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Food Spread
Thomas J. Story

Throwing a party is both exciting and stressful. Don’t you love a dichotomy? On one hand, it can be fun because it’s a chance to bring everyone together, prepare some wow-worthy food and drink, and just show off your hosting skills. But on the flip side, planning and putting it all together can get hectic. Some gatherings are big undertakings, leaving you with a mile-long to-do list.

But if we’re being real here, there’s always something that goes awry with any gathering, whether it’s as big as your caterer not showing up, or a smaller problem, like not having enough napkins. Going with the flow is always your best bet in these situations—as we learned in a previous article, if you’re super stressed, your guests will feel it, too. The best thing you can do, though, is prepare, prepare, prepare.

So I asked two event planners, Liz Curtis, founder of San Francisco-based, Table + Teaspoon, and Natalie Good, creative director of Orange County, California-based, A Good Affair, to share their best entertaining tips. See what they had to say below.

Spring Table of Food

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1. Prep Ahead of Time

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You’ve probably heard this one before, but we’re saying it louder for the people in the back. Do what you can well in advance before the party so you aren’t overwhelmed, Good says.

2. Make Dishes You Know Well

A party might not be the time to test out a brand new recipe or try something very complicated. “Comfort is key for food, so don’t feel that you need to go all out on a recipe that Ina Garten makes in five minutes on television, but will actually take you six hours in the kitchen,” Curtis says. Keeping the menu short and sweet is the way to go—Good says three to five things is plenty.

Holiday cocktails on a drink tray

Thomas J. Story

3. Don’t Spend All the Time in the Kitchen

“In order to be a good host you have to be among your guests, not frantically cooking away,” Good says. “Prep is key and having a menu that allows you to walk away and greet guests as they arrive is essential for a good party! You can always consider hiring someone for a couple hours (maybe a housekeeper or a high school neighbor) to help you with setting food when it is ready, doing the dishes, emptying the trash, etc.”

4. Create a Grazing Table for Larger Parties

If you want to add more guests to the list, instead of a seated dinner, Curtis recommends keeping the beautiful tablescape and creating a grazing table.

5. Don’t Forget the Music

“Set the mood with a great playlist that ties into the vibe/theme of your party,” Good says.

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6. Vary Candle Height

When setting the scene with candles, Curtis recommends varying candle height, like using everything from votives to tapers. She says, “Guests eat with their eyes as much as their mouths.”

7. Add Some Luxury Linens

Curtis says the foundation of the table are linens—those guests will be holding cocktail and dinner napkins all night long. “Don’t scrimp here because it’s an easy way to set an elegant tone for your party without much effort,” she adds.

8. Make Sure You Have Enough Glassware

“Hosts often underestimate how much glassware and flatware they will need,” Curtis says. “For dinner parties, many hosts will set a traditional table with one setting per person. If you are serving multiple courses, make sure that you provide the number and types of flatware pieces needed for each course. For larger scale entertaining, do not presume that each guest will responsibly use a single glass for the length of the party. Rule of thumb is to have one glass per guest per hour for your party.”


Thomas J. Story

9. Give Your Guests Something to Do

There’s always a few gracious guests who ask if there’s anything they can help with. Don’t be afraid to put them to (light) work if they volunteer. “Have little tasks that your guests can help with, like filling water glasses, beverage tubs, grabbing ice, lighting candles, etc.,” Good says. “Think easy things that allow guests to feel helpful when they ask (and take something off your plate!).”

10. Don’t Forget About the Trash

Both Curtis and Good say a lot of hosts forget about the trash. Make sure you have enough bins or spots to dispose of trash and make sure it’s emptied frequently so nothing piles up. This will help you keep everything looking fresh and cut down on your clean-up time. “Have extra toilet paper in the bathroom and Poopouri, as well as a candle burning to help avoid any embarrassment!” Good adds.

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11. Rent If You Can

“Literally everything you need for your event can be rented, which means minimal clean-up since rental companies universally accept your wares back unwashed,” Curtis explains. If you’re looking to set a table, Curtis says that for just tabletop items, rental delivery fees can be expensive—her company curates everything you need so you don’t have to put that much thought and energy into what to rent.

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