Ask an entertaining pro what the key to a successful fete is and chances are a mix of fun guests, good mood lighting, and an expertly shaken cocktail or two will be at the top of the list. That said—and as arguably important as those are—a handful of outlying (yet crucial) elements can take a dinner party from simply “a good time” to an exceptionally memorable one.
A curated menu, a cool playlist, and some thoughtful decorative touches (fresh florals and a lightly fragrant candle, to name a few) go a long way, establishing the mood and a lighthearted ambiance that will allow your guests to feel at ease. After all, when it comes to throwing a party, there’s little more we could ask for.
To help you become your best (host) self, we tapped Food Network star and chef Katie Lee for her tried-and-true tricks for throwing the perfect party. Read on for her foolproof tips.
Have a signature cocktail
Kick off cocktail hour with a specialty drink. In lieu of stocking up on a variety of mixers, spirits, and garnishes, stick to one or two cocktails to keep things simple—no one wants to be juggling five different bottles and twice as many mixers.
“Whether you’re having a movie night at home or a Friday night dinner with friends, a specialty cocktail takes things to the next level,” says Lee. Think about your menu before determining your tipple of choice and base it on a theme if you’re having a certain type of cuisine.
“Spicy margaritas are our signature cocktails,” notes Lee of her go-to drink when spending a night in with her husband in LA or when she’s throwing a themed dinner party for friends.
Allow guests the opportunity to customize their drinks with fun cocktail garnishes that go beyond the cliche (rosemary sprigs, we’re looking at you). “Lychees are fun and unexpected, and berries of any kind are always great,” adds Lee, “Edible flowers make excellent garnishes.”
Bite-size food is key
“It’s important that when you’re having a party—that’s not a sit-down dinner—to think about how people are going to eat what you’re serving,” notes Lee. If your guests have food that requires a fork and knife in one hand and a drink in the other, it’s not going work out, adds the Food Network star. Opt for bite-size snacks or a grab-and-go situation, such as a cheese board or plate of crudites.
Dress up supermarket buys
Speaking of small bites, Lee is all for that kitschy classic of dinner party staples: pigs in a blanket. “Just heat them up and pair them with specialty mustard,” she advises. The chef customizes her condiment by mixing frozen mangos (reheated beforehand) into Dijon mustard. Consider it a low-lift hack for elevating a store-bought basic.
Have something for everyone
The “dry” lifestyle is a growing trend and mocktails are becoming increasingly popular, plus it’s always thoughtful to have options for the designated drivers. “There are so many great flavored, carbonated drinks right now. Load up your bar with all the essentials for those who are drinking, but then make it easy to take one of those mixers and shake up a mocktail,” Lee suggests.
Set the background music
Cue up a themed playlist to enhance the mood you’re after. Lee’s go-to? “I like to put on the Aretha Franklin Pandora station. It’s so fun and upbeat.” Turn it up well before the guests are set to arrive—no one wants to walk into an awkwardly quiet room.
Be mindful of lighting
“Candles are a must. Turn overhead lights way down or off altogether and turn on a lamp instead to keep things looking softer,” advises Lee. Harsh lighting is an instant mood-killer and prevents guests from letting loose. “If your party is outside, string up cafe lights and use battery-operated candles,” she adds. It’s these details that make the real difference.
Last but not least, take a moment to unwind before the guests are set to arrive. “I try to have everything in order about an hour before guests arrive, during which I’m usually having a glass of wine with my husband,” says Lee. “The host sets the tone for any party, and if you’re relaxed, your guests will be too.”
More dining-in ideas:
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