Hosting a few friends for dinner shouldn't be an anxiety-inducing experience. We're all about scaling your party to match your enthusiasm, and not the other way around. But if you do want to boost your zeal for entertaining and start throwing bigger, better bashes... we have a few ideas. You can become a more confident host if you know a few organizing party tricks.
Make room in the fridge for food and drinks
Whether you're hosting a big family potluck or just expecting a few friends for dinner and a card game, know this truth: Party guests come with stuff. Yours might arrive with dishes of desserts or six-packs of beer for the party, or they might just have a bottle of champagne in hand for you as a hosting gift. In any case, you'll want to make sure you have some empty room in the fridge for your guests' accoutrements. If it's especially hard to make space, ask a neighbor—somebody you've already invited to the fete, of course—if you can tuck some things (anything you won't need for the party) in their fridge for the night.
Plan out placeholders for your spread
The night before the event, write out the parts of your menu on small note cards or post-its, and plot out a place and a clean dish for everything in your spread. This way, you'll get to make sure you have enough dishes for everything—without having to scramble through cabinets or go on a wash spree in the middle of the party.
Predict and plan for trash and recycling
Lest you want to be interrupted 25 times to be asked if you recycle, make it clear with trash and recycling bins that are out in the open and clearly labeled. And make sure you have enough: Rather than replace the liner and take the trash out mid-party, a better move is to station multiple bins around the place (including outside).
Also, if you're serving anything that produces what I like to call "instant tiny trash"—like pistachio shells, olive pits or the caps of beer bottles—leave out a dish right next to the source (the bowl or the beer cooler) to collect the waste as it appears. Get the dish started by opening a beer and downing a few pistachios before anyone arrives.
Prepare an emergency stain kit
The second red wine hits the carpet, the clock is ticking. Be a stain-fighting super hero by gathering every possible cleaner into one handy kit so you don't waste precious seconds climbing to the upstairs bathroom and fishing through a drawer for the stain remover you know you got as a gift a few years back. (This stuff works wonders on wine, and blood too, actually.) Gather everything—Martha Stewart has a handy list of essentials—into a basket and keep it close to where the action is.
Empty your bathroom bins and refresh the toilet paper
You've got the party trash under control, but now it's time to head to the powder room. Give it a quick refresh by taking out the trash the morning of the party, lining the bins with new liners, and putting a fresh roll of toilet paper on the holder for guests (you can tuck away the half-used roll or put it in a private bathroom).
Leave out disposable hand towels
The one place I would recommend disposables for a party is in the bathroom. Three reasons: It's less laundry for you, a fancy hotel-style experience for your guests, and nobody has to feel weird about handling a really damp hand towel towards the end of the night.
Designate a dish pan
To make dish washing the next day a breeze and to keep dirty dishes out of sight and out of mind while you're still enjoying the evening, designate a dish pan. You can grab a cheap dish pan from Amazon, or just use the bottom of a big plastic container. Either one will get the job done. Bring it out and leave it near the sink towards the end of dinner, then drag the full bin to a more hidden spot to keep the kitchen tidy for late-night drinks and conversation with your last few lingering guests.