I’m a recovering perfectionist, which means I struggle with entertaining. Somewhere in the back of my head, I think my house isn’t clean enough or my kitchen big enough or my food good enough to throw a party. So I keep putting it off, when in reality all I want to do is hang out with some of my best friends.
I’ve started to break free of those faulty thoughts and invite people over more often now (though not as often as I’d like). Here are some tips that I’ve found help me shift my perspective on entertaining from stressful to enjoyable.
1. It doesn’t have to be dinner.
When we hear the word entertaining, we tend to think it has to be dinner, which is one of the most elaborate and pressure-filled meals to prepare. More often than not, I plan for breakfast or brunch. For one thing, it tends to be a far more relaxed meal—my friends know that make-up and grown-up clothes are optional. For another, you’re usually not staring down the ticking clock, wondering if you’re going to make your hungry guests wait until 9 p.m. for dinner. Is brunch ten o’clock in the morning or one in the afternoon? No one knows for sure.
2. Do the work ahead.
I love to cook big meals, but having too many hot dishes makes it feel like Thanksgiving—I’m stressed, my kitchen is a mess, and I never feel like I have enough free burners. Plus trying to get everything on the table at once is a hassle. Plan on serving only a single hot dish and let the rest be cold or room temperature. If I’m serving brunch my go-to meal is a big frittata served hot in a cast iron skillet; pastries from the bakery, yogurt, and fresh fruit are all easy, no-cook accompaniments. If you’re doing dinner, try pasta or potato salad served cold, veggies like roasted brussels sprouts that can be served room temperature, and save your effort for the hot meat/main dish.
3. Let others contribute.
When your friends ask you if they can contribute something, let them! I’ll usually have someone bring juice or fruit for a brunch; dinner rolls, wine, or a veggie plate is good for dinner. Alternately, if you’ve got the food under control, don’t hesitate to have them pour drinks, slice tomatoes for the salad, or set the table. When I remodeled my kitchen recently, I replaced all my upper cabinets with open shelving—I love for my friends to be able to make themselves at home without feeling like they’re snooping.
4. Be flexible.
I find nothing ever goes quite as planned, especially if I’m cooking a new recipe (a bad idea for a dinner party, by the way). Because I live at high altitude, everything takes longer to cook, and sometimes I have a hard time predicting when a dish will come out of the oven. Keep a few extra snacks on hand, plenty of drinks, and maybe a game or two to keep everyone entertained while they’re waiting. Rather than being a frustrating delay, you can turn it into a way to spend more time together.
5. Give yourself permission to be imperfect
This is the corollary to #4: something’s going to go wrong. Every single time. The fruit will be overripe. A dish will be overcooked. You’ll drop something (a plate, a glass, the food). It took me a while to realize that I’m the only one who really fusses over these things—no one else cares! Laugh it off and move on. Order pizza if you have to. Your friends came to spend time with you, not for a restaurant-style five-course meal. When you can put it into the perspective of fellowship and not a performance, any mishaps become a fond memory to laugh about at the next get-together.
What about you? Do you like entertaining? What tips do you have for making a gathering enjoyable and stress-free?
To make cooking a little easier, download this free conversion chart! Click the image to download or click HERE.
The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano
Denver chef Rachel Bishop has accomplished everything she’s dreamed and some things she never dared hope, like winning a James Beard Award and heading up her own fine-dining restaurant. But when a targeted smear campaign causes her to be pushed out of the business by her partners, she vows to do whatever it takes to get her life back . . . even if that means joining forces with the man who inadvertently set the disaster in motion.
Essayist Alex Kanin never imagined his pointed editorial would go viral. Ironically, his attempt to highlight the pitfalls of online criticism has the opposite effect: it revives his own flagging career by destroying that of a perfect stranger. Plagued by guilt-fueled writer’s block, Alex vows to do whatever he can to repair the damage. He just doesn’t expect his interest in the beautiful chef to turn personal.
Alex agrees to help rebuild Rachel’s tarnished image by offering his connections and his home to host an exclusive pop-up dinner party targeted to Denver’s most influential citizens: the Saturday Night Supper Club. As they work together to make the project a success, Rachel begins to realize Alex is not the unfeeling opportunist she once thought he was, and that perhaps there’s life—and love—outside the pressure-cooker of her chosen career. But can she give up her lifelong goals without losing her identity as well?