Throwing a party can be great fun, but it can also be extremely stressful. Where are the napkins? Shoot, you forgot to pick up the wine. Why isn't that roast done yet? You need the oven for the cobbler! Help, the guests are here and you haven't showered!
Peace, friends. The price of a great party doesn't have to be your sanity. Here are 10 ways you can make things easier:
Tip #1: Stick with recipes you know well.
1. Stick with recipes you know: A dinner party is not the time to try out an intense 20-step dessert for the first time. To reduce your stress levels, stick with tried-and-true recipes you've made a dozen times, ones you know are delicious and doable.
2. Diversify your cooking methods: Plan your menu around a variety of cooking methods — think stovetop, microwave, oven, slow cooker, grill, as well as raw dishes — so that you're not relying solely on one element to cook everything. This may mean pulling out your slow cooker instead of using the oven, for example, or roasting a vegetable instead of steaming it.
3. Work off a schedule: The best deterrent to a harried party day? Work off a schedule. Start planning for your get-together a week in advance by setting aside a day to clean your entryway, for example, or buy the wine and flowers. On the day of the party, schedule backwards from when your guests arrive to figure how much time you need to prepare — and then add an hour to that. For example, if you think you'll need four hours to prep everything, add an extra hour and make it five. This not only gives you a little breathing room, but it also allows you to work in kitchen cleaning breaks so you're not left with a messy kitchen at the end.
4. Put your menu and schedule where you can see it: Once you've established a schedule and have a menu, put it somewhere you can easily glance at it. Don't try to remember it in your head, and don't just keep it an Evernote file on your phone. (Fiddling with an iPhone when you're stressed out in the kitchen is the fastest way to a cracked screen and a broken heart.) Print out the menu and timing notes and hang it on your refrigerator, or write everything out on a whiteboard or chalkboard.
Tip #7: Set the table the night before.
5. Make what you can ahead: There are plenty of terrific make-ahead meals for a crowd, but as Emma wrote here, even if a whole recipe or menu isn't make-ahead-friendly, there's usually an element or two that is, like an accompanying sauce, salad, or other side. If nothing else, get your vegetables and herbs all chopped, diced, and prepped the day before, so you can assemble the recipe quickly the day of.
6. But... don't feel you have to make everything yourself: In her post on being a recovering dinner party maniac, Emma shared how her why-buy-it-when-I-can-make-it philosophy made her a miserable and stressed-out hostess. When she loosened up, asked for help, and connected with other local food makers in her neighborhood, everything got easier and, in some cases, even tastier than what she could have done on her own.
7. Set the table the night before: With everything else going on, you don't want to worry about setting the table the day of the party. Set it the night before, when you have extra time to consider the decor touches, place settings, and serving platters to make sure everything fits and looks how you want it to.
8. Buy cheap flowers, and arrange them nicely: You don't have to spend a ton of money on a fancy floral arrangement. Buy a bunch of flowers from your corner bodega or local grocery store, and arrange them yourself. It's easy. Also, check out Chelsea's pro tips for beautiful flowers on a budget.
Tip #10: Start your guests with drinks & nibbles while you finish up in the kitchen.
9. Don't spend hours cleaning your apartment. I mean, of course you can if you want to, but if you don't have the time or stamina, then just do a quick 20-minute clean before your guests arrive.
10. Buy yourself extra time with booze and snacks: So you're not finished cooking when your guests arrive? Don't worry. Set out a platter of nibbles (cheese, crackers, nuts, olives), pour glasses of wine for everyone, and let your guests mix and mingle while you finish up in the kitchen. It's a great way for them to relax into the evening, and for you to take a moment, check your schedule (see #3), and pull the last few dishes out of the oven. (You should also feel free to pour yourself a glass of wine, too, at this point. It's going to be a great night!)
What are your tips for a stress-free party?
(Image credits: Leela Cyd; Danielle Tsi; Gabriela Herman)