I love a house full of happy friends and neighbors. I don’t have people over as much as I used to, but I keep meaning to do more of it.
People sometimes tell me, “I wish I entertained more, but I’m not very good at it.” And it’s true that a big party can seem like a complicated undertaking. But nobody’s bad at it, and it’s very much worth doing, even for just two or three people at a time. It makes people happy. What better reason?
I’m not claiming to be the world’s best hostess, by any means. That title is held (in a tie!) by Pat King Jackson and my friend Mike’s friend, Lynn McKenna. They both have mysterious ways of making an occasion both casual and special, bringing interesting groups of people together and putting them at ease, and keeping all the plates spinning (metaphorically) in an elegantly effortless manner. Mrs. Anderson also tops the list by being able to set a most beautiful table.
Someday, maybe I’ll get there. For now, I’m occasionally flustered and not particularly elegant or effortless. And none of my stuff really matches. But I do like to gather friends around, and when I do, I stick to some pretty simple rules.
1) Do what you’re comfortable with. A family dinner of spaghetti and cheap red wine can be every bit as fun as a glittery cocktail party. If you’re a spaghetti person, go with it. You’ll be happier, and so will everyone around you.
2) Trust your friends. I sometimes worry about inviting people over who don’t know each other well, and then they surprise me by having a grand time. I treasure my nights with close friends, but it’s fun to help make new connections as well. You have good taste, right? Your interesting friends will find each other interesting, too.
3) Make too much. I don’t like an empty table. I advocate making more food than you really think you’ll need. The worst thing that could happen is that you’ll have a couple of days of really good leftovers afterward. Not terrible.
4) Alcohol: yes. I hate to sound like an unrepentant lush, but people like a drink on a night out, and it can help smooth out any bumps in the road, like a roast that’s a little over cooked or a broken glass. But some people don’t drink and lots of people are driving, so get something good for them, too.
5) Do as much as possible ahead. Someone told me once that if the hostess is harried, everyone else is tense. So I’d recommend leaving as little work to do as possible once your guests arrive. (If you’re a person who can simultaneously mix drinks and whip up a carefully-timed souffle, more power to you. You don’t need to be reading this anyway.)
6) Clean up thoroughly. Nothing’s more discouraging than waking up to a dirty kitchen the next day. Even when you’re tired, just suck it up and put everything back together at the end of the night. And mop. You’ll be so glad you did.
7) Don’t overthink things. You don’t to do wedding-level planning every time you open your house to your friends. You don’t need precision timing and polished silver. Everything doesn’t need to be spotless. In my experience, people are just glad to be out and together.
That’s all I’ve got, I guess. I think the hardest step is just making a commitment to doing it. So call a friend, set a date, and go for it.
P.S. A note on this image. My mom used to have a little sign hanging above the sink that said something along the lines of “A good hostess should be like a duck — calm on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath.” I’ve always thought that sounded about right.