KEEP IT SIMPLE! For example, I usually do not cook more than one main dish, two sides and a dessert. Don’t be worried that it will look like there isn’t enough food, there will be. Guests tend to be unimpressed with the number of dishes you prepare. Guests, as they should be, are impressed with taste. Really focus on the few dishes you prepare using fresh and quality ingredients. Preparing too many items will inevitably detract from the quality of your dishes. Remember, you are a host, not a caterer. Quality does not mean complicated.
PLAN AHEAD. Jot some ideas down ahead of time about your event. Whether you are thinking about potential venues, menu items, guests, or party themes, planning ahead will always pay off. For dining out, research restaurant menus ahead of time to make sure your vegetarian-no-carb-gluten-free-lactose-intolerant guest can easily order off the menu [or just leave this friend at home]! Write out your menu, shopping list and plan of action ahead of time, re-read it, edit, re-read, and be familiar enough with it so that if you left the list at home [which you probably will if you’re like me], you could wing it at the market. Try to spread your “to dos” throughout the week as many things can be done ahead of time. Purchasing alcohol, setting up the bar and setting the table are some examples.
PLAN FOR THE WORST. Buy extra and assume everything will go horribly wrong. Have a backup plan. Then have another backup plan.
DON’T STRESS. This tip ties into planning ahead. The more you plan ahead, the less stressed you will be. If you do find yourself stressed, just take a deep breath, relax and remember this is supposed to be fun. You want your guests to feel at ease and comfortable. Most of us don’t wear stress well on our face. With all that being said, don’t attempt to make soufflé for the first time when you’re trying to impress.
SET A BUDGET. This can also tie into planning ahead. Expect to go over your budget, but only within reasonable measures. I do not believe good hosting and event planning is about spending a ton of money, but about doing the best possible job you can within your means, whatever that may be. The more you host and plan events, the better you will get at budgeting.
CENTERPIECE. Whether big or small, simple or lavish, I think having a centerpiece adds a nice warm, welcoming touch. I am not suggesting spending a ton of money. ANYTHING can be a centerpiece; bowl of lemons or limes (great for spring or summer), bowl of pine cones (festive for fall or winter), bowl of green apples or simple flowers such as hydrangeas. One suggestion I have is that if you are hosting a sit down dinner, keep your centerpiece relatively low. There is nothing worse than not being able to see all your guests during dinner convo. You have more wiggle room for a taller centerpiece if you are doing buffet style.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Know their dietary restrictions, food allergies, food preferences, expectations for the event, budget (if applicable), and so on.