I'm stressed (and I get super stressed!)...these are such fantastic tips and make it sound like a breeze! I think I'm going to test it out for the next family sunday dinner (c:

  7. It was as fabulous as described and you are a gifted host!

  8. It was as fabulous as described and you are a gifted host!

  9. It was as fabulous as described and you are a gifted host!

  10. I'm coming to your next party too! I love to entertain but we really don't do it very often. I do like to have my dishware sitting out the night before so I can mentally plan out what will go where. I love the idea of all finger foods and I'm hungry as I'm writing this so I know I'm going to get something to eat now too! ha! It looks like you threw a wonderful event Abby - everything looked so nice.

  11. Abby all excellent advice!!! Perfect for the beginning hostess or the seasoned party hostess!

    ....I wanted you to know...I am featuring Anita Rivera, Friend, Designer and Paper Artist with Castles Crowns & Cottages, & her Giveaway on my site!

    Art by Karena

  12. Looks like a great event! I think you and I approach entertaining in a very similar manner - I identified with a lot!!

  13. I will use many of your tips the next time I entertain so thank you for all of your experience and wisdom! I love the advice about the pedicure, floors and white serving pieces. Who needs Kelly Ripa and the Electrolux oven when you have Abby to help you be more fabulous?

  14. What a fabulous "primer" Abby, some great tips! I am also of the mind "why clean the floor before the party?" This event looks like it was a delight!

  15. These were such great tips! I absolutely love hosting parties, but I always get a little freaked out and stress before hand.

  16. They are some fantastic tips, especially about flowers in the bathroom and not washing the floors until the next day - I do that too! I'm going to take the time to write out food tags next time, and laying out a drinks tray. Thanks again you hostess with the mostess you :)

  17. I love all of your ideas. Even though I was once an event planner I sometimes forget to do these things when I entertain at home.....like take a shower early!! And do ahead as much as possible - it makes the day so much more enjoyable for the hostess! Your shower looks fabulous - I love the food labels in cork bases.

  18. These are great tips Abby! And this reminds me that I need a few more pieces of white serving ware. Love the no silverware idea too- so smart!

  19. Such good ideas. I already knew about white platters, no having it perfect, clean bathrooms, shoes on, pretty food, labels... oh and the pedicure. I learned about that when 10 minutes before our 3rd child's baby naming I was painting my big toes (they were the only toes that showed in the peep toe shoes:)

    I love the idea of sending everyone out of the house, we are 90 minutes from party-time right now and my 4 year old is running around like crazy, my husband is gardening and the two little ones are napping. I wish they were out of the house so I could rest instead of being asked every 5 minutes "what do we need to do?"


  20. Great post, Abby. I love doing a few nice parties a year at our house, and some of your tips were new to me and very sensible. Everyone is so much happier when the hostess is happy and relaxed!

  21. Great post, Abby!! I love all these tips...your parties look so fun! Can't wait for the menu and recipes!


Abby Manchesky Interiors is a boutique design firm based in Grand Rapids, MI. Combining the new traditional, vintage and a dash of the unexpected is her ideal. Contact Abby Manchesky Interiors for more information on available interior design services for clients near and far. abbyminteriors@gmail.com | 616.719.9400


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