31 January 2010

8 Steps to Entertaining Success

One of our goals for 2010 is to simplify our entertaining ~ focusing on the essentials ~ so that we have time and sanity left to enjoy our guests ~ and our lives! ~ a bit more.  So where to begin?  All recipes for success begin with the basics.  Here's our shortlist ~ 8 Entertaining Essentials© ~ a few simple ideas to help change your entertaining from stressful to stress-FREE.

(1) Create an occasion to entertain ~ bought a new roasting pan? Throw a dinner party!  Found a great value wine? Buy an extra bottle and invite a few friends to share an impromptu wine & cheese fest.  New restaurant in the neighborhood?  Call your foodie friends and make a date to check it out. Memorable entertaining isn't limited to the formal parties, birthdays, or weddings - though these are always excellent reasons to entertain.  Find an excuse in your daily routine to share some stories and laughter with company.  It can often be these unexpected gatherings are exceptionally enjoyable, and truly memorable!
(2) Invitations Essentials including who to invite and how ~ the party actually begins with the invitation.  It can be as informal as a phone call or email, or as formal as hand-delivered specialty items. The priority is to make sure that the look and feel communicates exactly what you - the host - want to say about your gathering to your guests.  And, of course, to make sure the logistics for the occasion are clearly spelled out.  Be sure to include details like the type of event, the time, the location, a reply date, and any other specifics your think your guests should know (what to wear, what to bring, who else is coming, etc).  As you pull together invitation ideas, make sure to get a handle on who you're inviting and how many guests you can handle.
(3) Bar Basics & Beyond ~ the secret to success with the "bar" is planning, set-up and timing.  Consider what you'd like to offer when guests initially arrive (a perfect time to introduce a "Signature Cocktail" as discussed in a prior post) ~ when the event is in full swing (food pairing is important here) ~ and after the meal (coffee, tea are key at this point if not offered already).  Don't worry about competing with the nightclubs in town in terms of stocking the bar to the brim ~ but plan well to avoid running out in the middle of the evening.  8 Entertaining Essentials© has a planning guide (page 12) that can help out.
(4) Plan a Savvy Menu ~ think of each of these stops of the menu train as possible places to share something special with your guests.  It's not necessary to get off the train at each stop ~ just consider if there is anything at that station to add to the enjoyment of your meal ~ and you'll have a plan for a delicious trip together.
  ~ Nibbles/Hor d'oeuvres
  ~ Starter/Appetizer
  ~ Main/ Éntree
  ~ Side dishes
  ~ Bread
  ~ Salad
  ~ Condiments
  ~ Dessert ~ do you want a light finish or a "pièce de la résistance?" (loosely translated as the best part or feature of a meal ~ a showpiece, or highlight).
Whatever the epicurean journey, try to stay focused on high-quality, fresh ingredients that requires minimal attention from the host or hostess (who will be busy enjoying their guests!).  While some last minute-work is inevitable, we take advantage of whatever we can (advance preparation, ready-to-serve items, kitchen help) to free us up to join the festivities.  More on savvy menus ~ and menu selections guaranteed to please hosts & guests ~ in future posts!
(5) Create Ambiance (or "Ambience" as you prefer ;-) ~ the "little things" do matter in setting a mood and creating a comfortable environment for your gathering.  Key items to consider:   musiclighting, locations & "guest flow"seating, and climate control.
(6) TableTop Style including placesettings, napkins and a centerpiece ~ would you serve a martini in a styrofoam coffee cup? Ever try to slice into a beautifully grilled steak with a plastic knife? Styling a tabletop isn't just about decoration ~ it's equally about function.  The ABC's of TableTop include:
  • Accessories - what decorative accessories can be included to accent your theme or the gathering?
  • Basics - what basic placesettings (flatware, plates, glassware, napkins) do your guests need to enjoy any food and beverage planned?
  • Creativity - what is "on hand" that can serve A & B?  Of course it's always possible to buy everything needed, but we like the creative challenge of repurposing much of what we have first.
Entertaining misses the bulls-eye without an eye to tabletop and presentation. Try thinking about what you'd like to communicate to guests about your gathering, and yourself, in your tabletop style.
(7) Serving Savoir-Faire ~ serving style relies on how you, the host, want the event to "flow".  If we're limited by space with a large cocktail party, we might opt for a counter-top buffet with guests eating and drinking on the go.  If the evening is a group of friends gathering to catch-up, we might choose a "family style", all-at-once serving style seated around a table.  If we're entertaining business colleagues, perhaps a more formal table with plated food served to each guest. Flow is important to consider so that you know which serving utensils, trays, platters, bowls, etc. are needed. 
(8) Prep-work Behind the Scenes ~ yes, a clean house is an important "to-do" when you're hosting guests (we're certain Mom is reading this somewhere ;-) but let's assume we all understand that point.  There are a few other items we suggest are easier to consider before the guests arrive: 
  • Parking ~ don't want the guests to be aggravated and late due to parking problems ~ consider options for their cars prior to if possible; 
  • Coatswhere will all the coats fit and be easily accessed when it's time to leave?; 
  • Weather ~ for outdoor events it's a good idea to have a contingency plan in case of rain; for winter gatherings factor in arrival delays or early departures if road conditions are icy; 
  • Bathroom necessities ~ stock enough t.p., hand soap, tissues, and guest towels ~ we add a scented candle; and
  • Dishwashing ~ an organized plan of action to deal with the load of dishes BEFORE they're stacked in the sink saves some sanity. 
Whew ~ think we covered most of it.  Overwhelmed a little?  Don't be! Keep in mind that entertaining is no more than an opportunity to share life - guests may be close friends, new acquaintances, family, or business colleagues - there can 2 or 20 - at a table or around a bar - but the goal is the same...to share life.  This is the goal for the gathering and for you as the host.

The savvy hosts we admire the most clearly embrace this idea as essential to their entertaining.  To this stock they add a little planning, confidence, inspiration and creativity to flavor their gatherings.  And, don't forget a healthy helping of your sense of humor - no matter what planning you've done, it will help you manage the unexpected throughout the evening.

So, we've offered some of our tips for entertaining success ~ but we're interested in the what tricks other savvy hosts have up their sleeves!  

Please share your thoughts with us!

And, borrowing the words of a truly savvy hostess, "Bon Appetit"!

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