In a fantasy world, we would throw lavish dinners effortlessly, like French people in movies, with appropriately ambient jazz playing in the background, and artfully mismatched antique plates. The wine would flow freely. The children would be asleep. And the food! Oh, the food would be a multi-course parade of fresh delicacies, which we prepared (effortlessly) in our endless free time, probably to the strains of more ambient jazz.
But the radical secret is that none of that is necessary. A dinner party is a chance to a) see your friends more and b) eat dinner. That is all. It doesn't have to be fancy. You don't even have to clean the house. Roast pheasants are good, but so is lasagna from the freezer.
Ahead, lazy tools to help you minimize stress and maximize fun.
- Blue and White China Paper Dinner Plates, $6 at Paper Style: Keep the fine china in the cabinet. A fun, tongue-in-cheek set of paper plates adds a whimsical touch — and drastically cuts down on cleanup time.
- All-Purpose Pitcher, $29.95, at Crate & Barrel: Set it and forget it is the name of the game here. Fill this classic pitcher with ice water, put it on the table, and let your guests hydrate themselves. (If you want to feel extra smug, add some lemon slices.)
- Tramontina Gourmet Enameled Cast Iron Round Trivet, $12.95 at Wayfair: Pop a swanky trivet on the table, and voila! Your pots and pans are now "rustic" serving dishes. This one, by Tramontina, is simple, elegant, and — most importantly — easy to clean.
- Calphalon Contemporary Stainless 12-Quart Stock Pot, $130 at Calphalon: If you don't already have an enormous stock pot, now is the time. In one fell swoop, make enough chili, spaghetti, or soup to feed the small army that has just appeared at your door. (If there are leftovers, so much the better. Lunch!)
- Color Glazed Prep Bowl, $5 at West Elm: Skip the plating (what is this, Top Chef?) and let your guests do their own garnishing. Fill these adorable (and versatile) multi-colored bowls with herbs, spices, and condiments, and have guests adjust their own cilantro levels.
- Nordic Ware 6-Piece Covered Bowl Set, $40 at Sur La Table: Speaking of bowls, you cannot have enough of them. There is nothing worse than running out of bowls, and finding yourself stuck in the kitchen doing emergency washing just so you can serve the salad. The more bowls on hand, the better.
- NISSE Folding Chair, $14.99 at IKEA: The point here is low-key flexibility. Carolyn's bringing her surprise boyfriend? No problem! David's cousins are in town? The more the merrier! Stash a few of these in your closet and there's room for everyone. (Also comes in black, for more dignified affairs.)
- OXO Good Grips 12-inch Stainless Steel Locking Tongs, $12.95 at Amazon: The ultimate multitaskers, these are an all-purpose entertaining essential. Are you grilling? Boiling? Tossing salad? Serving pasta? Apportioning meatballs? Good. Use these.
- SVALKA Red Wine Glasses, $4.99 for 6 at IKEA: No one's judging if you want to serve wine in empty jars, or mugs, or plastic tumblers. But if you're looking for something just a little bit more adult, try a pack or two of these. They're formal enough to lend a touch of class (as in, they are actual wine glasses made of actual glass), but at less than a dollar a pop, it's no big deal if you lose a few to the festivities.
- Toast It Coasters, $10 at the MoMA Design Store: Personally, I am content to use old copies of New York magazine, but I understand how designated "coasters" could be a step up, if you're into that sort of thing (or you have nice furniture).