One of my favorite pieces of advice from Miss Manners is that ‘adults entertain in their home.’ My sisters and I were trained young by the Greatest Generation on how to entertain. In high school, we had the good fortune to be the hired helpers of dear friends of our grandparents who would have us help to prepare for and serve at their elegant (and very fun!) cocktail parties. We were sponges for their stylish entertaining wisdom. We learned that hosting need not be an elaborate and intimidating affair, but that it’s worthwhile to set the scene in a way that’s more than just pouring chips in a bowl and opening the door. It’s so memorable and enjoyable to use the good china, to drink good wine, and to elevate your event with some special touches.
Select a theme; even the most formal of occasions will feel more fun.
Invite your guests by snail mail; it’s harder to decline a beautiful, handwritten invite.
Take the time to iron your table linens; crispness adds luxury. If your linens have any monogramming or embroidery, iron them on the underside to make the stitching pop.
Fresh flowers or greenery are a must. Whether you have a florist go all out, pick up a bunch of hydrangeas from the market, or clip branches from your yard, these all add life and dimension to your event. And while I love dramatic florals, keep the centerpieces low.
Set the table, bar and food service areas a day in advance, and place sticky notes with labels for where things go. Laying it all out this way will aid your helpers on the day of the party, and also help you from forgetting to place something.
Keep the hors d’oeuvres small. Everyone appreciates a single bite, especially when you’re standing around chatting and also trying to balance a wine glass in your hands.
No overhead lighting! With the exception of chandeliers on dimmers, embrace lamps and candlelight for ambiance. I love glass votives and keep a supply on hand.
Don’t let your fine china and crystal collect dust, bring out the good stuff and enjoy using it!
For a seated dinner, use place cards. It makes it so much easier on your guests to not have to decide where to sit, and a good hostess will optimize seatmates for conversation.
Primp the powder room. I always make sure to fill a bud vase with small blooms and light a floral scented candle.
Surprise your guests with live entertainment; think a jazz trio for a cocktail party, or a harpist for a ladies’ lunch.
Serve a signature cocktail; look to seasonality for your inspiration.
Create a hashtag for your event; I like to write it out on a small chalkboard or print it out and place it in a picture frame to put at the bar.
Wear something special; you ought to look and feel your best.
Don’t forget the music! I look to Spotify to help curate whatever mood suits the party.
The seating should be cozy to encourage chitchat, whether you have a formal sitting room, or some pillows on the floor around a coffee table.
As the host, you are in charge of introductions. Flutter around as guests are greeting one another and help facilitate conversations by providing thoughtful details about your friends.
Consider a small party favor; you can’t go wrong with a little box or chocolates at each place setting or on a tray by the door as your guests depart.
Less is more; don’t overbuy or over prepare. Stick to a maximum of 2-3 wine options and a small bar setup. For hors d’oeuvres, 3-4 options (a mixture of cold and warm) plus some nuts is usually plenty.
In general, you should always have a bottle of Champagne in the fridge and nuts in your cabinet; these are the essentials for an impromptu party.