When the weather starts getting just a smidge warmer, it's time to invite friends over. Time to gather outdoors; catch up on each other's lives; talk about family, kids, work, and summer plans. And many of us don't have dinner parties at home because it causes a large amount of stress and clouds the entire work week. You may decide you don't really enjoy hosting them after all. Guess what? It doesn't have to be that way. In an effort towards complete self-disclosure, these tips are relatively new to me and I'm learning just like many of you. I'm a stereotypical first child and a classic Type-A personality: I like things to be perfect. This trait, I've found, is what causes all that dinner party stress because you envision everything a certain way and want it to be just so. But there's a way to compromise with yourself, loosen up, and learn to enjoy your own parties. Take it from me.
5 Tips for a Stress-Free Dinner Party
1. Don't Aim to Please Everyone: These days, with numerous dietary restrictions and personal preferences, you're simply not going to be able to please everyone. Just set that wish at the front door and leave it outside. Choose a nicely varied menu that you're excited about and chances are, that excitement will rub off on your party guests. The really memorable parties, after all, are the ones with a little something unexpected, yes?
2. Choose Your 3 Mains: O.k., you're reading that and starting to add on layers of stress thinking you need three main dishes. Like we just discussed, each appetizer or side dish isn't going to please everyone, so at our house we choose the three "stars" of the night, the things we're really excited about and think our guests are going to love. The rest is filler in a way: It rounds out the rest of the meal. For example, we just hosted an appetizer-heavy housewarming party and our three "mains" were homemade Cheez-Its, hot roasted nuts, and homemade baba ganoush. We knew people would love each (and they did), we worked the hardest to get them just right, and filled in the rest of the table with simple olives, meats and cheeses.
3) Plan Ahead; Shop the Day Before: There are all different kinds of party personalities. Identify yours and learn to accommodate it. If you're like me and you're a born planner, plan away! Make lists, shop ahead. If you thrive on a little bit of last-minute pressure, go with that instead. Having said that, I would recommend that regardless of your party personality, you really should plan to shop the day before so you're not rushing around trying to find ingredients on the day of the party.
4) Ask for Help: Sure, we all know you can probably pull this off on your own. But why not divvy up the responsibility where you can? If your partner isn't great in the kitchen, perhaps he or she can help you pick up the house instead. If your girlfriends want to come over early, let them! Pour a glass of wine and put them to work.
5) Let Loose: For me the most important part of a dinner party is letting myself relax. At a certain point, a few minutes before everyone is to arrive, there's not much that can be perfected. It is what it is and everyone will be gracious and happy to be in one another's company. Join them. After all, isn't that the reason you're throwing the party in the first place?
What are your own personal tips and keys to throwing a dinner party in the most stress-free way possible?
Related: Dinner Party Etiquette: When to Serve Coffee and Tea?
(Image: Martha Stewart)