I’m not talking about, “Pick us up at the airport! We’re here for the weekend!” type guests (and seriously, who does that without any notice?) I’m talking about the, “Hey, we’ve got 20 minutes to kill before dinner with the in-laws and we’re in the neighborhood, can we stop by?” kind of guests.
My husband and I live on the busiest street in (what I like to think) is the most happening neighborhood in town. Like, directly on the street. We parallel park our cars and everything. This means our friends are constantly driving by, shouting things at us from their cars, and generally just stopping in unannounced. We love it.
Except for the rare occasion when it’s like, “Oh crap, XYZ is outside. I told them we had plans but we’re really just watching Dexter stuffing Pizza Hut into our faces, TURN OUT THE LIGHTS!”
Anyway, over time I’ve learned a few things to keep around so I always feel prepared for these drop-in guests. Little things like these are what make people think that I’m apparently some kind of Excellent Hostess. I’m not. I’m a mess. I’m just ridiculously type-A and have reduced guest-having into a spreadsheet-like formula. I like to think I’m my particular brand of crazy so folks like you, dear reader, can benefit. So here you go.
Not, like, fancy nuts just…nuts. Multiple kinds. See, the difference in putting out a bowl of peanuts that looks like you just opened the pantry and panicked and presenting nuts in a way that screams “well prepared!” is having a couple different kinds. Seriously, that’s it. Some cashews, almonds, and peanuts in a pretty little dish are enough to give you hostess street cred.
2. Ambient Lighting
Don’t run out to Home Depot and install dimmers all over your house (although really, dimmers are totally underrated.) Just have a few lighting options in your head before people come over, depending on the natural light you’ve got. If you don’t have a lot to work with, move a lamp into the room! Add a candle! The light under the microwave? Not just for cook prep…that’s mood lighting, baby!
Like, something other than your Ikea set from college. Real, adult wine glasses cost about $7 each at Crate and Barrel. Spring for some. And don’t stop at alcohol glasses! Having a glass pitcher full of water and a few pretty juice glasses make people think you’re so grown up for some inexplicable reason.
SPEAKING of nice glassware…always keep lemons or limes around. First of all, they’re super cheap. Secondly, they last for weeks in the right conditions and C, they make a fabulously “effortless” centerpiece. And there are so many uses for citrus! Slices in the aforementioned pitcher of water always seem so Martha and mixed drinks are imminently more doable with a slice of citrus available.
You guys, I cannot tell you what a good decision it was to start buying only white serving pieces. They’re incredibly cheap (HomeGoods!), easily replaceable when broken, and every meal I serve whether it’s two dishes or nine MATCHES! Highlight the food – ditch the girly, colorful stuff. I know, I know, the Summer Stripes collection was on sale at Target. Save the money and stick to what will carry you through years to come.
You know how I said candles are good for light? There is nothing that kills the Come On In! vibe more than a house that smells like dog. Or fish. Or garbage disposal. A mildly scented candle lit just before people come in (or after…be flexible!) makes your home feel livable and inviting.
Buy one set of cocktail napkins and I swear you won’t think about them again for 2 years. They last for-ev-er. Set a few out while people are drinking and their brains subconsciously think, “Wow. What a great host/hostess. I feel so welllcccommmeeee.”
8. Ample Seating
We have a relatively small entertaining space. As I’ve mentioned before, the great tragedy of my adult life so far is that I don’t have a dining table. At all. But we purchased a sofa with a chaise specifically so more people would fit if necessary and we’ve got a couple of barstools that only get used when guests drop by. Seating for everyone makes people feel welcome and FYI: if someone needs to perch on the counter/sit on the floor it should be you, Hostess With the Mostess.
Even if you don’t drink, even if you hate wine, even if you’re categorically opposed to grapes, Keep. Wine. In. Your. Home. One bottle red, one bottle white (in the fridge! Ready to pour!) Wine has been the international symbol of fellowship since, like, Biblical times.
1o. Background Music
Tom and I have this nifty techy thing (I don’t know, he installed it) that lets Pandora radio stream through our TV. How fun! Having a little music on when people come in makes them think that (a) they’re not interrupting you (b) you’re so sophisticated you just sit around drinking wine listening to Smooth Jazz in your spare time and (c) they can relax.
You see these? They’re two and a half weeks old. They started as a bunch of 6 that cost $8 at the grocery store and this sprig is all that’s left but every single time someone comes into my house they remark on how much they love hydrangeas. Nothing says you live in your home or you care about the details like fresh flowers. And they’re pretty!
I am loathe to give away too many of my “hostessing secrets” lest my friends start noticing them when we’re hanging out and making endless fun of me. It’s for the common good, I suppose. A few more tips:
- Be barefoot! You’re in your own home. Nothing says, “Come in! Be comfortable!” like the fact that you’re not wearing shoes.
- Start drinking before guests arrive. That way they’ll feel like they entered the party, not like they’re responsible for starting one.
- Have a stand-by activity on the ready in case things get slow. Ours is an endlessly entertaining small furry animal. Yours could be a baby, a photo album, even a joke. Just have something in the back of your mind and you’ll be less stressed.
- Don’t be afraid to kick people out. It’s your house! If your guests don’t get the memo when you start turning off lights and corking the wine, pull out the ‘ol, “Well, it was so great to see you! Thanks so much for stopping by!” The knowing-when-to-leave part is awkward for everyone.
What are your foolproof hosting tips? Got any good ones I can steal?