Cull your guest list
Ask yourself: What if everyone actually shows up? Where will they park?
Deal with parking
If you can afford it, hire a valet, and they will figure out parking, suggests Conway. Or find a parking lot (like a church lot) within a reasonable distance where you can arrange for people to park ahead of time. Post a person or even a sign at the bottom of your driveway to redirect cars to the right place.
Strategize the menu
To free yourself from the kitchen, think carefully about what to serve. “One or two things should be prepped in advance and served at room temperature,” Joseph says. “Then plan one dish that can go in the oven, one that you can prepare on the counter (like a salad), and one that you can prepare on the cooktop.”
Invites should convey as much as possible, says Joseph. Not serving food? Invite guests for “cocktails and conversation.” Seated dinner? Spell out what time the meal will be served. Specify where people should park and how far they might have to walk. And ask for a heads-up on any dietary restrictions.
Set the mood
Joseph likes to start off with soft music before building to an upbeat playlist mid-party. Once guests are sitting down to eat, she tones it back down. Try incorporating her no-fail trick: “Play whatever their version of ‘oldies’ music is.” If your guests are all in their 40s, blast tunes from the 1970s and 1980s.
Create a “wow” factor
Don’t have a big decorating budget? “Spend it all on one thing,” says Conway, like a show-stopping floral arrangement on your kitchen island or a dramatic ice carving. “Candles are great, but be careful. You don’t want them to accidentally set someone’s jacket on fire or blow out every time the door opens,” he says.
Remember the details
Lower the thermostat
“You’re going to be packing way more people into your home than usual, and those extra bodies can make things uncomfortably warm,” says Conway. Set an alarm to remind yourself to reset the thermostat before the end of the night, so you don’t wake up freezing.
Alert your neighbors
Stick a note in your neighbors’ mailboxes the day before the event, suggests Conway. “Say something like: We’re celebrating a special occasion tomorrow. Please call this number if you have an issue or someone happens to block your driveway.”
Put the bar at the back
“It gives guests a chance to walk in and take off their coats, and it also pulls them into the space,” Conway says. For a larger gathering, place a couple of bar stations in different areas of the party. “Guests will congregate toward the bar no matter what, so that will help spread people out,” Joseph says.
Edit your alcohol
A fully stocked bar can end up feeling cluttered (not to mention expensive). Consider a signature cocktail. “You can make large quantities ahead of time and serve them in pitchers,” Joseph says.
Spread out the nibbles
To keep guests moving about, consider having the first course served at the table and the other courses available at buffet stations, advises Conway. Later, you can serve coffee and dessert outside.
Be a good host
Lift a lull
Evening starting to drag? “Make a toast,” Conway says. “It refocuses everyone’s attention.”
Connect your guests
“Help people mingle,” Joseph says. “If you want to create a fun party, this is more important than serving incredible food.” Aim to greet every guest with, “Come over here; I want you to meet somebody!”
Say thank you
“Mannered guests will write thank-you notes to the host, but I also think it’s nice to thank your guests for attending,” Conway says. Or send guests off with a small parting gift: Set out Krispy Kreme doughnuts on the front porch or wrap up extra cookies to take home.
Kick ’em out—nicely
“If you’ve hired a bartender, ask them to do a last call,” Conway says. No staff? Circle the room and ask, “Can I get you one last drink?” And if that doesn’t work, says Joseph, “Just be honest and say, ‘I love you guys, but I am heading to bed.’”
Illustrations by Jochen Schievink
This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.