The biggest difference I’ve noticed between gracious and ungracious hosts is in intention (and, well, grace)—good hosts seem to enjoy their company, bad hosts act like company is a burden. A good host will often enjoy hosting, even if spending all day cleaning the bathroom and cooking four dishes is stressful, because seeing their guests happy makes them happy. Do not make your guests feel guilty about enjoying themselves, or be constantly reminding them about how much of a hassle this was for you to put together.
So how do you make sure you stay gracious? Here are a few tips.
1. Have a plan, or at least make decisions. There is nothing worse than showing up for a party (let’s say more than one or two who does not live at the residence) and the host has no suggestions on what to do. No thoughts on where to order out for dinner, no ideas on movies to watch or other activities, nothing. This is ok when it’s maybe a group of really close friends who can just hang out on the couch and “do nothing” in comfort, but not when there are ten hungry people in your living room and you got nothing. Be bold. Say you’re getting a bunch of tacos unless anyone has strong objections, put on your favorite album, just go. If someone really doesn’t want to do what you suggest, good, at least you’re getting opinions rather than an endless chorus of “I don’t care.”
2. Ask for help in advance. Often times when planning a party, guests will ask if they can bring/do anything. Utilize this! If it’s a potluck or something more casual, ask everyone to bring booze or snacks. If it’s a dinner party and you’re making or ordering everything, email or call these people back and say “You know, I think I have most of it under control, I may just need help setting up the table when dinner is served!” Most people will really be willing to do this, but it’s good to ask in advance, just in case no one can help. And if people do help, make sure to thank them. Also, do not decline help and then complain that you did everything by yourself. I have seen this happen way too often and it still confuses me.
3. Make sure there’s enough of everything for the duration of your party. Not every party needs to be a dinner-and-booze party, but what is served and available needs to be reasonable for people’s expectations. Did you invite people over for cocktails at 9pm and only have cheese, crackers, and chips out? That’s fine, since it’s past dinner time. But did you only serve cheese and crackers at an all-day backyard party? Bad idea. This doesn’t just involve food—that backyard party would also probably suck if there were no chairs or blankets for people to sit on, no music, and one game to play for 40 people.
4. If the party is going to deviate from accepted expectations, let people know, and then be understanding. I’m going to bring this to a common debate among people getting married, since a reception is just a giant party. It’s generally considered rude to throw a “full length” reception without serving dinner (i.e. cake and punch at a quick 3pm reception is fine, only cake and punch at a wedding that starts at 5pm and ends at 11 is not). While not ideal, I don’t think this is necessarily rude, as long as you set your and your guest’s expectations accordingly. Want to have a long, evening party and only serve dessert? Make that clear on the invitation, and don’t be surprised or offended if some guests leave early or arrive late to give themselves time to find some food.
5. Seating arrangements. Traditionally, at a seated meal, you will want to split up couples- they talk to each other enough! However, use your judgment here. Do the couple in question know other people at the party? Are they generally social? If so they’ll probably do fine apart, but if one of them is incredibly shy and only know his or her partner, being split up may cause anxiety.
6. Clean your bathroom. Seriously the rest of your apartment could be a total shithole, and you could close all those doors and no one would notice. I can guarantee every guest will be in your bathroom, and they will notice if it’s disgusting. It doesn’t need to be spotless, but at least wipe down the toilet, provide clean hand towels, and light a candle.
7. Have options for everyone, within reason. If 8 out of your 10 guests love lasagna and the other 2 think it’s just ok, they can deal. However, if those two guests are gluten and lactose intolerant and there’s nothing else for them to eat, you have a problem. You can’t please everyone, but try to gauge if there are any dietary restrictions or other preferences, and serve a mix of vegetarian, non-dairy, gluten free, etc. options. The same thing applies for alcohol, to make sure you don’t have a group of wine drinkers and only supply vodka. Also, have more than just water for the non-drinkers. (For a more thorough explanation of how difficult that can be, consult John Mulaney’s “I know you don’t drink” bit).
8. Pay. Part of hosting means providing food and drink, which also means going out and purchasing it. Now of course, there are plenty of situations where you are “hosting” by providing a space for the party, or Christmas rotates through the relatives houses every year and everyone brings a dish, or a potluck, where you don’t have to provide all the food and drink. But if you invite people over and say you are having a dinner party, you should be prepared to buy everything for the party. This is going to VARY a lot within whatever your social circle usually does, but it’s a good baseline to start with.
9. Don’t overexert yourself. If a group of people is coming to your house for a party, chances are they actually want to see you. Sure, plentiful food, good drinks and fun music are all nice, but not if their host is absent most of the night. See if you can have everything ready by the time people get there, with refills on dips or drinks in an easy-to-get spot. If you’re cooking dinner, find recipes you can make the day before and work well reheated, or that you can assemble and throw in the oven as people arrive. Or use all that help you asked for before so you can socialize and prep at the same time. Then go enjoy your party!