Avoid Handling Knives While Drunk, and 42 Other Hosting Tips

How to host in NYC thanksgiving


 couple months ago, I invited ten women over to my house for dinner. I sent the invite on a whim after reading this piece by Molly Conway about the benefits of hosting communal gatherings. I don’t own a dining table, maintain few cooking skills and am generally anxious before, during and after having people over so, naturally, I thought, This is my moment.

Two ghosts, three cancellations, and one bail attempt that I strong-armed my friend into rescinding later, there were six of us. I got an accidentally late start and was cooking well into the evening. The first people to arrive didn’t know each other very well. I forgot to add salt to my soup, which turned out to matter a whole lot. One friend brought a sweet and nervous dog who barked for the first time in its entire life. Another friend made a magazine-ready charcuterie spread that everyone forgot to eat. I accidentally served a dessert wine that was barely alcoholic.

And you know what? It was grand.

Although hosting a gathering of any kind requires a certain amount of forethought and wrangling — some of which I didn’t anticipate — I learned people genuinely want to get together and ultimately aren’t hung up on the specifics. So in the spirit of Potluck Month, and paving the way for communing more often, I asked the Man Repeller community for their best hosting tips to ease whatever burden does exist on the path to inviting people in. All that wisdom and more, below.

“Most of my friends want to save money, so recently, we all met for drinks at a friend’s apartment and had a friendsgiving meal at the diner around the corner. It was a cheap way to have that fuzzy warm feeling of a dinner party without the financial burden!”

Elena, 24, New York City

“Greet everyone and immediately make sure they have a drink. Not only does it make everyone more comfortable (no awkwardly empty hands), but it also helps people relax and talk. It seems so simple, but so many things can go wrong (*) when you are hosting and no one will really care that much!

*Dog eats entire cheese plate, you drop all your homemade ravioli on the floor, only three people show up, you forgot to change, there aren’t enough forks…”

Moriah, 27, Portland

“You don’t need to go all out decorating, rearranging or even deep cleaning your place. Candles and simple greenery or flowers go a long way. Also, delegate!!!!”

Lucy, 24

“ALWAYS account for people bringing plus-ones, twos, or even threes! Especially at ‘shared’ events like housewarmings or joint birthdays, it’s scarily easy to plan for 20 guests and end up with 35.”

Emily, 23, New York City

“Push all your furniture to the side, put whatever table you have in the middle of the room, cover it with candles, get creative with seating (an ottoman, the rack you normally keep shoes on…all fair game) and serve right out of the dishes you baked/cooked in!”

Lucie, 30, Los Angeles

“Think about the temperature! People’s body heat can make a small apartment unbearable really quickly. If you’re hosting in the summer, ask nearby friends to bring fans over to help you cool down the space in advance. If it’s the winter, make sure your heat is off before people get there, even if it’s freezing outside. When people get there, it will be hot immediately.”

Christina, 26, New York City

“Every year I host a sit-down Hanukkah dinner party in my small NYC apartment. I use collapsible benches instead of individual chairs to reduce bulk and make it feel more communal. And to reduce people having to maneuver around a crowded space, I serve my guests, so I’m the only one getting up.”

Julie, 25, New York City

“Do the shopping the day before. You never want to be stressed day of.”

Nadia, 25, Brooklyn

“SO MANY! A giant wood chopping board can be put over a (not hot) stove to create chopping space. Lots of veg (esp. cruciferous) can be prepped the night before for cooking on the day. If you need to boil potatoes for your recipe, those are better boiled the night before. H&M Home does great cotton tablecloths and candles. These help change the mood for not too much money. Cook fewer, better things! Your best recipes will always be much tastier than anything you have to worry about. If it all goes wrong, no one will ever complain about delivery pizza. Sitting down around the sofa before supper? Hosts should sit on the floor! People feel more comfy if you make it more casual. Make everyone bring dessert. It’s easier than hot food, and they normally go out of their way to bring something nice.”

Hannah, 30, Brooklyn

“I learned this from Shauna Niequist’s book, Bread and Wine, but when you’re hosting, always be personally ready (lipstick on, party outfit, etc.), because even if nothing else is ready, people don’t feel like they are intruding. Also, I’ve found having a closet or cupboard to throw miscellaneous crap in is very useful when you are speed-cleaning your kitchen or living room.”

Elise, 22, Utah

“I like having comfy cushions to set on the floor for people! We only have a small sectional in our 800-square-foot apartment, so having comfortable-ish floor seating is helpful! In a place where it’s common for people to have large houses, it’s tricky to feel like I ‘can’ host larger gatherings at our condo. But I do it and it’s fun and cozy!”

Emily, 26, Dallas

“Everyone brings something to the community table. Then we sort of cook everything together. Last time it was sheep cheese from Eastern Ukraine, wild honey from the Northern region, white smoked cheese from the Western mountains, apples and local wine.”

Daria, 24, Kyiv, Ukraine

“Always have at least two bottles of Prosecco chilling and ready! There is always a reason to pop a bottle and celebrate.”

Sarah, 43, Montreal, Canada

“For cocktails: Have a bowl of limes already cut up. It avoids people digging through your kitchen and/or handling knives while drunk.

For anything: Intersperse some ABBA and Queen in the playlist. It’ll make everyone perk up.”

Lisa, 25

“Make a cheese plate. Prep as much as possible ahead of time: Cook and freeze/refrigerate as much as possible and mise en place all your components the night before (i.e., if you’re making scratch-made stuffing, chop all of the veggies and toast the bread the night before). Total game-changer!”

Alix, 29, Westchester

“Introduce anyone who hasn’t met with something they have in common or could discuss. (‘Sally! This is my dear friend, Jimmy. He also did a long road trip through the southwest last year.’). And actively mingle people if someone seems uncomfortable or not engaged.”

Caitlin, 26, Washington, D.C.

“I have only hosted one large-ish party in my adult life, but these tips apply to all kinds of parties: A) Move breakable/important things so you’re not stressed. B) Have a few of your closest friends there before everyone else comes to help/calm nerves/pump you up. C) Listen to a groovy playlist so when people come in, it’s already rockin’!”

Mollie, 23, Upstate New York

“Don’t know it this counts, but I live in Norway, and it gets quite cold in the winter, so in my hallway I have a basket of home-knitted woolen socks that you can slip on when you take of your shoes. People automatically get more cozy and feel at home.”

Julia, 19, Oslo, Norway

“Have a good spread of cheeses on a cutting board and a candle burning! It instantly makes your place feel homier and more welcoming!”

Steph, 23, Boston

“[My tip is] repeating my general life mantra: I am involved, not in control. That reminds me that I’m hosting people who already love me, so I don’t need to earn anything by performing well for them, and also that I’m free to enjoy myself, too.”

Chandler, 21, Cincinnati

“Have poop spray and/or matches in the bathroom!”

Kelsey, 29, San Francisco

“Don’t have too many chairs. People are less likely to mingle effectively if there are too many chairs.”

Rachel, 32, Toronto, Canada

“Best hosting tips I ever received: Have a job for everyone (light the candles, open bottles of wine, something simple), hand everyone a drink as soon as they enter the home, playlists are key (you can also hand this task off to a guest in advance), always have too much cutlery because you’ll be amazed how many utensils each person needs throughout the night (unless you want to be doing dishes multiple times).”

Erin, 31, Brooklyn

“Host in a restaurant! Make a huge reservation at an inexpensive, uncool restaurant that will seat all your friends and doesn’t demand a prix-fixe menu. Ideal scenario is BYOB. Figure out the restaurant’s credit card policy beforehand (how many are they willing to split?) and before the check comes, figure out which of your friends want to get the credit card points and who prefers to Venmo. Bring disposable cameras so that everyone is encouraged to keep their phones away.”

Amelia, 30, New York City

“Don’t prematurely clean up/clear the table. That post-dinner/pre-dessert moment is the best. Just let it linger!”

Natalie, 25, Los Angeles

“I take a trick from one of my mom’s friends to always have a huge plate of different types of food out before my guests come so they can nibble as I finish cooking. Always salty and sweet stuff, can be anything kicking around my cabinets. Something about the variety gives a crazy feeling of opulence, even if the food itself isn’t fancy. If I’m having lots of people over, I’ll create little pockets of these snacks around my apartment so there are natural gathering spots for people to chat.”

Sophia, 27, Brooklyn

“When people ask what they can bring, have some things ready to tell them! They’re asking because they want to contribute and feel like a nice person, so when you shoot them down, it can be disheartening, even though you feel like you’re trying not to burden them. But always suggest something not crucial to your meal plan in case they mess it up. Appetizers, desserts, cheese, liquor…all only add to the event!”

Mandy, 30, Newfoundland, Canada

“It’s better to have more food than not enough.”

Niloo, 25, Atlanta

“Always think a few steps ahead of flaky friends! Say someone is responsible for bringing beverages or even appetizers — have an extra bottle of wine or some snacks in case one or more of your friends tend to run late.”

Marie-Louise, 27, Stockholm, Sweden

“Prep for guests, let them come over and finish getting things together, but then take off the apron and relax/enjoy and stop being a waiter to everyone shortly after.”

Mary, 27, Long Beach

“Cook something you love to cook and also get people involved in chopping/setting up, etc. Everyone has the most fun when the hostess is relaxed. Also flowers (do not have to be expensive — eucalyptus branches and/or thistles last forever and are cheap where I am) make any room look great.”

Elli, 34, London, United Kingdom

“I have bought pizza boxes from the 7-11 below my building to transport pies. Cheapest disposable potluck ‘Tupperware.’ Also great for lasagnas!”

Emma, 26, Toronto, Canada

“Crockpot recipes, especially making dessert in your crockpot! Makes your apartment smell amazing and it’s so welcoming to offer your guests a big batch of home-cooked food! Also easy cleanup for the win.”

Valerie, 33, Brooklyn

“Hosting changed for me when I realized that I didn’t have to serve up some perfect meal complete with canapés and matching wines. I could just serve up something cheap and tasty. My dinners were for laughter, community and a fun time, not for wowing them with an extravagant culinary experience. That’s what restaurants are for!”

Jo, 27, Berlin, Germany

“Always put napkins out. No matter what kind of party you are hosting, someone always spills something!”

Mollie, 26, Boston

“Buy flowers from Trader Joe’s and remake the bouquets from the pre-made bouquets. Give the new bouquets to your guests as little favors because no one needs that many flowers around the house after a dinner party. For topic convo starters, use the 36 Questions from NYTimes from a couple of years back. Also! Breathe!”

Erin, 24, Seattle

“No one cares about the food if they’re all drunk.”

Alexandra, 26, New York City

“Always be prepared for non-drinkers! The number of times I’ve been offered water or milk is painful!”

Sophia, 27, Brighton, United Kingdom

“Don’t expect any help with the clean up, it will make those who do offer seem so much more helpful.”

Mia, 22, London

“When I have folks with dietary restrictions coming over for a meal, I try whenever possible to make a meal that everyone can eat. While sometimes it takes more time/planning/creativity, I think it makes everyone feel more welcome.”

Ruby, 24, Brooklyn

“Always have a cheese plate and wine on hand in case you burn the actual meal!”

Jennifer, 24, Washington, D.C.

“When my parents met my husband’s parents for the first time, instead of putting people’s names on their place cards, I put their birthplaces! When everyone had to find their seats, it was a fun, immediate ice breaker. It could be fun to do with a group of people living in a city who don’t know each other, too!”

Victoria, 29, Boston

“Always buy/provide more wine than you could possibly imagine you’ll need! And I like to keep it casual and chill; I’d so prefer that a guest bring whatever they happen to have or feel like they do best, or just a six pack of beer, or, heck, just themselves — rather than not show at all because they realized they didn’t have time to make that very involved stuffing for which they’d signed up on a spreadsheet. No spreadsheets!

But my biggest tip is to just do it: Send an email, round up all your friends, invite them over to meet each other and eat and eat and eat and get a little drunk or quite drunk. Just throw the darn potluck — don’t wait to be “the kind of person who throws potlucks.” Don’t wait until you have a bigger apartment, or a partner to do the dishes, or more friends, or more money, or more cooking experience…or for any fantasy future self that is more graceful and adroit and friendly and loved. You are already just the sort of person who throws potlucks, if only you’d throw one, and, frankly, all your friends are hoping you will.”

Eliza, 27, New York City

Illustrations by Pauline de Roussy de Sales.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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