You've got your crudité arranged, your bottles popped, your friends are on their way over, and suddenly: anxiety hits. What if your party sucks? Theoretically, entertaining should never be a chore — but that's easier said than done.
Meet Jeanie. She's a party-planning wiz, who has mastered the art of the no-big-deal-soiree. As such, she's the spokeswoman for Aladdin, makers of the Insulated Mason Jar Tumbler and new Mason Entertaining Collection, a multi-functional — and not to mention attractive — way to simplify your entertainment arsenal.
In the hopes of allaying your entertaining-related anxieties I asked her to spill her secrets to being party-ready at all times.
Q: When organizing a casual get together, what are your thoughts about invites? Is email ok? Snail mail? How much notice should you give people?
J: I'm a fan of skipping the invite and just texting or emailing people if it's a casual gathering — that only needs a few days notice. If it's a more important event like a birthday or New Year's Eve, I like to use Evite or start an email thread a few weeks ahead of time.
Q: How do you determine the ideal guest list? How does size change the vibe of a party?
J: If I'm having friends over to watch the season premiere of our favorite show, I'd try to limit it to around five. That way, everyone can chat together, rather than breaking into side-conversations. Those should be close friends, too, who aren't offended when you shush them at the end of a commercial break. For a bigger party centered around a major sporting event or awards show, you can invite a wider range of people, because chatting (and sometimes heckling) is an essential element to enjoying these kind of events.
Q: How do you prepare for a party so you won't end up having to clean up for days after?
J: Sending people home with leftovers saves a ton of cleanup. And it's amazing how far a paper tablecloth will go in making cleanup a cinch: just grab the corners at the end of the night, tie it up, and boom: instant garbage bag and instant clean table.
Q: Do you have any easy decorating tips that won't make your home look over-decorated and twee, but will still make your space look festive?
J: First, clean up a bit. Throw everything that doesn't have a forever home in the spare bedroom (or a closet) and lock the door. Do a quick dust and vacuum — but don't go crazy as your place will likely need a good clean in the morning. Empty the dishwasher so you can stow dirty dishes. Fill the ice trays, pick up some fresh flowers from the deli, and then spend the majority of your prep time considering your outfit. You'd be surprised how much a snazzy outfit will draw the attention away the fact that you don't actually own a dining room table.
Q: Besides popping a mood-stabilizer, what are some ways to de-stress before family and/or friends descend upon you?
J: I like to crank up some tunes and pour a glass of wine as soon as the first friend texts that they're on their way. And most importantly remember that they're your friends, not judges on a particularly intense reality show about chilling at your friend's place.
Q: What are some essential elements every gathering should have?
J: Whether your party is going to entail more serious conversations or all-out dancing, you need a fitting soundtrack. Be sure to have a range of music ready for wherever the party leads. If making playlists sounds daunting, throw on a Pandora station or a pre-made Spotify playlist. Or just invite your DJ friend — they can bring their iPod instead of a six-pack.
Serve simple, good drinks. Pick up something with bubbles, or mix up some lemonade and vodka to serve from a pitcher, and then pour into Aladdin mason tumblers, for a cute presentation that basically takes no effort.
Food can be one of the most stressful elements of at-home entertaining, so why not just go as simple as you can? I'm a big fan of the basics: chips and salsa, pita and hummus, maybe get fancy and add some veggies and dip. Your freezer is also your friend here — heat up a few frozen apps and you're an instant gourmet.
I love party games, especially when you're bringing together people who don't know one another. Games can break up some of that awkwardness and get everyone chatting. Old-fashioned charades are always fun, and, best of all, you don't have to buy anything — just tear up some scrap paper from your recycling bin and find a good charades topic generator online.
See? Being the life of the party doesn't have to be a source of stress, so chill out. To learn more about Aladdin's mason jar tumblers and to get more advice from Jeanie, head here.
Maud Deitch is a Senior Content Producer at Studio@Gawker. She has written in SPIN, The FADER, MTV.com and other publications.