Summer entertaining is a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends over great food -- and Labor Day gives us that last chance to say goodbye to summer. For many of us, though, entertaining a crowd can be pretty scary, leading to lots of panicking and overshopping. But it doesn't have to be that way if you've got the right action plan in place. Our top 10 tips in the slideshow below will help you put together a stress-free party with plenty of food that's fun for everybody, including you.
Begin By Planning A Menu
Everything is easier with a plan. Think over your menu way in advance and gather all the recipes you need so you know how much food to buy. The best piece of advice is don't make anything you've never cooked before -- you may end up with a disaster on your hands. If you have time, test new recipes in advance so you see how they work and then you can make necessary tweaks. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/photomequickbooth/4475151349/" target="_hplink">HelloImNik, Flickr</a>.
Buy Some Ready Made Food
Good quality that is. Buy hummus, olives, salumi -- all kinds of prepared antipasti -- and cut down on the foods you have to prepare. You'll have more time for making the main dishes and more time to mingle with your guests. <strong>More: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/22/antipasti-recipes_n_1823007.html" target="_hplink">Antipasti Recipes For Your Next Party</a></strong> Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/454873761/" target="_hplink">jurvetson, Flickr</a>.
Prep As Much As You Can In Advance
Prep, prep, prep whatever you can. Make the dips, prepare the marinade for your skewers, meats and chicken. Do whatever you can to ease food prep on the day of your party. Many dishes can be prepared ahead of time, especially ones that can be served cold, like vegetables and picnic-style salads. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/26444487@N07/4568694267/" target="_hplink">Gatanass, Flickr</a>.
Do A Potluck
And cut down on all the cooking you'd otherwise have to do. Get your guests to bring a dish each -- just make sure to coordinate so you don't get four potato salads. This will ease up your responsibilities and let you actually have some fun. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bearskinlodge/7579282504/" target="_hplink">Day by Day at Beautiful Bearskin Lodge, Flickr</a>.
Don't Delay The Food
Or else your guests might get a bit tipsy. It's a good idea to start your guests out with drinks as they arrive, but don't wait too long to serve the food, because when there is nothing but drinks, people will keep drinking. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindseygee/6952756877/" target="_hplink">lindsey gee, Flickr</a>.
Make Sure Guests Know The Menu
This way they won't fill up on cheese and crackers before the main food arrives. Let everyone know what to expect -- a good way is to write up a menu on a chalkboard or simply remind them not to fill up on appetizers -- or booze for that matter. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/4622273140/" target="_hplink">Steve Snodgrass, Flickr</a>.
Don't Serve Too Much, Too Little, Too Weird
It's always nice to offer lots of food to your guests, but it's really easy to go overboard and have way to much food or not have enough. Plan your menu so you have more to offer of the foods that will be more popular. Don't try new dishes that might not turn out well or dishes that err on the side of weird. Sometimes going with classic recipes is the best idea. Also know that the more you offer the less people will eat of each item -- but each individual will eat more than if there were fewer choices. So count on that. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rinux/3686798737/" target="_hplink">riNux, Flickr</a>.
Don't Be A Bartender
Instead make a house drink like sangria, punch or a pitcher drink. The last thing you want to do is stand around making cocktails on request for your guests. Instead make one drink and let everyone serve themselves. This way there's more time for you to relax. <strong>More: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/24/pitcher-cocktails_n_1543703.html" target="_hplink">Pitcher Cocktails For Entertaining</a></strong> Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikolski/3945039033/" target="_hplink">Milosz1, Flickr</a>.
Save on liquor expenses by having your guests bring booze. Ask everyone to bring a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer and you'll have enough drinks on hand for everyone to enjoy -- the best part is you also save money. Photo from <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/4582435749/" target="_hplink">stevendepolo, Flickr</a>.
Don't Go Crazy
Relax! It's just a party. Don't go overboard in planning the biggest, best party of the century. Keep things simple. And whatever you do, don't turn yourself into a caterer. With the right planning, you'll be spending more time with your guests than in the kitchen and you'll have that time to relax and catch up on old times.
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