We’re accustomed to gathering together for holidays and celebrations, but as the nights grow darker and colder, I encourage you to gather during the “nothing special days” and maybe throw a little party—just because.
Ask a friend to host with you and embrace a little extra time with that person as you plan a special meal to share with others. It’s the act coming together in friendship and fellowship that is really important. Gathering is really more about connecting and not about impressing.
The real thing to remember is that you should make your gathering personal, and uniquely you. Even with all of the preparation and planning, a dinner party should be fun for the host as much as the guests. Above all, no matter how simple or elaborate your dinner, focus on gratitude and enjoy the pleasures of a shared meal.
Here are 12 tips I use to help personalize my gatherings and make them a special time to connect with those I love:
1) Keep it simple
Simple does not mean keeping the menu to burgers and brats. I do encourage you to cook something you know how to make well. Don’t try a new recipe that is complicated and challenging. Your guests want to spend time with you not watch you freak out in the kitchen. Serve with confidence.
Forgo the typical arrangement in the center of the table and fill your space with multiple small arrangements – a garland or several bud vases. Keep the arrangements on the shorter side when it comes to your table. Foliage blocking view of other guests during a meal is a conversation killer.
3) Make a timeline
Determine the time you’d like to eat and work backwards. My clients say that the hardest part about entertaining is getting the timing down. The best way to overcome that hurdle is to be prepared. By making a timeline, you will take the stress out of the equation because you will have done the work ahead of time and know what to expect. Want a timeline template? Here’s one from the folks at the kitchn that I think is great.
4) Personalize something
Make your guests feel warm and welcome by handwriting a place card at each table setting. Mix up the typical seating arrangement and see what happens. If you want to print your placards, here’s a font I love to use.
5) For a festive touch, make a delicious punch.
I do not mean the overly sweet and fruity stuff you had at your 8th grade dance or your Harry Buffalo at college. I’m talking about something sparkly and festive that your guests will enjoy. The best part is that you can enjoy your party instead of playing bartender. Here’s a delicious punch recipe from Edible Cleveland’s editor, Jon Benedict.
Twinkle lights, candles, and lanterns, and a combination of them all, convey warmth and add that special touch. As darkness falls earlier each night, those smalls bowls in your cupboard (that you never use) can hold a tea light candle. Fill a Mason jar with birdseed and place a votive candle and other treasures of nature inside. There are endless ways to create lighting without spending a fortune. Light a dessert table in a different, creative way. Layering lighting can have a dramatic effect. Use different sources of soft lighting from different angles.
7) Make a playlist
Music. Music. Music. I cannot stress this enough! When the inevitable lull in conversation occurs, music is there to save to the day and eliminate that awkward silence. Plus, it helps set the mood. If you don’t have time to may your own playlist, check out Songza or Spotify where you’ll find different playlists for just about any event or mood. Here’s one of my playlists you’re welcome to use.
8) Use serving dishes
Serve your meal family style; it’s a great way to get people interacting with one another and removes the stress of plating each plate for your guests. Lay out all serving trays you will be using and place a label on each one for what dish goes where. This pro-tip makes it easy when it comes time to serve the food. And can make it easy to let your guests help if they offer. And here’s another tip, everything does not need to match!
9) Take time to toast
Be sure take the time to thank your guests and reflect on your gathering. These are not just for weddings. Get guests involved and tell stories.
10) Make a little treat for yourself the next morning
Waking up to a delicious coffee cake to reward yourself for your hard work is the perfect way to reflect on your gathering.
11) Upcycle for your next party
Save and reuse your wine bottles for water on the table or fill them with simple syrup for your bar.
12) Keep muslin on hand
It’s the perfect go to material for anything from a makeshift tablecloth or napkins, or you can use it to wrap gifts. You’ll find it for as little as $3 a yard.
—Kelli Hanley Potts is a passionate devotee of “the lost skills of the home.” Her mission is to help people rediscover the rewards of doing it yourself; to reconnect with kitchen, pantry and table, through her company The Agrarian Collective.