As a seasoned entertaining enthusiast, I know that planning a gathering is no easy feat, particularly when it also involves children!
There is the endless to do list including a home to tidy and clean, meals to plan and cook, drinks to purchase, a table to prepare and guests to entertain on the day! It can seem like a lot before even mentioning the on-the-go serving and cleaning up that goes with it all.
After putting the effort into organising a party, you want to be able to enjoy it. There is nothing worse than a stressed-out host to put your guests on edge.
So, whilst I am no event-planning expert, I have put together a list of my top tips to reduce stress-levels, allowing you to host a seemingly-effortless event.
Cook dishes that are familiar to you and that you enjoy cooking:
Your mind will be busy in the days leading up to the party, as well as on the day of the party. It’s tempting to read up on fun new recipes to try, but I would advise to resist the urge to do so. It’s busy enough trying to prepare delicious food for your guests without having to also worry about a dish not turning out the way you imagined it to be.
Trust me, stick with your tried and true to save yourself pulling your hair out.
Don’t overcomplicate things:
Don’t fall into the over-catering trap.
You don’t need to be preparing a buffet. If your aim is to have plenty to choose from, or if you are catering for a large number of guests, then get others to chip in (see the “Accept Help” tip below).
I like focussing on quality rather than quantity when catering for adults. Buy the best meat that you can afford, for example, and take time to prepare your veggies so they look fantastic when plated. If children are attending, I like to focus on one main dish for the children. They also have the option of trying some of the grown-up dishes if they want to.
Shop and prep in advance:
When you are planning your spread for the day, think about the following:
1. Do I have everything that I need for the day? Raid your fridge, freezer and pantry to see what you can use and make a list for the rest so that you’re not hitting the shops a million times.
2. What can I store in the fridge from a day or two before? If you can cook anything ahead of time, this is a massive time saving bonus! Remember, many dishes taste better after a bit of time when the flavours have had a chance to develop.
3. Can I get the chopping, cutting and measuring done ahead of time?
4. What crockery and cutlery can I pull out now so I don’t have to do it at the last-minute crunch?
Ideally, I like to do small tasks throughout the week and will only leave a small number of tasks for the day-of, such as preparing the salads. It always feels like you’re winning when you have a very small amount of actual cooking that you’re doing on the day of your party. Whilst you are chatting to your guests, you want to be doing less intensive tasks, such as re-heating or plating.
Inevitably, if you are hosting your close friends and family, your guests will ask if they can help — so don't feel bad asking for or accepting it. Remind yourself that it’s not a burden on your guests to bring something. It is an act of generosity and it is a way to let them feel like they’re contributing because you have offered your place to host the event.
Try to make the most of it by specifying what you need for the day, so that you don’t end up with too many bottles of wine or too many desserts!
Let go of expectations:
We often have these unrealistic expectations that things need to be perfect and run smoothly to have a good time. Here’s a newsflash – that family member that can’t help but commenton every single little detail will never change. That friend who’s always an hour late and arrives to cold food will be late again. You may even mess up a tried and true recipe even though you’ve cooked it a thousand times. Expect both the unexpected and expected. To combat this, try to get plenty of good quality rest the night before so that you are in the best mindset, able to deal with what comes your way.
Whether it's deluxe or super casual, the whole goal of a dinner party is hospitality. After deciding on guest list, the first thing to do is ask people for dietary restrictions because there are so many these days. It’s a good idea to get the restrictions out of the way early, so that there are no nasty surprises. This reduces anxiety for both the host and guests when you go to serve the food.
At the end of the day, remember the reasons why you are bringing people together. I love spoiling my guests with hospitality. I love enjoying everyone’s company and conversation. I love cooking from scratch, from the heart and sharing my favourite recipes.
Never forget the core of your get-together and work from there.
I hope that some of my tips can help you create a stress-free entertaining space filled with amazing food, endless laughter and loads of memories.