Joey Skladany is an In The Know cooking contributor. Follow him on Instagram and visit his website for more.
So you want to invite some friends, family members and/or colleagues over for a social gathering? Good on you! Not many people are eager to allow guests into their home, especially if you classify yourself as an introvert (or have become one in this post-pandemic world).
But your living space is looking all types of cute, and your cooking is giving Ina Garten a run for her money, so now’s the time — more than ever — to show off your skills in design and in the kitchen by hosting a good ol’ fashioned dinner party.
The process can be quite intimidating, but there are a handful of tips and tricks you can keep in mind to ensure that the result is memorable and not in an “oh my god, what the hell did I just experience?” kind of way.
Check out some of my favorites below.
- Personalize everything
Most people are easy to please, and there is no easier way to make someone feel special than to offer them something with their name on it. Whether it’s a simple place card or something more elaborate like a painted wine glass or embroidered napkin, there are many clever ways to show that you’ve gone above and beyond to welcome guests into your home. If you’re planning to invite more than 10 people, you can even get creative with name tags that are reflective of each guest’s personality (like putting their astrological sign, Myers-Briggs personality type or favorite animal). Just be sure that everyone will be comfortable revealing these little factoids ahead of time. Some people are sensitive about opening up to strangers, even if it’s over something seemingly insignificant.
- Invest in an over-the-top tablescape
A simple vase with fresh flowers is a lovely gesture, but it’s not a showstopper. Impress your partygoers by investing in a runner, candles and unique decorative items to establish a theme or at least a style that captures your unique aesthetic. Harvest some seashells for a summer soiree or gather orange and red leaves for a fall fiesta. Go above and beyond by stuffing napkins in rings that you purchased at a flea market or set the table with quirky antiques that showcase one-of-a-kind inscriptions or motifs. It may be a cliché, but the possibilities really are endless when it comes to design. Never be afraid to go over the top in decorating because it will make a big impression and show that, again, you’re pulling out all the stops to show that you care about the people who are there.
- Make it potluck-style
You should be responsible for the drinks and mains, but ask your guests to make or bake an appetizer, hors d’oeuvres or dessert. Engage them by challenging them to bring something delicious that also speaks to their cultures, talents or even childhood memories. These dishes will serve as conversation starters and help to offset some of the costs associated with party hosting. They will also guarantee that you have more than enough food and a diverse array that is bound to please every type of palate or special diet.
- Invite a special guest
Hiring an astrologist, cartoonist, mixologist or even a sex therapist is a wonderful way to take the pressure off those who may find difficulty socializing in larger groups. These special guests can stay the entire party or kick things off as the alcohol begins to work its magic and the mood lightens. Be sure to tip them generously, though, and establish the exact times you want them there. You don’t want to have to cause a scene by awkwardly kicking them out and/or paying more than you budgeted because your guests don’t want them to leave.
- Play a game
Traditional icebreakers are cringe levels of awkward, but there are plenty of soul-baring games like Apples to Apples or even Cards Against Humanity that can really bring out one’s personality or sense of humor. Avoid anything that can take too long or excludes people who lack a certain skill set (i.e. casually deciding to play poker). This may be self-explanatory, but many hosts and hostesses become so laser-focused on keeping things fun and lively that they inadvertently exclude those who may not vocalize what they want to participate in.
- Send them home with something special
One tiny but significant parting gift will make the party fun last even longer. One idea is to buy something from high-end restaurants to send your guests home with something they can eat the next day. Whether it’s a baked good like a muffin or a hand-painted chocolate truffle from the pastry chef, the token of appreciation is enough to leave a lasting impression. You can absolutely do the same with a breakfast treat, but I’d challenge you to think a bit more outside of the box with items like inexpensive succulents, customized koozies or even a candy buffet table where guests can fill and customize their own goodie bags of treats to take with them. These ideas require minimal effort and money but will end your successful evening on an even sweeter note.
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