Right after well-applied lipstick and properly coiffed hair, knowing how to be a good hostess is about as ‘southern lady’ as it gets. But sometimes, the task of putting together a dinner party can feel a little daunting. But don’t despair, my friends, being the hostess with the mostest is so much easier than you might think. Here are 5 secrets to make planning a fabulous southern get-together breeze
1. Be seasonal and let the food rule.
Whenever I start to plan a gathering, I think about 2 things- the season and the food. Some foods just taste better at different times of the year. Think about what is in season and start there. Because we grow a lot of what we eat, choosing seasonal dishes seems quintessentially southern even if you did grab those ingredients from the frozen section of the grocery store.
After I let the season help me choose what I put on my menu, I let the food help me pick everything else- flowers, table linens, dishes, and how the food will be served. Why? Because here in the south, almost everything we do revolves around a good meal, so why not let everything about your event help your menu shine like the star it was meant to be? I try to think in generalities- Does the menu seem formal or causal? Where would I expect to eat food like this? How can I create an atmosphere that coordinates with my menu?
When we put together this dinner, we started with the idea of Indian summer, those golden days when summer lingers into fall and dining al fresco is the thing to do. These are the days of peaches, figs, and the first greens, all of which found their way onto our pizzas with a southern twist menu.
2. Enlist the help of everyone.
Everyone in my house has a job, or sometimes jobs plural, to do when we are preparing for an event. This is a good thing for a lot reasons. My daughter, almost 17, is a hostess in training whether she always likes it or not. One day, she will be glad that she knows how to do things like cook, set up a buffet line, and anticipate the needs of others. It will be more of an asset than she knows.
The same goes for my teenage son. While he might have jobs like helping his dad string lights or mowing the yard, he is not excluded from learning the fine art of setting a table or setting out table cloths. Not only will his future wife appreciate that he has practiced being involved and helpful, it will also help him be more appreciative of her as he knows the work that goes into even the small things.
3. Use what you have.
It is easy in the designer age of Pinterest to think that you don’t have the things you need to put together even the simplest of birthday parties, but I promise, you don’t have to go out and purchase all new things when planning your soiree. Don’t get so focused on recreating exactly what you’ve seen somewhere else that you overlook or discount what you already own. Think creatively, or outside of the box, about the chairs, tables, napkins, dishes, etc. you already have. See your own belongings in a new light! Something you already have might be used, or mixed and matched, in a way that you have yet to consider.
For this dinner in particular, I got all hung up on needing a farm table to create the look I wanted and almost let it become a big deal. But, once I got a hold of myself, I remembered an old wooden picnic table that we keep out by our fire pit. It isn’t a farm table, and it had to be hauled halfway across the yard just so we could use it, but it sure as heck worked!
4. Borrow when you need to.
Sometimes, no matter how creatively you look at it, you just don’t have that one thing you need to set your table or serve that dish. But take heart! You still don’t have to go out and spend a lot of money. These are the times when you ask to borrow. For this mix and match al fresco dining event, I borrowed 3 chairs to round out my look. It made all the difference and saved me a ton!
Here are some words of caution about borrowing though:
- 1. Borrow very sparingly. If you find yourself having to borrow A LOT in order to put your evening together, then it is time to rethink what you are trying to achieve and come up with something more along the lines of what you can actually do yourself. If you can’t do it, then do something else. What matters most is that you are hospitable, not magazine-worthy.
- If you find that you are borrowing the same thing over and over, then that might be a sign that it is time to get one of your own. (Note to self: I guess that means I need to get my own card table.)
5. Do as much ahead of time as you can.
This goes for everything- food, flowers, setting up tables, etc. And by ahead of time, I mean start a day, better yet two days, before. Iron table cloths, set up tables and chairs, create your centerpieces, decide how your food will be served. I even get out all the dishes, silverware, glasses, coffee cups, linens, etc. and set them aside.
Have your ingredients purchased and prepared. Do all the dicing, slicing, chopping, mixing, measuring, boiling, baking you can do the day before. It’s best not to choose foods that have to be prepped, cooked, and served all in the same day. You won’t have time to slave in the kitchen! On the day of the event, there is enough to worry about with setting tables, making adjustments, adding last minute touches, and completing the last cooking steps for your menu.
Oh, and don’t forget to leave time to get dressed! Lips and hair don’t just happen.
Here’s one last morsel for the road. (#6 And it’s probably the most important.) It isn’t your table or any other “thing” that is going to make your gathering a success, it’s you. Being a good hostess is really about making others feel comfortable and welcome by being sincere and warm and just being yourself. Your guests are not going to be as hung up on the details as you are. So relax and remember the reason you are having this get-together in the first place- to be with the people you like!
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