Here is a no-brainer guide to entertaining guests without breaking a sweat, plus we present tablescapes worthy of all the Instagram likes.
Start taking down notes, save this article, and yes, you’re welcome!
Ever wonder how people get by so easily without the stress and hassle of preparing for a get-together of a holiday party at home? While we’re here, clueless as to how, where, and when to start doing anything for it, some of our friends are natural entertainers. That is why as we approach the thick of Thanksgiving celebrations and Christmas dinners, we ask owner of The Sweet Life by Ange, Party Pals, and Pouf Cotton Candy business partner Ange dela Cruz, for some simple, memorable and doable expert advice. Best explained in her own words.
How do you design a menu?
"This is both the fun and tricky part, but I usually like to start with a theme that sets the tone of the menu, decorations and other details. Once I narrow it down to a theme, I start thinking of the dishes that match. If there is no theme, I usually default to a more interactive type of food experience that allows guests to be involved, move around and be a part of the prep somehow. I really enjoy hosting fondue nights (cheese, steak, chocolate, or all of the above in one night!) or putting together "build your own" types of spreads. The biggest advantage of this style is that most of the ingredient preparations can be done in advance and guests have the ability to choose what goes into their meal. This format works great if you're entertaining guests with varied food preferences. Here are some of my favorite build-your-own themes that I've done."
CHEAT SHEET: Build-Your-Own Themed Meals
Taco Tuesdays - "I prepare all the chopped veggies, beans, rice and other ingredients beforehand and cook / heat any meat and fish right before guests arrive. I then have an assortment of crispy taco shells as well as soft corn and flour tortillas for guests to use when they build their tacos. I also have a lot of salad greens ready for those who decide to go carb-less."
Pizza Night - "I either prepare or buy store-bought pizza dough beforehand, and shape them into mini rounds that each guest can personalize when they arrive. I prepare an assortment of toppings and a homemade tomato sauce so each guest can create their own pizza masterpiece."
Sushi Night - "Similar to the previous two themes, I prepare all the sushi ingredients before guests arrive and slice any sashimi-grade raw fish on the spot right before sushi rolls are assembled. As guests wait for each other's rolls to be prepared, I make sure they have some healthy and light Japanese-inspired salads ready for them to enjoy for the time being."
Christmas Hot Chocolate Bar - "I love doing this for my Holiday parties. I prepare a hot chocolate base the morning before and have a variety of marshmallows, candy and whipped cream for guests to top their hot chocolate with."
"One key practice I make sure to do before I start menu planning is to ask guests if they have any food allergies or special dietary requirements I need to keep in mind when planning dishes to serve. Even with the information I gather, I usually err on the safe side and have options ready for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. I always like to be prepared in case my friends bring other people whose preferences I wasn't made aware of beforehand.
When preparing a menu, make sure to plan for dishes that won't take your attention away from your guests. If you have the advantage of having an open kitchen and dining set up, then having to cook or finish off dishes still allows you to be with your guests. That's not always the case, however, so I usually prefer dishes where most of the meal prep is done in advance and all you have to do when guests arrive are finishing touches or keeping things warm in an oven."
What do you serve guests while you are busy cooking / finishing the main dishes?
"This can vary according to your personal preferences / what your guests like to eat, but I usually like to have a mixed charcuterie board / spread, some veggie sticks and dip, or a few bowls of chips, nuts or popcorn for them to munch on while they wait. Another option would be to welcome guests with a little salad bar so they can have something light that will allow them so have room for the rest of the meal. Tip: Keep salad dressings on the side and don't pre-toss salads before guests arrive if you know it will take a while before the rest of the meal will be ready."
How do you make an Instagram-ready table?
"Decorating the table is my favorite part of the whole process. I usually start with some inspiration photos and a color palette that I stay close to when picking decorative elements for the table. As much as possible, I like to factor in fresh flowers into my table settings. On some occasions, I'll use little accessories that will complement my theme. There are so many online resources like Pinterest and YouTube that will give you a wealth of ideas, flower arrangement inspiration, tips and DIY projects to help make your tablescapes beautiful and unique.
If I have enough time beforehand, I love designing my own menus and place cards for each guest and finishing them off with handmade touches so each person feels special. For Thanksgiving dinners, my place cards have space to write what they are thankful for so they can take them as a little party favor for the night. I sometimes include a little personalized present for each guest in each place setting such as a candy bag for Halloween with a gift tag, a chocolate bar with a printed label with their name on it, or a mini flower arrangement they can take home."
What are the basic things you should have in your inventory that create a basic tablescape?
"Invest in a basic but complete table set-up that has a design you love but can be versatile enough to work for different occasions and themes. I got my set from Crate and Barrel. The plates included have a unique shape with a gold rim detail, which match the gold rims on the champagne glasses that come with it. I love touches of gold, so this set easily matches themes I do and if there is no particular theme for the night, the entire set-up is beautiful on its own."
CHEAT SHEET: 5 Don'ts For Entertaining
Don't assume all guests have the same food preferences and diets; prepare options for meat-eaters, vegetarians and preferably vegans.
Don't be the host / hostess who barely sees your guests. In other words, don't create a menu that takes your attention away from your guests. They came to spend time with you, not for you to be completely preoccupied while they are there. As much as possible, pick dishes that involve mostly make-ahead preparations. Casseroles, lasagna, baked pasta and similar dishes are great options because you can finish them hours before guests arrive and keep them warm until the meal officially begins. Room-temperature appetizers, salads and small bites can be ready for guests while they wait for any hot mains to be finished off.
Don't overwhelm yourself! Don't be afraid to ask for help from family or friends or outsource certain parts of your dinner. My rule of thumb is to know your strengths and weaknesses, and to focus only on your strengths. Since I love making dessert, I always make sure to do that part from scratch on my own. There's nothing wrong with ordering some dishes from a restaurant or purchasing charcuterie platters from a deli; it also saves time for you to focus on other things you're better at. I am well-aware that music isn't my strength, so I always have Bluetooth speakers ready for friends who are much better at selecting music for the perfect dinner ambience.
Don't forget to end on a sweet note! Even when you serve a filling meal, have something small and sweet for guests to end their meals with. Whether it is chocolate truffles, macarons, cupcakes, or cookies, guests appreciate ending on a sweet note. It is also a nice gesture to set up a tea and coffee station. It is the little details like this that show your guests that you have thought of them and anticipated their needs.
Don't be afraid to ask guests to bring their favorite drinks / alcohol! I try to be a good host and have a variety of wines, champagne and some hard liquor on hand, but some guests have their own favorites that you don't stock at home. I'm very lucky to have friends who never fail to offer to bring something for dinner whenever I invite them over. I usually cover most or all areas of food, but encourage them to bring their favorite drink.
Special thanks to: Ange Dela Cruz Written By: Gerard Gotladera