Michelle Stark Tampa Bay Times
Oct. 5, 2018
A couple of hours into my first time hosting a full-fledged family Thanksgiving, I completely lost it.
Elbows deep in the oven, I was trying to rescue a sheet pan that had fallen off the back of the rack and threatened to ruin the entire meal. There was cursing, and burned knuckles, and one or two scorched dinner rolls. My guests looked on in horror.
A handful of years later, and many dinners since, I've slowly mastered the art of gathering loved ones in your home for a meal. And it is an art, a study in patience and chilling out, a lesson in making sure everything isn't ice cold by the time it hits the table and also in restraint. A love for hosting often begins with a love for cooking, but you don't need to make Julia Child's beef bourguignon for everyone who walks through your front door.
The thing about being a good host is that it shouldn't be limited to special occasions and multicourse meals. You don't need to be a culinary wizard. You just need to make your guests feel comfortable and welcomed, preferably over a plate of something mouth-watering.
There's generally a default host in every friend or family group, no matter the ages involved.
You know the person, if it's not you: Maybe they're very into napkin rings, or they have a killer backyard, or they know their way around a charcuterie board.
Here are 7 tips to follow for casual and fancy dinners alike:
Set the tone, read the room
Be clear with your guests about what kind of gathering this is. A casual drop-in? A potluck? A fancy dinner at which they don't need to lift a finger? Let them know beforehand, and reiterate it when they arrive. As the host, it's important to be able to identify any potential party fouls.
Communicate your needs
If your guests ask what they can bring, and you really need green onions to complete the salad, ask them to bring some green onions. If you aren't comfortable with your guests bringing anything, make that very clear, too. They likely still will, but at least you're on the same page about expectations. If you've gone to town planning every menu detail, encourage your guests to bring the drinks. Always make sure there's something non-alcoholic, too.
Be considerate of food preferences, but don't go crazy
If one of your guests is actually allergic to an ingredient, pay special attention to that, and be able to tell them which dishes contain that ingredient. It's always a good idea to ask about allergies before you plan your menu. If you've got a vegan or a low-carb eater around the table, it's nice to make sure there is a dish or two they can eat. But don't go overboard preparing multiple dishes.
Don't make your guests wait
If you've invited people to your house with the expectation of feeding them, you should be feeding them within one to two hours of their arrival time.
Step away from the stove
Try to plan meals that allow for prepping before your guests come over, so you're not spending the whole night peeking out at the party from over a sizzling skillet. Try to resist tending to every little thing that comes up.
Make it special
For larger or more formal parties, a theme can guide you. Personalized paper name tags or place cards that you print from your computer, or festive paper napkins, also take little effort but make a big impact.
Have a good time
Remember, this is supposed to be fun! If making a three-layer cake stresses you out, don't do it. If your guests are picky eaters, now is not the time to prepare a raw oyster bar. Own your strengths; order takeout to cover your weaknesses.