The “One Dish” Rule That Makes Hosting Way Less Stressful, According to a Caterer (It’s So Simple!)

published May 24, 2024
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Credit: Melissa Ryan

Memorial Day is right around the corner, and that means peak spring and summer hosting season is finally here — and my Instagram explore page knows it! The posts of dreamy backyard photos and fizzy cocktails in the garden have me ready for warmth, hanging with the girls, and making the most of the season. It’s time to refresh your kitchen and resurface seasonal recipes — but where should you start when you host to make your get-together feel fresh and fun? I asked former pro event caterer and avid home cook Michelle Krzmarzick for her best tip, and it’s surprisingly simple.

Think of your meal as a story you’re telling.

Krzmarzick’s biggest piece of advice is a foolproof formula that results in a perfectly proportioned meal every time: Pick one part of the meal you want to shine. Build everything else around that dish in a supporting, noncompetitive role.

“The reason why you want to choose your food strategically is because you want people to eat all food options and not get too full,” Krzmarzick says. “Don’t overdo it with appetizers and keep one main dish in mind.”

She uses a Mexican-themed spread as an example — Krzmarzick says the key lies in balancing different colors and textures with a release from the heat. For the main dish, she chose crispy street tacos with choices of chicken, steak, and pork, garnished with onions and cilantro. She also made guacamole and red and green salsas to complement the flavors of the tacos. As sides, Krzmarzick opted for a fresh green salad and a creamy elote salad.

“If the star is hot and rich, make sure to find supporting roles that are the opposite. So in this case, I opted for cool, light, and sweet,” she says. 

What about beverages?

Beverage-wise, Krzmarzick recommends keeping three things in mind: the time of day, the heaviness of the meal, and the darkness of the drink. The best drinks don’t need to be the most expensive ones, and classic pairings are popular for a reason — like beers and margaritas with Mexican cuisine. She also encourages bringing in fun, nonalcoholic options, like fruit-forward mocktails, instead of just water or seltzer.

After the event, reflect on what went well and what could be improved for the future, Krzmarzick says. She stresses that no matter what, hosting and cooking are meant to be joyful experiences for everyone (including you!).

“Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, and so many people don’t entertain because they feel like they’re not a good enough cook,” she says. “Even if you order food or just make a part of the meal, people are just happy to be able to join you. One really fun part about cooking is that everyone gets to enjoy something that brings you joy.” 

Krzmarzick’s Hosting Tips for Curating a Strong Ambiance

  • Make a music playlist that fits the audience.
  • Light candles 15 minutes before guests arrive — and always put one in the bathroom!
  • Select foods with varying textures and colors. Be sparing with anything beige and/or heavy — save Thanksgiving food for Thanksgiving! 
  • Create a food display with varying heights and be creative with what you already have. Very few items should be lying flat on the table.

Krzmarzick’s Hosting Tips for Before the Party

  • Mise en place: Prep everything possible in advance and store the items together for quick assembly.
  • Grilling is always a fast, social, and easy-to-clean option — and it’s perfect for summer
  • Plan for at least one vegetarian dish. 
  • Avoid trying a new dish while entertaining — and don’t make something you know a restaurant could do better.
  • Select desserts that can be premade and served at a moment’s notice.
  • Don’t drink (too much) before guests arrive or you may not last the whole party!
  • To look your best, get ready hours before the event and finish cooking in your party clothes.
  • If possible, hire a helper to fill drinks, rotate apps, and pre-clean. The host should be enjoying the party, too! If all you’re doing is running around and cleaning up messes, your guests aren’t going to be relaxed either.
  • Offer to-go containers so guests can take home leftovers.