Entertaining with Style: Tips to Host a Fabulous Summer Party

Indy Maven’s “Maven of Merriment” shares her tips and tricks for entertaining at home.

plates of festive food

“The Maven of Merriment with Karen Kennedy” is a new series delving into ways you can make your life more “festive and delish,” whether you’re staying at home or going out on the town.

woman with red hair and pixie cut smiles with teeth with bright red lipstick and animal print scarf

Parties. Remember them?

Word on the street has it they’re making a comeback. If you’re entertaining the idea of entertaining, but feeling like you’ve forgotten how to attend a party, let alone host one, you’re not alone. Are you ready to dip your toes back in the water? Maybe start with a small group of people you know well, and do an easy, yummy, noshy buffet.

Entertaining is easy if you have a plan. Get inspired to plan a shindig and reconnect with the people you love with these seven stylish entertaining tips:

Tip 1: Plan a simple but thoughtful menu. Plan a menu that appeals to a wide audience and choose items that can be made ahead. Consider any dietary restrictions your guests might have and make sure you’ve included at least a few things they can enjoy.

six glass cups filled with ice cream and cookies with silver utensil poking in itFood: A menu of: sliders (maybe blackened chicken with mango chutney, or pork tenderloin with garlic-onion jam,) dips and chips, a local charcuterie and cheese board, fresh fruits and veggies, and some bite-sized sweet treats is perfect for a party at any time of day. *Pro Tip: Anything you put on a skewer or in a single-serve cup is festive, easy to make ahead, and perfect to grab-and-go at a party. (Think caprese skewers, fruit kabobs, gazpacho shooters, and tiny trifles in shot glasses.)

Keep your bar plan simple and self-serve — a red blend, a medium-dry white wine, and a signature cocktail (maybe featuring a wonderful local distillery!) you can make ahead in a beverage dispenser, with a non-alcoholic version stashed to the side if you have friends who don’t imbibe. Throw some sparkling waters in ice to keep everyone well-hydrated and you’re all set.

Tip 2: Get organized. At least a week before your party, make lists of when and where you’ll shop and what you’ll prepare in advance. Do everything you can the day or night before — dig out and wash your platters, set up your buffet and bar, organize tables and chairs, so you’re not too pooped to party by the time your guests arrive. For the day of the party, make a timeline and checklist for yourself, working backwards from one hour prior to your guests’ arrival, so you’ll have time to change your clothes and be fresh and ready to play. *Pro Tip: No matter how nice the weather is, avoid the temptation to grill! All of your food should be plattered up and ready before your guests arrive. You’ll be stuck at the grill when you should be saying hello and you’ll end up hot and sweaty when you should be fresh and ready to party.

Tip 3: Say YES to help. When friends say, “May I help with anything?” say YES. If your bestie offers to bring her famous spinach artichoke dip, let her, even if it doesn’t quite fit in with your menu plan. If getting ice is at the bottom of your list and you’re running out of time, shoot out a call for help. If a few people offer to stay and help clean up after, accept their assistance gratefully and use that time to catch up with them. Hostesses who try to do everything themselves can never be fully present at their own parties and everyone likes to contribute to the cause of having a good time.

Tip 4: Consider the flow. Position your bar and your food table as far away from each other as you can. Putting them together will cause a gridlock that will last all night. Your bar should be as far from the entrance as possible, as guests will head there first, and move quickly away from the door as other guests arrive. If you have a back deck or patio, put the bar back there and the food inside.

a charcuterie tray for entertainingTip 5: Presentation matters. It doesn’t take much effort to create a wow factor with even the simplest of party food. Find a pretty tablecloth and drape it over a few sturdy, inverted boxes (or even pots and pans) of varying heights and make sure fresh flowers are on your shopping list. Make a tall arrangement to create a focal point for your table. Then, grab a few blossoms from it after you’ve plattered up the food and garnish your trays with them to pull everything together. And don’t forget serving utensils!

Tip 6: Details, details … Little details can make a big difference at any soirée. Plan your music ahead of time and make sure it’s playing before your first guest arrives. If your party is outside, have bug spray on hand (and a Plan B in case it rains). Dim your lighting if you can, and light some candles. Have a plan for where your guests can put their coats and, for heaven’s sake, make sure your bathrooms are fully stocked with TP!

Tip 7: Make the connection. Sure, it’s fun to mix things up a bit and include work friends, neighbors, and old friends from your college days, but tossing them all together without helping them connect causes your guests to work instead of relax. Do a bit of homework in advance, find common threads that your guests share and include that connection when you introduce them to each other. Did one of your work friends and your next-door neighbor go to the same college? Is one planning a trip to Europe, while the other just returned from there? Do both of their kids play soccer? If you’re the only common denominator between your guests, helping them get to know each other quickly takes the pressure off of you and helps everyone have a great time.

Everything is going to be fine.

Take a breath and relax. It’s a party! Ultimately, whether or not everything goes according to plan, everyone is going to have a wonderful time. Your friends will be grateful that you made the effort to bring people together. The most important thing is that you, along with your guests, have fun and enjoy each other’s company. So, stop wishing you had a party to go to, and throw one yourself! It’ll be fine … I promise.

Karen Kennedy, Indy Maven’s own “Maven of Merriment”, has spent years in hospitality management and event planning in Indiana, Chicago, and New England, and loves nothing more than a party. She now serves as Events Director at Maven Space, a new, female-forward coworking and event space in downtown Indianapolis. If you’d rather not entertain at home, get in touch with her today to plan a fabulous party in this beautiful new space!

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