My Top 10 Tips for Hosting a Dinner Party

As a kid I fantasized about growing up and hosting dinner parties — the picture in my mind was a bunch of groovy people dancing and smoking from cigarette holders in my glamorous uptown apartment, everyone wearing sunglasses and teased hairdos. Me, I'd be shimmying in a tiara and sky-high heels, champagne in one hand, a caviar canape in the other. Does this vision sound familiar? Because it comes directly from Breakfast at Tiffany's, still one of my favorite movies.

I am sort of the same age than as the enchanting character of Ms. Holly Golightly (how did this growing up thing happen?!). I too live in a tiny flat and love to entertain, but my beloved gamine and I diverge here — my party style relies on make ahead dishes, unfussy decor and thinking beyond the cocktail/dinner hour. However, I still think a tiara is appropriate hosting attire, any time of day!

Need help getting started on hosting your a dinner party? Are you a seasoned pro with advice for the next generation of Golightlies? Read on for my tips and share some of your own! Let's dance!

My Top 10 Tips for Hosting a Dinner Party

1. Use trusted, make-ahead recipes you've already made at least once.
I strongly advise serving foods that are 'in the bag' — reinvent and experiment on a leisurely weekend when no one's watching. Then serve it up the next week!

2. Incorporate make-ahead dishes that reheat well.
A stew gets better the next day, a hearty dish of lasagna or black bean enchiladas will make everyone smile — most important, I believe in steering clear from complicated meals that you have to prepare while people are there in party mode. No one wants to have you slaving away at the stove, missing the socializing. The big exception to this idea is barbequing outside in summer months, whereupon you can grill while staying engaged with guests.

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3. Never underestimate what good fixings can do for your soiree.
I'm talking about a variety of fresh breads from the bakery, great olive oil for dipping and pickles, olives, roasted peppers and a platter of local cheeses from the grocery. In fact, skip the main dish sometimes, a lovely party can be made solely of flavorful nibbles from your favorite specialty grocer.

4. When someone offers to bring something, SAY YES and delegate what that something is.
You can never have too many salads or desserts — these are the best items to pass on to pals. Your friends will love to contribute and it's one less thing on your list.

5. Don't have matching, nice plates?
Don't sweat it. A cacophony of disparate styles actually comes together beautifully when it's intentional. I love tons of pattern and craziness on the table — when it's all crazy, it all works. Set the intention and go for it.

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6. I love picking fresh herbs and edible flowers from my yard for the table setting.
It's low-key, yet stylish, and brings in a natural element from the outdoors. It's also easy on the budget and will elevate your table into a special occasion look.

7. Let a favorite region guide your culinary choices.
This will give you the oomph to go the extra mile, which will be so appreciated. For example, do you love Indian food? Think of the loose Indian flavor profile, chile, lime, cilantro and cumin and incorporate these spices into a dish you already know how to make. You could brushing these flavors onto vegetables and incorporate them into a simple pilaf of any favorite grain. PIck up an order of fresh naan from a local indian restaurant, chutney from the grocery, lastly stir up some raita (simply cucumber and plain yogurt) and chop up fresh mango drizzled with lime for dessert. Top off the semi-homemade meal with a juicy cocktail or cold beer — your guests will be dazzled.

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8. Simplify, plan ahead then relax.
Tidy and do your thing to get the house ready as much as you can before guests arrive, but set aside a few moments to have a glass of wine, listen to music you like and relax before your pals get there. Very important! PS - no one cares if you haven't dusted your bathroom, nothing has to be perfect!

9. Skip dinner!
Think of a wine and cheese event or a dessert-tasting or even a fancy afternoon tea. These smaller meals require much less culinary expertise/planning and are a wonderful way to gather with friends. I adore the off-hour party and all the goodies that can accompany these endeavors. Tea and muffins can be just the thing for a few friends and a leisurely afternoon.

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10. Get out of the house.
A picnic in the park is lovely, especially if your pad is tiny. Think of the lawn games, dancing, feasting and napping that can happen only in the great outdoors. Order burritos from your favorite Mexican place; after all, entertaining and relaxing with friends isn't really about the food — it's about the laughter, friendship and connection. Food is the ultimate foil for togetherness and celebration.

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What's your best advice for new hosts? Do you have a few clever tips up your sleeve? For all of our sakes, please share your wisdom below in the comments section. Thanks!

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(Images: Leela Cyd Ross, lead image by Kevin Dooley, licensed by Creative Commons)