Anyone can be an entertaining pro with the right tools and information. With this guide from blogger and radio personality Heidi Rew you'll be whipping up a stress-free dinner party, birthday celebration, cocktail hour or other event in no time.
When I plan and host events for friends, someone usually says, “This must have taken so long,” or “Wow… how did you make this look so nice?” There's more than one answer, but I have to admit that what makes it easier is that I have specific items in my house that are always ready to work an impromptu dinner party, birthday celebration, baby or wedding shower or a girls' night out cocktail hour. Before you get too deep into the details of your next event, make sure you have these 10 items handy and you'll be off to a great start (see other ideas in the Southern Kitchen Shoppe).
A basic set of white dishes
This is one of the first things I’d make sure to have. You can use white dishes for any occasion. They can be casual or fancy, they never go out of style and you can always add more. If I want to add a pop of color or if there’s a particular theme, I’ll use napkins, appetizer plates or chargers to layer with the white dishes.
Bonus Tip: I have started collecting solid color salad plates to go with different seasons. I have pastel for Spring, dark blue and purple for winter, yellow for fall and some bright colors for summer. All I change out now are tablecloths and/or napkins, which are much cheaper to change each season.
A set of wine and cocktail glasses
There’s a reason certain types of wine demand certain stemware: The taste and bouquet of wine is affected depending on the vessel. Of course fancy wine glasses may not be in your immediate budget, or you may not have the storage space. The best thing to do in that circumstance? Have a set of stemless glasses. These work interchangeably for water, wine and cocktails (a sommelier might disagree but most of the time your guests won’t care unless you can find something unique).
Bar cart with wheels
A dependable bar cart is one of the best entertaining investments ever, and you can find lots of bar carts under $100. Use it as a quick station setup to serve drinks, appetizers, desserts or just water. I recommend getting one with wheels because they are easier to place in a perfect spot during your party, and thinking about where your guests will congregate is part of being a great host.
If you’re having a sit down dinner, place your cart in the dining area to offer convenient refills. If you're offering a buffet or casual appetizers, place the cart away from the food so there’s no traffic jam.
Bar carts are great in small spaces, too. We have an older home that doesn’t have the large dining area like newer homes, and sometimes I’ll move the bar cart toward the front door so guests can pick up a drink on their way in. I may even add appetizers to the cart so it becomes a full-service pre-meal station.
Wine glass markers
Use these markers to write a guest’s name or initials on their wine glass to avoid confusion. The marker helps keep people from mixing up their glasses (you're drinking wine, after all), and the marking comes right off when you wash it. It’s brilliant.
Bonus idea: Before guests arrive, write nicknames or where each person is from on each glass, and have guests figure out which one is theirs. This should create some fun conversations.
Champagne or Wine Bucket
I use mine at every single party, especially in warmer months. It looks gorgeous and keeps beverages cool. If you’re throwing a more casual get-together, get one of those beer buckets, add a freezer pack and you’re good to go.
When I have a dinner party, I fill a couple of these ahead of time with filtered water and place them on the table. That way it’s easy and convenient when guests need a refill. As a hostess, you want to be as present as possible with your guests. The easier you can make things for yourself and your guests to control, the more you’ll enjoy the time with them.
See carafe and pitcher options from the Shoppe.
I know; you’re probably thinking, “What? Coat hooks?” But the first thing women want to know when they arrive at your home is where they can put their purses. We added a wall coat rack as soon as you walk in our front door and it is very helpful. Guests can hang their purses or jackets as soon as they step inside, and it’s also convenient for them to grab them again on their way out.
Large cutting board
Large cutting boards are perfect for serving appetizers (especially handcrafted ones), which don't have to be limited to cheese and crackers. Use cutting boards to lay out grapes, a small bowl of nuts, vegetables and more; they create a beautiful presentation with little effort. I also love to use them for setting plates, napkins and silverware. Add a little vase of flowers and it’s a beautiful vignette.
Bonus Tip: When using your cutting board to display appetizers, vary the height by using bowls or cups for the different items and use various colors and shapes.
Menu or place cards
As gracious as you are, you may not want to answer questions like “What is this?” a million times when it comes to your food spread, or create an awkward situation for guests figuring out where to sit. That’s why it's always nice to have little menu cards or place cards ready. There are lots of beautifully designed sets but you can also just cut up a few pieces of white cardstock. Simple is still beautiful!
Bonus Idea: If you want a budget-friendly but personal gift, buy or make plain white place cards. Using an alphabet stamp set, stamp the first letter of their last name on each card. Tie them up in a pretty bow or place them in clear gift bags and you’ve got a great hostess gift for not a lot of money.
Vases and votives
Don’t underestimate the power of flowers and candles. Simply creating an arrangement from grocery store hydrangeas and adding small votives to the table creates a gorgeous tablescape in the simplest way. I also love adding flowers in the guest bathroom, even if it’s just a bud vase. It’s a simple touch that adds a lot of aesthetic value.
Consider reserving a shelf in your hall closet just for candles so you can quickly grab and host. It takes a few minutes to stock them for future use but makes a huge impact on time you'll spend later, and it's much easier to place candles in your living room, bathroom and table when you know exactly where they are.
Overall, remember the main objective when you entertain is to create an environment that makes your guests feel special. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be complicated. By having these essentials on hand, you can truly be the host with the most in a matter of minutes.
See Southern Kitchen's Shoppe for other unique ideas