News & views | How to relax at your own party

News & views

How to relax at your own party

Think about the last time you went to an event, party, or get together where you had a spectacularly good time. These are the moments that pop up in your Facebook memories and make you think “oh wow, that was a special evening." Everything seemed to flow. Was it the food? The atmosphere? The people? Whatever the reason, you can almost guarantee that behind all of that was a host who was having as great a time as his or her guests.

Hosting and hospitality are all about creating an environment that puts people at ease. In my 10 + years of hosting seasonal events, pop-ups, and Airbnb guests at my Cotswolds cottage, there’s one thing I’ve found that is absolutely key to successful hosting: minimal stress.

My best parties have been those where I’ve been able to relax with my guests, rather than rushing around the entire evening trying to get out the next course, or pick the next playlist, or pick up 50 dirty dishes scattered around the garden.

If you want to host the party of the year, you have to start by learning to be a relaxed host. The key here is to avoid some common pitfalls that occur when hosting.

These are the top things that I’ve seen lead me and other hosts to stress, stress that ultimately compromises the enjoyment of other guests, and nobody - least of all you - wants that.

The seven things that make party hosts stressed

Being overambitious with food

I’m speaking from experience here as I’ve fallen into this trap far too many times. When planning a party it’s tempting to go all out with the menu. You pour through books, Pinterest, and Instagram, gathering ideas, throwing none away, and ultimately creating a hugely elaborate menu that would take weeks and a fully trained staff to pull off. Worse still, such ambition often leads to a long secession of mediocre (or failed) results, with nothing truly outstanding that your guests will really remember. My suggestion is to focus on doing a few things really well. And be selective, otherwise you may fall victim to the following…

Choosing food that requires excessive prep during the event

It’s fine to have some herbs to chop or something to heat up in the oven. But mid-party is not the time to make that killer marinade or start separating egg whites for a meringue. People will interrupt you. Food will get delayed. Messes start piling up. Stress city! And then you have this nightmare…

Not providing enough food for your guests

There should always be plenty of snacks and nibbles around, and they don’t have to be fancy. I used to think that anything I gave to guests had to be some kind of elaborate homemade canapé. I’ve learned that people love the basics like crisps and popcorn and there’s no shame in keeping them around while focusing on more exciting dishes. A loaf of good bread with a bowl of nice olive oil feels special and helps avoid that awkward longing stare of hungry guests. It’s also important if people are drinking, which brings me to this...

Not providing enough drinks

One of the first thing a guest should have when they arrive is a delicious beverage - alcoholic or otherwise. Even at a BYO affair I still like to offer a “welcome cocktail”, something fun and unusual which makes for a good conversation starter. If people have brought their own, give them a glass.

Throughout the night, make the rounds. “Would you like a glass of wine? I’m making margaritas - want in?” I also recommend keeping pitchers or bottles of water to encourage ample hydration - everyone will feel better about your party if they wake up the next day with a clear head!

Forgetting people might enjoy having other things to do than eat

If I reflect on events over the past few years, the best memories are those which centred around shared activities rather than the food itself. Plan a game or invite people to bring musical instruments or crafts along. If you’re truly relaxed and immersed in the experience, you’ll often find that spontaneity takes over and the party takes care of itself.

I have a great memory of an autumn party, converged around a large open fire outdoors. One guest started up a Feurerzangenbowle (a German cocktail consisting of a flaming rum-soaked sugarloaf suspended over a cauldron of mulled wine - pretty epic). Meanwhile, someone else took over the speakers with some appropriate music, while another guest, a chalkboard artist, got to work creating a mural while we all dipped into this welcoming hot (and quite boozy) beverage. It might have been one of those “you had to be there” moments but it encapsulated that thing that happens when people suddenly find themselves totally on the same page, enjoying a moment together. By this stage the food had been served and there was nothing left for me to do but hang out around the fire with my friends. The best!

Congregating in the kitchen

I have a very small cottage which lends itself to people loitering outside the kitchen which is actually inconvenient for everyone as it blocks the path to the all important loo and also to the garden. I try to create an area both inside and outside where it’s obvious people can have a seat, relax, have a snack, a drink, and a chat.

A fire indoors or outdoors is great for this, otherwise make heavy use of candles and mood lighting. I also create a “drinks” area outside the main kitchen space stocked with ice, water, mixers, beers, whatever’s going. This way guests can feel free to help themselves to whatever they need.

Doing everything yourself

A great host always makes sure that their guests are taken care of, but don’t be afraid to ask people for help. “Do you mind grabbing a fresh bottle of fizz from the fridge?” “Could you put these plates on the table?” “Can you refill those peanuts?” People are more than willing to chip in and it helps them feel involved.

The key, of course, with all of this is to plan ahead. Do as much prep as possible ahead of time. Focus on make-ahead food. Have a place ready for people’s coats and other belongings. Make sure you have plenty of ice. I also recommend planning one or two non-food related activities to keep things interesting and interactive.

Try these easy to make ahead party foods your guests will love:

Artichoke and preserved lemon dip

Classic Cheese Ball

Slow-cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust

Chocolate, fudge and smoked salt cookies

Find more hosting inspiration here:

Six of the best ways to entertain as a single

What are your takeaways from your most memorable parties?

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