• Spread out the food. If you're hosting a big party, the night will go better if you spread the food out so that people will similarly spread out. There's a natural tendency for people to hover near the kitchen, and if it's overly crowded, this can impede good conversation or comfortable social interaction. Putting snacks in different locations throughout your space can help disperse the crowd a bit.
• Abandon your insecurities about your home. As Adrienne has pointed out, "the laundry list of excuses for not hosting is a mile long: maybe your place isn't 'done' yet, or it's never as clean as you would like, or you don't have the 'right' servingware." Even the most stylish people sometimes have insecure moments, and this is the perfect chance to have an excuse-free zone and get over these worries. For one, you may have just participated in the January Cure, which means that your home is feeling revitalized, fresh, and ready for guests, even if it's not "done." Your home is looking better than before, so why not share that joy? And even if you didn't participate in the Cure, don't hesitate to have people over. If we keep waiting for our homes to be "done," we'll be waiting forever. Chances are, your friends and acquaintances are going to be more interested in your conversation and company than in your servingware, and the things that bother you the most about your home may very well fly under their radar completely.
• Remember: these are your friends. Don't be scared of them. I have friends who have seen me in pajamas a thousand times, who have seen me cry, and who have seen me at both my best and worst. They know me inside and out. Yet for some reason, when they come over for dinner parties, I sometimes go into hosting mode, getting riled up about everything being "perfect," and I completely forget that the people I'm hosting are my friends. Take a deep breath and remember that your party isn't about serving the most delicious food that they've ever had, having just the right number of candles, or showing off the freshest flowers. Your friends aren't judging you for perfection; they already enjoy you for who and how you are, and they're just interested in hanging out.
• Be prepared for minor damage. Yes, it's awful when things get spilled, when marble gets marked up with rings, and when carpets get tracked with mud or snow. But try as hard as you can to just let it go for the night. Domestic guru Rita Konig has some apt words for such situations:
You just have to get over it; the burn mark in the middle of the mantelpiece and the red wine on the carpet come with the party territory. Try not to find out who did it or it will color your view of them and it is really not worth it. Some things will improve with age and simply become reminders of a good night.
If you're flitting about, wiping up water rings and cleaning up messes, you will make your guests uneasy (see the first piece of advice above). Instead, try to remember another of Konig's pearls of wisdom: "What would you rather have, to have lived a little or still have an immaculate carpet?"
(Image: Maxwell Ryan / A Modern Thanksgiving with Friends)