I started a catering business when I was 16, went to cooking school, worked in restaurants, then returned to catering and teaching cooking classes before ditching it all to write for Make It Better.
I’ve fed thousands of people over the years.
So when it’s time to throw a party, it’s no big deal for me. But I know from my friends that having even 8 people over for a dinner party—much less fifty for a BBQ—is an occasion for full-blown panic.
People are always asking me for entertaining advice, so I thought I’d share a little of what I know with you, the Make It Better reader!
Don’t be afraid. Guests can smell fear. Maintain a good attitude; humor is your best defense. If you’re short of food for a big party, or you burn something important, chill out. That’s what pizza delivery or a great Asian take-out place is for. If you have a contingency plan in your back pocket, you’ll be more confident.
Plan ahead. Choose a menu that works for you, the kitchen you actually have (not the one you wish you had!), and your schedule. Professional kitchens and caterers rely on prep work. This is work done ahead (like chopping, blanching, etc.) that makes finishing dishes much easier.
Choose a theme. It makes planning the menu (and décor, if you care) so much easier, and everything tastes good together. I’ve done Mexican, Italian, Asian, Moroccan, Southwest, Down-Home BBQ, etc.
Be picky. Choose a menu so that not everything has to be cooked or finished at once. Make dessert the day before. Don’t have enough fridge space? Choose a few salads that can be prepared and kept at room temperature (like lentil or pasta salad w/ vinaigrette, not mayonnaise or cream-based dressings) and add in feta or goat cheese right before serving. If you can make and freeze appetizers ahead and just throw them in the oven to finish, that’s optimal.
Heavy lifting early. Set up tables and chairs, put down linens, get out the buffet dishes, wrap your silverware in napkins and put them in baskets. Any rentals should arrive the day before. If your house is physically ready for the party, it makes everything easier.
Beverages set the tone. Make sure you have plenty of glass/plastic-ware on hand for the bar. Don’t stint on ice. It’s cheap! Full bars at home parties are silly. Go for wine, beer, soft drinks/lemonade/iced tea/water, and maybe one signature drink. For a Mexican Fiesta, I recently served Mexican beers, Argentine wines, and pitchers of Sangria and Margaritas. A huge hit!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This one is important… bring in someone to help do the dishes, bus the tables, keep things clean. You can call a professional service, or hire a few teens or college students. It will free you up to spend time with your guests. That’s why you’re having the party, right?
If all of this still seems overwhelming to you, hire a caterer that you can afford. There’s no shame in reaching out to a professional!