As a young housewife in the late 80's I tried really hard to make my guests feel special at parties and picnics. I would obsess for weeks about the menu, decor and how my house looked. And, of course, with Martha Stewart's rise to fame, it was easy to feel inadequate.
But as I grew older, (and realized that Martha had an entire staff to make her events look amazing), I decided it was more important to spend time with my guests than to spend time impressing them. I also realize that the way to make them feel special was by being able to spend as much time with them as possible rather than slaving in the kitchen.
Summer party and picnic season is upon us, so I thought it might be great to share some of my tips for relaxing at my own parties.
1. Keep the Menu Simple
Plan for one or two great appetizers that are easy to prepare ahead of time. This will give folks something to snack on while enjoying their cocktails. Make the main dish something that you can make ahead as well or with minimal cook time the day of the party and serve buffet style. Dessert should be light and easy for guests to serve themselves.
2. Make it a Pot Luck
My mother always taught me that when I'm invited somewhere, I should offer to bring something. Chances are your guests would love to contribute, so if they offer, accept. Perhaps you can take care of the main course and ask them to bring appetizers and desserts or snacks.
3. Use Your Favorite Containers of Flowers or Herbs for Decorations and Centerpieces
If you have some small pots with pretty flower combinations, use them to decorate your tables. One great idea is to have containers of herbs on the tables so that guest can add them to the dishes themselves. The basket above can easily be moved to a picnic table. If your herbs are out in the garden, snip a few sprigs and put into glasses or Mason jars with a bit of water and use them to decorate your table. Be sure to label them so guests know what's edible!
4. Resist the Urge to Add or Complicate
While sites like Pinterest are full of great ideas for decorations and amazing food, they can also be a distraction. Create your plan and then stick to it. Don't keep adding! That way you can finalize the menu and pickup everything you need in one trip.
5. Always Have a Plan B
If you're planning an outdoor event be sure to plan for inclement weather. Rent a tent, clean out the garage, or spruce up your family room. That way if the weather man botches his forecast, you can easily switch to 'indoor' mode.
Remember, parties are supposed to be fun - not just for your guests but for you as well. Keeping things simple and low key will help you to enjoy your own event!