In my experience, my stress levels prior to throwing a dinner party at my home directly correspond with A) how clean my space is, B) how much there is left to prep at any given moment, and C) how involved the menu is for the night. If any of these things goes awry or I encounter a mishap, I kiss my leisurely night with friends goodbye and turn into a frantic mess.
To me, those aren’t great odds. So, as the holiday season beckons and dinner parties aplenty await, I caught up with Sarah Ashley Schiear, a New York-based chef, entertaining expert, and founder of curated home and kitchen online store Salt House Market to get the lowdown on how to plan ahead so that you actually enjoy your celebration.
“First, take a moment to relax and remember the reason you are doing this,” she says. “It is really just about getting together with people you love and having a good time. No one expects things to be perfect.”
Keep scrolling for her tips on how to enjoy yourself while entertaining.
Make time to declutter
Whether you’re planning a swanky soirée or a game night with your best buds, a clean space gives you a clear mind for the night ahead.
“A few days before your party, take some time to tidy up so that it’s out of the way,” Schiear says. Focus on shared spaces like the living room and entry area. Often times, people forget about the bathrooms, but by cleaning ahead of time, you can lay out nice towels and soaps for your guests.
The day of your party, you’ll likely have to do a quick sweep on the kitchen after cooking. You can mitigate the stress by doing prep work (chopping veggies and assembling crudité trays ahead of time) so that you really just have to clear the counters to be ready for guests.
Set the table in advance
Your guests aren’t coming for another day? Set the table anyways—and keep it simple.
Schiear’s go-to look is linen napkins with white dinnerware. This minimal approach to table-dressing strikes the right chord no matter the occasion, so you don’t have to stock up on multiple sets of dishes for different nights in.
Turn chores into moments of meditation
Schiear takes a moment before finishing her place settings to iron her linen napkin set. She took the thinking that ironing is a chore, and flipped it upside down, so that she now finds the task meditative.
“I used to honestly hate the idea of linen napkins, because the thought of ironing them was so annoying,” she recalls. “But, I reframed the way I looked at that. Now, it’s this nice, relaxing task to iron the napkins and give myself a break.”
Prep your serving station
How many times have you scrambled, looking for that one bowl or favorite serving dish that’s nowhere to be found?
“During big occasions with multiple courses or lots of sides like Thanksgiving, sometimes you might forget what you need, which can make you a little flustered in the moment.”
Schiear’s trick? The day before your get-together, gather your serving dishes and lay them out where you plan to present your meal. Apply post-it notes to dishes, leaving yourself a quick reminder of what each will be used for.
Make a pitcher
No host wants to spend the evening mixing cocktail after cocktail. Make a pitcher of one drink such as spiced sangria ahead of time to create a self-service station.
Sangria makes an especially good option, “because, the longer it sits, the more the flavors meld,” she says. Try making it up to two days in advance.
Ease into dinner with dips
When crafting a perfectly paired menu, first decide the tone of the evening. “I like to either do a true dinner party with simple appetizers and an entrée, or go in the other direction and just host a party that is all about hors d’oeuvres,” says Schiear.
If you’re opting for an entrée, don’t get caught up in the appetizers and keep it simple with dips. “The dip world is always a win in terms of my make-ahead go-tos, especially this time of year,” Schiear says. She opts for root veggies and serves a beet hummus with a stand-out fuschia hue to wow guests.
Remember if you don’t nail the color palette or if you happen to have a wrinkle in your linens: “No one expects things to be perfect.” Take a deep breath. Pour yourself a glass of sangria and enjoy!
In more of a party-of-one mindset? You can still stay stress free, using Elle MacPherson’s self-care tactics and maybe even snatch up one of these luxe robes to feel extra zen.