I invited my friend Sonia Checchia, party planner extraordinaire, to do this guest post. Her confidence-boosting and sensible tips are a fabulous starting point for getting back to hosting. Like my 10 rules for meal preparation success, her Hosting 101 tips are simple. Put them into practice and you’ll find hosting is like riding a bicycle. While starting up again may not be easy, once the party starts, you’ll be smiling.
So, without further ado, here is Hosting 101, not-quite-post pandemic.
How to Re-start Hosting – Hosting 101 Starts with 3 Tips
We’ve all been there. We want to have people over again, but we’re out of practice as hosts. How to re-start what used to be easy – a small dinner party with neighbors or close friends?
1. Refresh Your Rules
During the pandemic there was a lot of focus on “safely gathering.” To many, that meant a combination of testing, limiting interactions to people within your pod, physical distancing, serving individual portions of food (or bring your own…), making sanitizer available everywhere, etc. We got good at asking each other, “What are you comfortable with?” and talking it through.
Now, it’s time to ask yourself, “Which of those things are you ready to let go of?” If it’s been a while since you last hosted a gathering at home, it’s time to check in and see what works for you now. While many have thrown caution to the wind, other hosts are still requesting COVID tests and limiting the guest list.
I recently attended a private party at a restaurant where the host asked everyone to “Please test the morning of the event.” When I host, my practice is now a quick check-in text message one or two days before a gathering to say, “We’re all healthy here and looking forward to seeing you on Saturday…Just checking in…” I find that it prompts others to report out and generally puts your mind at ease. The important thing is that you find what works for you.
We now make use of outdoor spaces we had previously not considered for hosting events. What spaces are available to you? And where do you feel comfortable hosting?
2. Re-think Traditions
At the height of COVID we participated in ‘online everything,’ from weddings to Zoom-Mitzvahs to happy hours. We didn’t just ‘find’ and ‘replace,’ though. In the process, we re-thought traditions.
Is it really important to sing happy birthday and blow the candles, or do you truly dread that awkward attention anyway, and just want to serve/eat the cake? (Then by all means, do it!) The shift to virtual got us back to events with end-times as Zoom meetings timed out. I know many hosts who wish they had a flashing “party ending in 5 minutes” signal around 9 p.m.
Pandemic aside, we live at a time when we are not obligated to follow our grandparents’ rules for hosting, and the host sets the vibe. Think about what you most appreciate, own it, and do it your way. That may mean you make a ceremonial move for “one last toast” at 8:45 p.m., to wrap up the night. No explanations needed.
3. Start Small
As a few friends confided in me recently, a lot of us have gotten rusty at party hosting during the party hiatus. But there’s an easy way to rub that rust right off your party hosting self – start small. (Chalk this up to ‘do as I say’ not as I do.)
How about just drinks and snacks – rather than committing to a full meal? Pick one dish that you love to share and make a special drink. Add just a few extra touches and you’re done!
Consider pizza bianca.
In the spirit of “remembering what we learned,” I offer up a recipe that uses commercial yeast. My dalliance with sourdough starter during the pandemic taught me that I am not cut out for the responsibility of tending to a natural starter!
Serious Eats No Knead Pizza Bianca is an easy overnight version of this favorite Roman street food. It takes five minutes to mix, you tuck it in for the night, and when you wake up, it’s ready for the oven. Serve it along with cheese, grapes, nuts, and maybe a spread or two. Instant party. And just like that, you’re back in the saddle.
Hosting 101 in Practice – My Own Experience Starting Back
I’ll admit that my own hosting style is a bit more involved than yours might be and if you’re feeling rusty in the hosting department, I stand by my advice to start small. Still, I followed those Hosting 101 tips even in my first foray back to hosting and I can attest that they’re helpful no matter whether you go for the simplest version or something Martha Stewart might prefer.
Our first dinner party was a ‘spring fling’ dinner. Here’s how I did it.
- The invitations. I wrapped Slinky toys in marble paper and dropped them at our neighbors’ houses with handmade invitations. In the invite, we asked that guests “come prepared to share a story, song, poem, etc., about ‘spring,’ defined however you like.” (I later learned that one guest could not figure out what the toy had to do with the dinner, but one of my signature party tricks is to balance formality with a little whimsy. And yes, she came anyway!)
- The menu. We served only two dishes. The first course was steamy, creamy polenta with braised beef and mushroom ragu, to say goodbye to winter. The second course was a medley featuring bright greens, to welcome spring. Perhaps it was overkill, but we love to cook and breaking the menu into two courses added a sense of occasion.
- I kept my cool. The week of the dinner, one of our girls had a terrible cold, which made its way through the house. We postponed the dinner, did another round of COVID home tests, and eventually did host the spring fling.
When it finally happened, the evening was delightful. We polished off the polenta and exchanged our stories of spring. My spring item to share was in the second course: wild turnip greens sauteed with garlic. (Another favorite party trick is to weave dishes that have some personal meaning into the menu…so they double as conversation-starters.) My spring story? My family is Italian-American and is very big on bitter greens. For us, spotting turnip greens growing in a field is the harbinger of spring. Yay! Time to forage!
While the party was a success, it was unsettling to fill our dining room with guests. For a couple weeks afterwards, we hoped it was not a mistake to have thrown COVID-caution to the wind.
Looking back, we now realize that we’d take those two steps forward and then retreat again, back to isolation and masks, a few more times before truly “re-entering.” Still, we’re definitely back, hosting at not-quite-post pandemic levels and doing what works for us now.