Entertaining house guests in any capacity can be daunting and oftentimes involves a fair amount of work. While we can’t remove all of the work it takes to have friends and family gather in your home, we can at least help make it an easier lift with some entertaining hacks. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in that dreaded position where guests arrive in less than an hour and we’re frantically running around making up the guest room with fresh linens, throwing the main dish in the oven, or making a last-minute run to get fresh flowers at the store.
Entertaining can range from needing to host guests for a few hours during a cocktail or dinner party to the overnight guests who stay for the whole weekend. We’ll cover the ins and outs of both types of hosting to set you up for success the next time someone walks through your front door, so you can welcome guests into your dining room with a genuine smile. And don’t worry, none of our recommendations require an event planner – unless you are wanting to host 100+ people, in which case we say go ahead, call that event planner.
Create a cozy atmosphere for company
Almost all dinner parties begin with drinks and appetizers, like a cheese board or a simple bowl of almonds and assorted nuts, laid out on the coffee table in the living room. While the living room is a natural place to gather, it also keeps guests out of the kitchen while you’re putting finishing touches on the main course. But more importantly, you want your guests to feel at home. Creating an immediately welcoming and cozy atmosphere doesn’t need to be as challenging as it sounds. First, we recommend making sure there are enough seats for everyone in the living room. These don’t need to all be pieces of furniture that usually live in that room – pull up an ottoman or a bench if you need an extra seat or two! From there, make sure music is playing softly in the background (we recommend having a go-to party playlist so you aren’t scrambling to create one any time guests come over), light a candle to create some ambience, and be sure to offer guests a drink when they walk in the door. Easy enough, right?
When it’s just starting to get a bit chilly out, you can really wow guests by starting with a drink by the fire pit. We can’t say we hate this plan for the summer months either – especially if you live somewhere that has a mild summer.
Make a playlist in advance
We already mentioned creating a playlist in advance, but it might be even more helpful to have a few options available depending on the mood or even weather. Go ahead and use any spare time you have after work or during lunch to add some of your favorite songs to a couple of playlists on Spotify. Rather than create these all at once, just add to them over the course of a few weeks or months and before you know it, you’ll have some of the best playlists in town.
Plan a theme or activity for the evening
There are some parties where a fun theme or activity can take the pressure off of you and your guests. This could be a child’s birthday party or simply a wine night with friends. Regardless of the type of company, having pre-planned board games or party games can be a great way to engage your guests. Perhaps you’re hosting a new neighbor and you want to have some ice breakers to get everyone talking. If this is a party that has guests under the age of 10 years old, a movie night while the parents are enjoying dessert is never a bad idea. A great way to do this is to scribble some questions on small pieces of paper and toss them in a big bowl. When appropriate, pull out the bowl and there you go!
Arrange food and beverages
While guests are chatting in the other room in that cozy atmosphere you have so perfectly mastered, it frees you up to put last minute touches on the food and drinks – whether it’s just appetizers or a full dinner.
If you’re hosting people for a cocktail party, we recommend passing apps or setting them down in the living room. For example, if you have a cheese board, this can easily be pre-arranged and set out before guests arrive. The same goes for glassware. Go ahead and put enough glasses out on the bar. We also recommend cutting up lemons and limes and putting ice in the ice bucket ahead of time so you will be ready to go the second guests enter your door!
If you’re hosting folks for a full sit down dinner or even a birthday party, set the table ahead of time. Not only will this save you time, it will create a beautiful tablescape that will only further add the ambience you’ve already created. While not all dinner parties belong in the dining room, if you have a large crowd, it probably makes the most sense to crowd around the biggest table in the house. In our mind, this is any party that involves a full guest list and some party planning, which is definitely a different kind of hosting than just get-togethers of best friends and neighbors. If the crowd encroaches on 8-10+ guests, you may even want to consider table settings. Nowadays you can find adorable place settings at almost any party store. You can even rent by your entertaining style at Social Studies, where throwing a magical gathering is made easy. If you’re feeling crafty, you can even take on a DIY version and make your own.
If you have an overnight guest, you likely don’t need to pull out all of the stops like you would for a special occasion cocktail or dinner party. Rather, include your guest in your nightly dinner plans – whether that’s eating out or cooking in. They will feel more at home if you are comfortable.
Set Out Linens
When it comes to overnight guests, a few additional rules apply. The most impactful things you can do are tidying up and giving them a space that is theirs. Make sure kid and dog toys are out of sight (at least when your guest first arrives – we totally understand that this may feel over the top for close friends or family). More importantly, make sure the guest room is a place they can retreat to at night, send some emails or just have some down time. The best way to do this is by setting out fresh linens, which includes making the bed a day or two before and placing clean towels neatly on top of the bed. Even if you think the towels are in an obvious place in the bathroom, it’s important to remember your guest may not feel that way. Finally, add some fresh flowers. Unless your guest has severe allergies, fresh flowers are always a good call.
If you don’t have a dedicated guest room, a decorative screen is an easy and chic way to give your guests a sense of privacy without needing to rearrange any furniture. Simply prop up a screen in your living room and in a matter of seconds your house now has the perfect guest-ready space.
Make the powder room a design experience
Your powder room is a room your guests are most certainly going to see. Half baths are almost always a tight space, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t packed with potential from a design standpoint. While we won’t go into all the ways you can make a powder room one of the best rooms in the house (like by adding floor to ceiling wallpaper), there are some easy tips that will spruce them up in seconds before guests arrive. Like the guest room, always put fresh flowers in the bathroom. Light your favorite candle and blow it out right before guests arrive so the fresh smell lingers. Make sure there are fresh hand towels and plenty of toilet paper. You can store extra towels and toilet paper in small wicker baskets either under the sink, on a shelf or even behind the toilet.
Remember, it’s about the experience, not following a set of rules
Having guests over in any capacity doesn’t mean you have to bring out all of the party etiquette rules or even serve the best food. Coming together, whether in a small or large group, is more about spending time with your loved ones and family members. Your party guests will never know if one or two things did not turn out exactly as you had planned. Rather, they’ll remember how warm and inviting the evening or weekend was and how happy they were to spend time with the ones they love. If you’re ever stressed about entertaining, simply remember this and reference these tips to make getting guest-ready look like a breeze.