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Yesterday, Joey and I had a few friends over for dinner and dessert. It was by no means the most elaborate or biggest party I’ve ever thrown — in fact, the whole thing came together spontaneously and in about six hours — but despite it’s simplicity, we had a lovely time with our friends eating, laughing, and catching up.

Because I grew up with a hostess-with-the-mostess mother then worked in the wedding industry and now work for one of the most famous hostesses in the world, I’ve always been fascinated by what details make a really great party. I still have a lot to learn, but I thought it could be fun (and helpful for anyone planning a party in the next few months) to share my favorite tips for planning a fun, stress-free event.

Here are my top five entertaining tip for newbies:

1. Set the table and make the salad ahead.

I always do these two tasks at least two hours before guests arrive. The table setting I might even do the day before if I have enough notice. For one, it forces you to start cleaning up. In my house, we use the dining room table to hold mail and other odds and ends that need to be put away. There’s usually a coat or two slung over a chair back. (I won’t name names as to whose coats they are…but they’re not mine.) The back corner of the room has also become an unofficial craft storage area. (Okay, that one’s on me.)

The point is, there’s quite a bit to be sorted out before it’s company-ready. All of which has to be done before the table can be set, so saying I’m going to set the table means I’m going to get the dining room ready. Plus, setting the table in advance means you can take your time, and the extra effort goes a long way. As for the salad, trust me when I say it will be the last thing you want to worry about when you’re trying to get dinner on the table. Make it early and keep it in the fridge.

2. Delegate, delegate, delegate.

I rarely make dessert or purchase wine for events in my own home. In my area, I rarely invite someone over who doesn’t accept with the phrase, “Sure, what can I bring?” Letting someone else bring a few drinks or a dessert lightens your load both physically and financially — let people help.

3. Presentation is everything.

There’s nothing wrong with serving something store-bought as long as no one ever sees the package. I’m not saying you should deceive your guests (if someone asks you for the recipe, ‘fess up), what I mean is that if you can’t be bothered to cook, the least you can do is serve the food on a pretty platter.

This goes for the table as well. Use place mats or a table cloth, and break out your nice dishes even if the meal isn’t all that fancy. (Hey, when else are you going to use them?) A pretty table sets a more festive mood even if the get-together is laid-back.

4. Two words: Cloth napkins.

Everyone feels a bit fancier and, at the end of the night, you just throw them all in the laundry hamper. Easy-peasy.

5. Clean up right after guests leave.

You will want to fight me on this one. After a day of cooking and cleaning and possibly a week of planning, at the end of the night you’ll want to put your feet up or answer your bed’s siren call while the dirty pots and dishes sulk in the sink. DO NOT DO IT. Believe me when I say there is nothing better than a successful night of hosting except the feeling you have when you wake up to a perfectly clean apartment. Odds are, the last time it was this clean was moments before your guest arrived. Don’t you want to revel in it a bit? So suck it up, wash the dishes (and dry if you’re feeling extra ambitious), clean the tabletop, swiff the floor, and take out the garbage. Then sit back with one last glass of wine before bed. You’ve earned it. (And you’ll thank me in the morning.)

Happy entertaining!

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