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Party Tips: Mistakes To Avoid For Stress-Free Entertaining

08/08/2013 08:38 am ET
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We've been pretty insistent that you all throw a few summer dinner parties lately. We can't help it -- we love feeding our friends, we love revelry, we love eating and drinking outside. We're the first to admit, at these parties, not everything always goes according to plan. Ever thrown a party where you've run out of booze? We have. Ever thrown a party where you've had a meltdown ten minutes before guests arrived? We have. Ever thrown a party where you've run out of food? Actually -- we've never done that one.

Summer entertaining is doubly enticing because you can throw open the windows, send your guests out into the yard or onto the deck (or fire escape, hey New York!) and finish things up in the kitchen before dinner. If you've had some entertaining nightmares, or if you're holding back from inviting people over because you're afraid you'll be too stressed out, we're here to help. We've compiled a list of some of the most common dinner party mistakes we've committed (and seen others commit). We will all get through this together as long as we remember to breathe and make ice. Ready? The top ten mistakes you're making as a party host:

1. Freaking Out
stressed out cook
We know this sounds trite, but seriously, throwing a dinner party is not rocket science. It's meant to be fun! We know it doesn't always feel that way, but if you prepare a little bit in advance, keep your wits about you and remember that no one is going to die if you don't get dinner on the table at exactly 8:00pm, you and your guests will have a much better time. It is just dinner. With people who like you enough to have come to your home in the first place. You've got this. Breathe.

Worst case scenario: order pizza and have a pretty great story to tell at every dinner party thereafter.

2. Forgetting About/Over-Complicating Drinks
molecular cocktail
So, a hard truth we have to face is that we are grown-ups, and sometimes that requires a drink to make cocktail party conversation flow a little more smoothly. Make sure you have an alcoholic and non-alcoholic option. Make sure there's plenty of water available. Don't get crazy and decide that you are going to make individual cocktails per guest request. Pick one simple drink that's easily batched (a bourbon rickey or a big bowl of punch are our favorites). When people ask what they can bring (and they will) say beer or wine. All your bases covered.

Also for the love of all that is holy, make sure you have extra ice on hand. Make it, buy it, whatever you have to do, your party can never have enough ice.

3. Making Dishes You've Never Made Before
cheese souffle
This is old advice, and that is because it is very smart. Now is not the time to try to bang out a cheese soufflé (unless you make them all the time and are great at them, in which case, can we come to dinner?). Make things you know you are good at, whether they're stunning and fancy or not. If you are hosting the kind of party where everyone will sit down to dinner, keep it simple, comforting and fun. You don't have to roast a whole rib-eye, whip up risotto, sauté vegetables and make a chocolate lava cake. Sometimes all it takes for a great dinner party is a giant dish of homemade mac and cheese and a big, seasonal salad.

4. Not Prepping In Advance
prep work
Do as much as possible ahead of time. Adorable, bite-sized canapés are a delightfully warm welcome to a party, and you can make them the day before and stick them in the fridge to wait. Going to sauté a ton of vegetables? Chop them all ahead of time and keep them in plastic containers until they're ready to be cooked. Also, plan a few dishes into your menu that get better a day or two after they're made, like a hot or cold soup. You can do all the work 48 hours in advance, then just ladle it into dishes like it ain't no thang.

5. Not Checking With Your Guests About Dietary Restrictions
food allergies
We know -- we live in a crazy world, right? We're not saying you need to make sure everyone loves every single thing you're planning to make, but take care to note whether you are inviting someone who keeps kosher/halal, any vegans/vegetarians, anyone with food allergies, etc. You don't have to make a huge deal out of it, and in truth, most of these people will tell you upfront if their restrictions are serious, but you never want someone to sit down to a table full of things they can't eat. Have you ever seen an EpiPen pulled out at a dinner party? It's not pretty, avoid at all costs.

6. Not Eating/Drinking/Socializing As You Go
hiding in kitchen
We've all gotten lost in plating here and there. We've all said to our spouse or co-host, "I'm almost done, I just have to blanch the green beans, toast the croutons, invent a new way to make cheese sauce, whip some cream," etc. Look, the purpose of a dinner party is to socialize with your friends, in addition to feeding them. So make sure to take some time between rounds of food to drink a drink, eat the snacks you lovingly prepared and talk to the people you invited over. You'll feel less frazzled, more satisfied with the party, and won't reach the end of the night before realizing you didn't eat a thing.

7. Not Accepting Help When It's Offered
multitasking cook
There are a few reasons people offer to help out at a dinner party: 1) they want to hang out with you, but you are hiding in the kitchen. 2) They like helping out in the kitchen and are good at it. 3) You look stressed out. 4) They feel obligated to ask if you need help. You know these people, they are your friends. Identify why they're asking and take them up on it, if they will be helpful. That person who tried to dice an onion with a paring knife once? They can help run food and make sure everyone has a drink in their hand.

And again, one more time to make sure we've really driven the point home, when people ask if they can bring anything, tell them to bring something you know they like. A six-pack of beer, a bottle of wine, a salami, some cheese, something sweet if you don't want to make dessert. People like to contribute.

8. Not Planning Ahead For An Unexpected Guest Or Two
hands reaching for food
Don't run out of food too soon. Just don't. An easy way to safeguard is to just plan for two unannounced guests. Worst case scenario, you'll have a few leftovers.

9. Making Things Too Complicated
jose andres
Are you José Andrés? Then you may absolutely flambé tableside or make a cocktail with liquid nitrogen. Are you a normal human who works a job that is not in a kitchen? You should make normal people food. Simple doesn't have to mean boring. Think summer in Italy: fresh vegetables, appropriate seasoning, lots of olive oil. Or summer in France: a few cheeses, great bread, charcuterie, omelettes. One of the best dinner parties I've ever attended consisted of cheese fondue, a pickle plate and a pasta dish. Also a lot of wine.

10. Underestimating The Power Of The Crudité Platter
crudite
We know, we know, it's so late 80s. But we swear, time and time again, the crudité platter GOES. I go snack-heavy at dinner parties, which I obviously can't recommend enough. Finger food early in the evening gives you extra leeway on dinnertime and keeps hungry friends out of the kitchen. A crudité platter, whether beautiful and modern or old-school carrot and celery sticks with buttermilk dressing, is a cheap, abundant, easy item that gets gobbled up every time. Try it once. Let us know if you have any crudité vegetables left over.

You won't. We promise.

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