I love to plan and throw parties, and it seems like every time we host a shindig, I learn so much. Just like anything else, entertaining is often trial-and-error. But I'm sharing a few of my best tips to help you get started on the right foot.
1. Change up the furniture. Regular, practical room layout is not always the best solution for a large party. We usually move out the dining room chairs and sometimes have relocated the dining room table to serve as more of a buffet. Martha Stewart wrote in her book (my Bible) Entertaining that at a cocktail party, you should have less seating than guests. Once guests sit down to talk, she says, the party is over. You want people up and mingling.
2. Distribute finger foods around the room(s). Often people will congregate where there is food, which can clog up the small area around one main food table. Having platters available at different points around the room helps distribute the flow better. If you feel like getting fancier, hire someone to pass appetizers and serve directly to guests.
3. Rent stemware. For a while, I was buying wine glasses like crazy (I think we had 16 glasses at one point). But we don't have unlimited storage, so while that will work for a more intimate gathering or dinner party, it's not gonna cut it for a large celebration. I prefer glass to plastic (more environmentally friendly), so rent some! Most places will charge per-glass (around 50 cents) and if any break or are lost, they'll cost you about $2-3 to replace. But the other bonus is that you just rinse them and send them back, no dish-washing required! Try any local party-rental company for the basic stuff.
4. Do it early. Everything, that is. Get as much prep work out of the way as possible even a few days in advance. Not the best time to tackle a home improvement project (I say so from experience...). This includes cleaning or having a cleaning service come in to help - if you have to be at work in the days leading up to the event, this could be well worth the cost. It could also be menu planning, bringing out and washing/polishing serving pieces and labeling them, laying out outfits, even putting out decorations (unless there is fear of a pet or child harming them). You will feel so much more relaxed the day of.
5. Enjoy yourself. Let people help if they want to. Hire help, especially for food, if it will let you enjoy your guests. If someone offers to bring an appetizer or bottle of wine, be gracious and let them. And definitely share hosting duties equally with your spouse (assuming you're not hosting a ladies-only brunch or something). Preparing and delegating will make all the difference.
Photo from You Are My Fave Events.