Entertaining 101: The Large Groups and how not to sweat through your shirt
So I wrote this post originally 3 years back when I was full swing into blogging while managing a career as a dental hygienist. I was looking for something the other day while writing one of this weeks posts and started reading these posts again. Now I'm not patting my own back here but these posts are completely still relevant 3 years later. Since there are a ton of new people hanging out around here including people I see on a regular basis from the store I thought I might repost them with some edits seeing as we are getting back into that season and inviting everyone into our homes. It's also a chance to see photos of our home from 3 years ago. I hadn't done the chalkboard wall in the living room or painted the brick on our fireplace yet.
There are many articles in many magazines and many blogs about the tips to entertaining. From large groups to intimate gatherings of 4, there are always things we can do as a host(ess) to prepare and throughout our events to make things go smoothly.
In this post we are going to deal with entertaining the large sit down group.
The large open house crowd and intimate dinner are to follow.
Trevor and I do quite a bit of entertaining especially this time of year.
We recently had a gathering of 18 at our home and are coming up on another of double that. I shot some photos of our home arrangement prior to the guests arriving.
As bloggers and myself as a blogging store owner now, we are so used to snooping in gorgeously decorated homes and appreciating the effort that goes into our decor, and food and have to remember that not everyone lives like that. [pinterest has also started to give us more different expectations]
When we first started to have people over at the beginning of our life together, I can remember some looking around and asking if they could sit on the sofa.
As if thinking we didn't actually live in our space. Making people comfortable is half the battle.
Bringing me to some of my first party prep points
1) Plan the Menu
at least a few days ahead. this is much easier with small gatherings. when you are entertaining large groups it is really hard and stressful to pull together in 1 night.
give yourself time to do the groceries, figure out allergies that need to be minded. have at least a few items on your menu that can be made ahead and frozen, or made ahead and just whipped in the oven for warming.
2) Make a Playlist
you do not need a massive stereo system to have background music. most people have the simplest of music right in their tvs. if you have satellite, find the music channels and pick a lighter one for the background or even the party channel for lively bunches. getting more advanced put together a list on your phone, computer and stream to your stereo. remember the crowd you are entertaining and keep it slightly upbeat so the yawning doesn't start at 8:00. set it on repeat and forget it for the night.
3) Lighten the load
i am a self confessed pillow addict. i love them, sit on them, squish them under my feet and head. they are decorative and functional in our home but not everyone wants to move them to sit down. to save yourself aggravation during your soiree, wander around your home before hand and remove any excessive pillows ( i remove 11 just in our living room and left only 3 on the sofa), and table decor that will not allow your guests to sit comfortably without putting everything on the floor. find a closet that won't be opened all night and stuff em in.
coffee tables and end tables should all have comfortable room to set drinks. lose the coasters unless absolutely necessary. people will get paranoid about not using them, or the coasters stick to glasses and smash on the floor and then people start leaving their drinks in random places instead. i don't mean throw all your decor in the closet, i mean seriously look who's writing this but give space for elbows, drinks and swinging hand talkers.
we once had a gathering where one of my cousins who is a hand talker spun the lamp shade on my table lamp during conversation for half and hour prior to me asking him if he wanted me to move it for him. literally spinning the shade.
remove any spare parts in the bathroom that your guests will be using. put the hair dryers, straighteners, cords and toothbrushes away. you aren't hiding your day to day life but you also aren't asking for anyone to get caught in your toothpaste when they reach for the soap or hand towels.
try to sneak into the bathroom a few times a night to refresh the hand towel, especially in the winter when germs are plentiful. a clean dry towel every few hours will minimize the spread.
4) Rearrange the furniture
we have a sectional in the middle of our living room that can't be moved but i drag the large comfy chairs from our dining room into the room, move the coffee table out a bit, add sitting stools and pull the occasional chairs from the walls into the room. put footstools away so they aren't tripped over when people are shuffling around
5) Set up a drink zone
our kitchen is not large enough to support people moving in and out for drinks and for me to shuffle food out and not dump the cheese sauce down someone's pants.
we are able to remove the doors from our laundry room and turn our washer and dryer into a bar. we have all of the glassware, ice buckets, ice machine, buckets of drinks, openers etc laid out and easily accessible for people to be served and help themselves. a simple table against a wall can achieve this just as well.
speaking of drinks. when you are making out your guest list, go through your memory rolodex and try to remember what most of your guests drink. although you cannot hope to please everyone, you do want to try to remember most, as drinking water the whole night from lack of option is something people will remember. stock up on pop/soda when it goes on sale. choose if you are serving mixed drinks, beer, wine or maybe a signature cocktail.
6) The Food Lines
this dinner was being served buffet style which i am generally not a huge fan of but, it is necessary in many instances to keep the food from being frigid and allows people to choose their portions and selections.
plates and cutlery were setup in one zone and the line moved around to the dining room. i used my homemade cutlery holders with folded up napkins to make it easier to pickup your utensils and not try to balance plates, forks and knives etc.
everyday items were taken off the counter such as blenders and tea kettles to leave more room for food platters
7) Light it up
is your get together at night or during the day? are there timers on your lights? wander around prior to people coming and turn on the lights and timers you will want on during your event. you don't want to be asking people to move when it is getting dark or leaning over people to get to outlets especially when you are also trying to prep a dinner
TURN OFF THE OVERHEAD FLUORESCENTS IF YOU HAVE THEM!
many people get headaches from cfl and fluorescent lights and they also cast a horrible glare on peoples skin.
LIGHT THE CANDLES
nothing sets an intimate mood like candles at a gathering. try to light candles that will last the length of your party. pillars in sturdy hurricanes, 8 hour tealights in holders or votives.
keep the scent to one only. choose what you are aiming for with smell that isn't overpowering and go for it. multiple strong scents (no matter how much you love them) can cause sensory overload and again headaches for guests.
if flames aren't your thing, almost all stores that sell any kind of decor ie. Homesense, Canadian Tire sell great battery operated candles which give simulated ambiance without the threat of combustion, especially if little people are around.
the scent rule ends in the dining room. unscented only, NO EXCEPTIONS. you worked hard on your food, don't let it have competition
taper candles can be a not so smart idea with large gatherings as the aforementioned people that aren't exposed to a lot of decor can now pose a fire hazed with regards to tippy candles or perhaps you just have a klutzy guest. either way, nothing kills the mood like a fire.
8) SET THE TABLE, remove the frills
our table needed to seat at least 11 people and then others were scattered around the main floor. not ideal but we don't have a spare dining table for the once a year huge sit down meal. in the dining room i removed our regular antique grainsack table runner to prevent ruin and added a fancy paper runner by kitchen papers. it looks great and can just go in the recycling when done. i removed our regular large table arrangement and made a skinny ornament chain to run down the center of the table. it lacks height allowing conversation flow and isn't too wide allowing people to pass and share food.
short tealights candles were added in vintage teacups, trophies and creamers to add a subtle glow. be creative.
9) Make Space
this one probably should have been at the top but who wants this to be the first photo on a post. make space in a main closet prior to guest arrival with plenty of hangers for coats. move some of your own coats to a bedroom closet for the day and allow guests to hang their items and retrieve them at the end of the party without hunting through a huge pile of coats and dumping others garments on the floor in the process
10) Most Important Tips
you made it to the end and hopefully your shirt is not covered in sweat from running around like a moron because you were so organized prior to even opening the door. pat yourself on the back
go put on your lipstick on and remember the most important things when entertaining any group big or small
PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY, people whom you do not regularly see are not there to see the top of your head no matter how well styled. it can wait. enjoy your company and answer the messages at 3 am just for fun. take your instagram photos and upload them later.
BE PRESENT. Although this runs along the line of put your phone away. As a hostess there is so much to be done when there are people invading your home. Get yourself a wingman or two. I am fortunate to have a wonderfully helpful husband and an amazing tag team mom at family gatherings. My brother and father can also man a bar like nobody's business. Have someone that can help get food out and make drinks. People want to meet and greet with the hostess and not have to hunt you down in front of the stove the whole night.
DRESS APPROPRIATELY. Wearing a form fitting dress or too many layers of clothing can make standing in front of the oven and running to the door feel like a bad day on the elliptical. Be comfortable in your clothes, wear your hair up if that is called for to keep it out of your face and food. Sticky hair, sweaty faces and stripping may not make the memory you want people to take home with them.
It seems like a lot of prep work but, keep in mind the more you prep the more you enjoy your evening full of conversation, laughter and hopefully great non-burnt food. Expecting yourself to pull off a huge shindig in one day and little prep with work, family, kids, and extracurricular activities is unreasonable and adds too much stress to shoulders already sagging from day to day life.
Go grab a glass of wine and party hard, and hope no one finds the closet with the pillows lol.
Stay tuned for the extra tips on running an open house