Do You Entertain?

Entertaining played no part in my upbringing unless you count Sunday dinner after church at my grandmother’s house. In contrast, Mr. Mickey grew up looking forward to the dinner and cocktail parties often hosted by his parents. Over the years, I have attended some of his invitation-only parties for two-hundred of his closest friends, so I will share some of the tips I have learned from him.

Invite guests who have something in common. It could be art, music, tennis, cooking, gardening, or even Nascar. If everyone has a common interest, including knowing and liking you, they will probably have lots to discuss. Invite as many people as can be seated and comfortably move about your space. Include background music, but it should never be so loud that it gets in the way of conversation. These days most people are content with red or white wine, and it is a good idea to offer lots of water and tea. Always provide a light appetizer or snack along with the drinks. If you are serving dinner later, you should allow for about an hour and a half of socializing first.

Prepare only the dishes you have mastered or have the food catered for your party. You will want to greet your guests and be at ease throughout the evening. Worrying about overcooked chicken or otherwise stressing out in the kitchen can take away the fun, so only serve what you know always turns out well. A dinner party is not the time to try out a new recipe. If most of the meal prep is complete before the guests arrive, you will be free to enjoy their company.

If your home is tidy and comfortable, you need not worry about party decorations. Fresh flowers in a low arrangement on the table will add a festive touch. It is a good idea to walk through the public spaces of your home and look at it through the eyes of your guests. There should be plenty of tissue available, as well as fresh hand towels and a light on in the restroom. Extra cushions, stacks of books, and magazines should be put away to make room for glasses and allow for maximum seating. Pets should spend the evening in another area of the home or with a sitter. This is both for their safety and for the comfort of guests who may not enjoy them as much as you do.

The modern dress code is almost always casual when entertaining at home. Wear something comfortable that can be dressed up with accessories.

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Please share your additional helpful, entertaining tips in the comments below. Thank you for being part of this community!

  1. Susan, all very good advice! Entertaining should be a joy, not a burden. May I add a few thoughts for entertaining when children are part of the group? Our family ranges from 4 months to 96 years. I put anything dangerous/ breakable out of children’s reach. Clean your home enough to be presentable knowing that you will need to clean off fingerprints from walls etc. once company leaves. Have a few items out of sight so if a child needs a distraction there will be paper and stickers or bubbles to blow or similar to ease the little one’s tension of the moment. Accept that the good china and crystal do not belong on a table with children. And know that as much as you put plans in place things will happen and it is your responsibility to react in a calm and hospitable way. Better to have a small incident forgotten than a grudge that will go on for years.

  2. Wonderful suggestions! Like you, the only entertaining we did when I was growing up involved Sunday dinner after church or on holidays. And thanks for including the suggestion about pets….I have 2 beautiful cats that are loved dearly and have free run in our home. However, my daughter’s fiance is allergic, so we are mindful of this when he visits. You never know when a guest might have an allergy! Also, there is nothing more annoying than to be visiting a friend or family member and their dog jumps up, drools, sniffs, etc. We all love our pets, but it’s nice when common sense and courtesy are practiced!

  3. I totally agree that fixing food dishes that you haven’t tried before can be a recipe of comedy—-I’ve done that before and didn’t realize it wasn’t enough for all of the people at the table—eeek!! Luckily everyone was very nice about it, and there was plenty of wine!!
    My husband always puts on some nice music too—it’s something I never think about, but it seems to help!

  4. One of the things that makes it easier on me, is to hire a wait staff (one or two people) for the evening. This person will warm up and pass the hors-d’oeuvres and drinks, pickup the plates, napkins and empty glasses and let me enjoy my guests.

  5. Good morning, Susan! I just found your web site this morning and am LOVING it!! Your posts and videos are very helpful. I’m 63, and as I’m sure you’re aware of, there’s not much information out there for women 40, 50, or heaven help, 60+!!!! How refreshing to see a 60+ woman dressing stylish and looking vibrant with styled GREY HAIR and great makeup that’s there, but not overdone. I have to ask about your hair. When did you stop coloring it? I’ve actually been completely grey since I was 38! I’m now 63, so you do the math! Anyway, I’ve been coloring my hair for a very L-O-N-G time. It’s getting so hard to keep it colored before the roots are showing again; maybe 2 weeks, tops. My hair (natural) color is neutral medium brown. Sometimes I think I’d like to stop coloring, but am just not sure. A couple of years ago I did have it bleached out and some highlights/lowlights put back in. Somehow, I really didn’t care for it. Perhaps I should have done the going grey part slower so I could have adjusted to it? My mom died in June 2014 and I seem to be a bit lost. (She always helped me to look my best , as only mom’s can do!). Just wondering what you might advise. Have a blessed day! Michelle Hamric

    1. Thank you, Michelle. I don’t have children, so the blog is my way of passing along what I have learned to whoever is interested.
      I started seeing my first gray hairs while still in my teens and started to color my hair when I was eighteen. By my fiftieth birthday, I was more than ready to put down the dye. I will never consider coloring it again. I’m glad you found our little corner of the web here.

  6. Thank you for your wise advice! I just wish more people would be as thoughtful about their digs. So many people nowadays regard them as their children- and I would not want a child to jump on me, sniff me, yell at me, beg fir my food, smell offensive or any of the other things otherwise sane people let their dogs do! A ‘pet’ peeve, sorry….

  7. Susan, I look forward to your posts every day! This one hits home…I have often tried to do too much when entertaining and I end up in the kitchen most of the time. Another thing I often do is try new recipes…sometimes a good thing, but many times, not so good! On the topic of your outfit…very cute! I wondered if you had advice for staying cool and looking great as the weather warms up? I’m in Texas and the heat can be awful! I also do not care for wearing shorts or dresses, and sleeveless tops make me feel uncomfortable, too. What type of outfits do you recommend? Are the Covered Perfectly items cool or do they become too warm in summer? Also interested in the pants you sell in your shop…do they work well in summer and how do they fit? Do they tend to run large? Thanks for the advice you so freely share!

    1. A designer from in Flordia creates all of the crepe items on my site, so she understands dressing for the heat. All of the crepe pieces have been very comfortable for me in any weather. The navy tank dress with wide straps can be worn in a variety of ways, including with a jacket or scarf draped over the shoulders. I have worn the Covered Perfectly tops in L.A. when it was over 100 degrees. The designer of that line lives in L.A., so she is used to dressing for the heat as well.

  8. I just discovered your blog about two weeks ago… I am enjoying it so much! As a lifelong caregiver, I realized that I wasn’t giving myself the same care and attention I gave to others. You are such an inspiration, and your style ideas are as practical (for the average woman on a budget) as they are beautiful. Thank you so much!

  9. I grew up in a home that didn’t entertain, also, so I am always uncomfortable trying to do it. I think the tip about who to invite is a wonderful idea. As for pets, we were at a friend’s party once, and they had three cats. She thought it was funny when the cats jumped up on the table and counter and began eating the food! Needless to say, that was the last time we ever ate there.

  10. You always have good advice and ideas to share. I do love to try out new recipes on guests, though I choose carefully. So far no disasters ! Thanks again!

  11. I love to entertain but my husband not so much. So I have switched from dinner parties to luncheons and teas. My friends look forward to them.

  12. Yes we entertain as often as we can. Such fun and some of the casual dinners turn into quite the party!
    Love your advice on the dress code…I always try to be a bit more casual but with flair so everyone feels comfortable.

  13. Dear Susan, thank you for sharing all your great tips and ideas. This post was full of wise advice. I really appreciate your comment about pets. I have allergies to both cats and dogs and find pet owners often take it as a personal insult when I don’t want their pet jumping on me. Also, I appreciate when hosts refrain from using a lot of artificially-scented candles and fragrances. Many people I know also have allergies and sensitivities to these products. I love your elegance and style.

  14. We have an Egyptology group that meets once a month at our house. I put out all serving dishes at least a day or two ahead, and label each one with the food. Saves a lot of time & effort.

  15. Great tips. My husband and I entertain a lot. Another great tip that we’ve found is to set our table a day or 2 ahead and label each dish. I put pieces of paper into each dish, so I know what goes in each. This may sound simplistic, but when I get in a hurry, this takes the decision-making process out of the equation. It also allows others to help me put the various food items in the dishes (nuts, stick of butter, etc).

    Connie Briggs

    1. Generally speaking, in Canada it’s considered quite rude to wear your shoes in the house — I wouldn’t dream of it unless my hostess told me to keep my shoes ON for some reason, and even then I wouldn’t be comfortable. Even workmen coming in & out take their boots off unless you put down a runner of some sort to protect your floors/carpets. There are obviously exceptions to this, of course. I don’t want people wearing street shoes in my house, but when my elderly neighbour comes over I have her keep her shoes on because it’s a struggle for her to get them on & off. Common sense rules 🙂

  16. I love giving dinner parties. When we moved to our current home the biggest selling point was the ability to seat fourteen for dinner. Having a collection of table linens ready and waiting in several colors makes planning much easier. I take photos of each table before the guests arrive and a close up of the individual place setting and centerpieces. Then I attach a note with the guest list. That way I can be sure not to repeat with the same group. I also collect interesting placecards when we travel. I bundle them with covtail napkins, invitations, and other papaer items in ziplock bags.

  17. Susan, everything you’ve said here is spot-on! I, like others have said, like to have the table set the day before and even the fresh flowers cut, arranged and out. I like to have the place cards done and in the proper places, but sometimes, I’ve put them somewhere that guests can pick them up and choose their own seating, especially if we have more than one table setting. It can be more fun that way. If children attend, I seat them at a children’s table with lots of fun things to keep them occupied throughout the meal. You can even put fun little cards at each child’s place setting about “manners at a dinner party,” “washroom instructions,” “silly dinnertime jokes,” etc. If it’s possible, let them go to the den or a bedroom together after dinner to watch a favorite movie while the adults are enjoying drinks, coffee and conversation. I love your blog!! Such great topics and wonderful advice! Thank you!

  18. Love your blog! I am 68, 10pounds overweight. I am going to a mother-daughter tea, which will be outside. What do I wear? My legs aren’t great,! Thanks.

    1. You could wear a lightweight maxi or mid-length dress and put a shrug over it. These days, you will see women wearing pants and a fancy top to every event. What is the dress code? What will the weather be? How tall are you? These are also things to consider but being comfortable and able to enjoy the event is most important.

  19. Great advice. We use to entertain a lot, but now we keep it down to no more than two other couples for dinner and a game of cards. I still love the joy of having friends in my home to enjoy a simple meal and dessert.

  20. Plan to be dressed and ready with all in readiness 30 min before your guests arrive. Then enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine. You’ll enjoy the fruits of your labors and be the perfect hosts. Nothing spoils a party or dinner like arriving to find the hosts running around frantically and stressed out. Preparing all food in advance is essential. You belong with your guests, not at the stove.

  21. I’ve never enjoyed entertaining much. I love my friends but my home has always been my retreat & I love my privacy & quiet. My partner is more social than I am, though, & we do entertain as a couple more than I ever have by myself & I quite enjoy it. We’re super casual, though — rarely do we have a formal sit-down dinner, even for family. More often than not, we toss a couple of big salmon on the BBQ & fire up the crab pot & go from there. I do tuck the 2 cats away because they can be terrible pests (although I love it when I visit friends & their pets are available for cuddles; a little dog drool never hurt anyone). A couple of my more hippified friends wear long dresses or skirts, but the rest of us are usually in jeans & tees — I can’t honestly remember the last time my partner wore a tie & the last time he wore a shirt & sports jacket was on Valentine’s weekend, which we spent at an over-priced ocean resort that thought more highly of itself than was warranted. I quite admire people who entertain glamorously & effortlessly, though. I think the entire world would benefit from a bit more civility these days.

    1. Janet, sorry to disagree. The thought of dog drool just turns my stomach. While it may not bother you, consideration for one’s guests is primary.

      1. Oh, no need to apologize. I feel exactly the same way about babies & small sticky children. Fortunately, I’m of an age where my friends have considerably more dogs than offspring under foot.

  22. Hi Susan, Great tips I especially like the tips about dogs. My friend had a small dog and a German Shepard. The little dog would hurl itself at you as you opened the door and bark like crazy. The German Shepard was awful. We sat on the couch with our drinks and food ,it made a circle around and around the coffee table. We were constantly picking up everything. It also tried to get the food off the kitchen island. She would never put them in another room. Another time each person brought something . My husband bought Sonny’s BBq meat and rolls so everyone could make a sandwich. The dog kept jumping up trying to get the food. She said, well Why did Judy bring meat? Last time my husband went out of his way for the girls get togethers.

    1. I so agree about the dog thing. I was at a ladies’ casual Christmas luncheon a couple of months ago and the hostess’ dog was there. It was a small dog (I don’t enjoy being around big dogs), and for some reason it chose one lady to CONSTANTLY lick her feet. Just the one lady! We thought it was maybe her lotion or something. I was very glad that I was wearing socks and shoes (it was cold) because I would not enjoy being licked. At first we all laughed but then it seemed annoying. The hostess kept saying, “Should I put her out?” No one wanted to say “yes” so the dog stayed. People need to realize that not everyone is a dog lover and respect that.

  23. I’m confused, I thought you suggested not to wear black and not to wear lose fitting cloths just a few blogs ago. You look great though, I knew better than to change my warddrobe. LOL

    1. I still wear black since I already have so much of it, but it can look harsh on some people. If I wear something bright near my face, it helps to balance the contrast. Even red lips can do the trick. (I wanted to show you the gifted top from Covered Perfectly here.) Long tops can be tricky for those of us who have short legs. Note that I wore heels with this one to make the legs appear longer.

      1. You are so right about the longer top/short legs dynamic. I have learned so much about proportionate dressing from you. Thank you!

  24. The last party I gave a few months ago (aside from hosting family for holidays) was a ‘Memorial Happy Hour’ in honor of my sister who passed away the previous November. She and I had happy hour here in my home every Friday from 4-6:00 pm for about 14 years until she died – a tradition I am so thankful for, but miss so much… So I wanted to reintroduce that into my life with 20 of our closest friends and family. The theme of the party was remembering and celebrating my beautiful sister. For decorations, a friend lent me a lovely string of lights with clips on them for displaying photos (Pier 1), and I attached pictures of my sister throughout various stages of her life – which triggered lots of memories and reminiscences. I had just a simple flower arrangement on the table. I had most of the food – food that is easy to hold on a plate -catered from one of our large grocery store chains here in Pgh. I kept the drinks simple – beer, wine, some mixers, soda, water, etc. A few people offered to bring an appetizer- and I said ‘yes’. My husband put some smooth jazz on in the background, and guests were able to sit on our deck also. It was the easiest party I ever gave and one of my favorites. I plan to do that same format at least twice a year – it is very easy and low-stress.

  25. We live in the country and we have parties on our deck that we have built for this specifically. I have been gathering larger water dispensers, stereo system that can be outside and plenty of seating. It is one way we connect with neighbors, family and friends. I have learned for the grandchildren to have cut up fruit, vegetables, cheese, crackers, simple main course foods, and sometimes ice cream with cookies is just fine for dessert. Keep it simple so that you have gatherings. I remember growing up going on Sunday afternoons to visit families with children. The adults would visit and as children we would play. Usually a dessert was served with coffee and drinks for the children. I miss those days that people made more time for each other and it wasn’t a huge production. Just friends being with friends.

  26. I am always encouraged and enjoy your articles every time you write one! I am also very interested in the Mud Mask you mentioned in a few of your posts. Thank you for being a real blessing and joy!

    1. I am sorry I didn’t respond sooner. Here is the link to the Facial Mask. This is a list of the other products I use every day.
      3027 Charcoal Cleansing Bar
      1011 Nourishing Cream Cleanser
      1012 Nourishing Cream Exfoliator
      1014 Nourishing Day Cream
      1050 Lip Conditioner in Peppermint

  27. I have not been to your blog in a while due to uncontrollable situations socially and health of a family member but LOVE your haircut.

  28. I actually have come up with a check list for entertaining and it has been a tremendous help! When I go to parties and I really enjoy their menu, I write it down and keep it for the future.

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I share tips and inspiration for using what you already have in contemporary ways. Defining words include effortless, classic, refined, discreet, and elegant. My style is chic, minimal, and timeless with a bit of edge.