Entertaining season is in full swing, so luckily Babe Scott, the Lazy Hostess, shares her tips on how to host guests in style without having a nervous breakdown.
Excerpt from The Lazy Hostess by Babe Scott. Published by Random House, RRP $29.95.
1. Recruit a friend to play the role of sous chef
There is nothing lonelier than cooking solo, especially when you don’t know your left elbow from an artichoke. I never cook alone. It’s as much fun as a private joke. Recruit a friend with culinary talents to be your sous chef. Cooking with a friend turns the preparation itself into a social event. It means you will have someone to chop onions and share tall stories with as well as confer on the menu. He or she can also make sure you stay on course and don’t get distracted and incinerate the meal. They can also teach you all their tips and tricks, like making sure the oven is turned on.
Make sure you both taste everything so you can compare notes on flavours. Having someone else to consult will give you the confidence to add a little twist here and there to suit your own tastes. Spending time in the kitchen is also a great bonding exercise and you two, or even three, can share a spot of sherry to get in the mood before the guests arrive.
I guarantee you will learn more about your foodie friends in the time it takes to put together your finger food menu than if you had known them for years. There’s something about the camaraderie of the kitchen that inspires confidences. But, remember, what goes on over the stovetop stays over the stovetop.
2. Pre-plan the evening
More important that you have time to relax, do your nails and douse yourself with perfume. You want to look and feel perfectly edible. You don’t want to be outshone by the hors d’oeuvres.
I suggest preparing everything you can ahead of time. Any items you can pre-cook and freeze, do so on a rainy day with a friend. Then you can simply defrost and reheat them on the evening. It’s also better to spruce up your space and put together your party playlist at least the day before. And make sure at least a few items can be served at room temperature.
Make sure you have pre-thought everything else so you don’t have any last-minute panic attacks. The soundtracks and any sprucing up are also best done at least the day before. Make sure your kitchen cohort arrives early to help with the pre-heating and plating, and that you have a bunch of platters to put things on. This way, you will get to spend most of the day preening. If you do forget anything on the appointed evening, just pour yourself another drink and don’t worry. Throw up your hands and let someone else take care of it.
3. Delegate like a true diva
Friends love showing off their talents, so make sure you avail yourself of any skills they might have. Make sure you delegate someone the role of official photographer. There is always some friend who thinks of themselves as an aspiring Mario Testino or David Bailey who will enjoy taking paparazzi-style snaps. Being the group happy-snapper is a great ticket to popularity as everyone (or at least all my friends) loves posing. This way you should have some great photos to mount on your wall of infamy and also to put in your party scrapbook later.
Palm off whatever other tawdry tasks you can too. For instance, you might have a friend who is great at decorating, so get her to help you create a festive atmosphere. Some other acquaintance may have a fantastic CD collection . . . you follow my drift. Delegate like a cocktail-party diva. This way everybody gets to feel like part of the event and his or her respective talents get recognised. Just make sure you point out and applaud each contributor’s efforts at some point during the evening. This also gives them plenty of talking points and gives you a good excuse to raise multiple toasts.
4. Serve an icebreaker signature cocktail
Nothing kickstarts a party better than serving your guests a signature cocktail at the door. It’s like giving them a dose of rocket propellant. It loosens people up straight off the bat and creates a great icebreaker by giving them something to talk about. It also adds a touch of pizzazz.
Make up a fabulous name for your libation that helps set the right tone for the evening. A good trick is to give it a slight twist and name it after yourself – for instance, the ‘Janetini’. This will lend it a little of your sparkling personality. Or call it something seductive like the ‘Sexytini’ and tell everyone this magical mix is an ‘aphrodisiac in a glass’. Nothing like the power of suggestion. And everyone can blame your mystical potion later for their misbehaviour.
5. Set a dress code
Another way to set the right tone straight off is to have a dress code. It’s all about flaunting our frocks and putting on the ritz. I like to pretend I am Princess Margaret holding court on the island of Mustique, or I will take fashion inspiration from Ginger Rogers or my all-time favourite fashion icon (‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way’) Jessica Rabbit. Thank God for push-up bras and shapewear. Dressing up is half the fun. Otherwise, you may as well go out and eat a falafel at your local food stand. And where’s the romance in that?
6. Let the games begin
Running a cocktail party is akin to running a daycare for delinquent children. I generally find guests regress to an infantile state as the night wears on. Just like controlling a hyperactive class of under-fives, you must make sure your charges are adequately fed and watered or they will become fractious.
I find having some fun activities on hand also helps. For instance, buy a karaoke machine from Toys R Us and let your friends take turns warbling. You may want a giant hook to get some of the keener songsters to leave the microphone, but it’s guaranteed hilarity.
7. Start a cocktail party guest book
Finally, start a guest book that your friends can write in before they leave. Try to select the ideal time for them to make the most flattering comments. This should be when they are drunk enough to be generous with their superlatives but not so loose they can barely string a sentence together. I would suggest the ideal time is after a few beverages but before they start bopping on the dance floor. Encourage them to put into words what a fabulous time they had and let them know that they can’t be effusive enough, that high-flying fits of hyperbole are more than welcome.
Self-styled kitchen vixen, Babe Scott, has just released her new book, The Lazy Hostess, the ultimate guide to getting you through the party season in style – without fuss. We think The Lazy Hostess would make a great Christmas present for your BFF, sister, mum or aunty.
Julia has lived and worked in London, Amsterdam, and New York, and is obsessed with food. She's either cooking or thinking about what to eat next. Follow Julia on Twitter.