From dining, to business, to meeting someone new—first impressions count. They can make or break your success in just about any endeavor. Thoughts and judgments that form within the first twenty seconds of experiencing something new are difficult to ignore or change and can never be erased. When trying to make a good impression, every second counts, but the real key to making a positive first impression is having a plan. Your plan might only include one simple step, but it will beat winging it every single time.
I like simple. I like elegant. I like simple elegance and have found that most people do too. Why? Because simple is always in style, always the most useful and effective, and it works. Some of my most cherished memories are sitting down with family and good friends, breaking bread and celebrating good cheer. With true southern spirit and a boundless love for entertaining, I like making each event unique, so have learned a few tricks that anyone can borrow to make their next gathering something special.
Let’s say you want to set the mood for a memorable gathering, one that is elegant, inexpensive, and memorable. Utilize a designer’s approach to creating seasonal table décor, combining tradition with a hint of sophistication. With a little imagination, you can throw a slammin’ soirée without great cost or effort, but no one will realize. Your guests will be too dazzled by how magical you made everything to notice anything but the feeling they’ll have at your event. It’s the impression that counts, remember?
Successful entertaining starts with being prepared. Snappy cocktails, tasty food, hip music and colorful people who bring interesting conversation are all a part of the mix. Juggling all of these elements can easily send you off in ten different directions, creating stress and anxiety. To avoid this, take a deep breath. Relax and make a few key choices up front that everything else will revolve around. Simple decisions will clear the way for your imagination to take over and, before you know it, you’ll be on a roll. When you’re setting out to make a great impression, try my “three simple steps” technique.
Decide on Your Theme and Think of Your Guests
Themes don’t have to be elaborate, but knowing in general what overall vibe you are going for is essential. Are you throwing a formal dinner with cocktails or a laid back BBQ? Traditional holiday or home-style buffet? Whatever you’re thinking, make a clear choice. This will make the remaining two steps a piece of cake.
Consider the guests you will be inviting in relation to your theme. Some of your circles of friends probably do not overlap so well. This friction is often more work than actually cooking and preparing for your event so keep in mind who you want to invite.
The size of your gathering is also directly related to your peace of mind. Eight or fewer is fairly easy. Twenty or more is a lot of work. Anything in between will require some effort. Choosing outgoing and easygoing guests who don’t require much hand-holding makes for easier hosting, plus these guests can be guaranteed to spark fun conversations and take that load off of you too.
So, pick a theme that works with the people you’re inviting. Cut anyone out of the guest list who won’t add to the party, and keep it simple.
Design Your Menus
Now that you have decided on your theme, it’s time to sculpt the menus around it. With every great party I’ve thrown, there are three essential menus you need to consider—food, drinks, and music. All three of these should be directly related to your theme which helps make things easier for you by narrowing your focus.
Break each menu down into three parts—appetizer, main course, and dessert (can you tell I like threes?). Thinking this way makes things so much more manageable and easy to figure out. Your food should be directly related to your theme and easy for you to orchestrate. If your party is outdoors, you’ll want to plan to keep everything covered until you’re ready to dine or add several citronella candles that will keep those nasty bugs at bay.
Drinks can be broken down into pre-dinner cocktails to get people warmed up, wine with dinner, and after dinner drinks to help people relax and digest your awesome meal. Narrow the field of choices for all of these by tying them together with your theme, which will make the event more unified and memorable. I also suggest serving a signature cocktail instead of trying to please everyone with different wines and mixed drinks. Bonus? It makes it easier too!
The music you select can also be broken down into before, during, and after modes. With today’s technology, creating three separate folders or playlists of music is a snap or you can simply lay out three piles of CD’s so they are ready to go when you need them. Don’t sweat it, but definitely consider the music element as it plays a huge, though often subtle, role in setting the right mood.
Create a shopping list for each one of your menus to keep things organized. You can easily throw a fabulous party virtually stress-free by keeping these lists handy and crossing things off as you go.
Set the Mood
Centerpieces and floral arrangements are an important part of the ambiance of any party. From the moment your guests start to arrive, you want them to feel welcome. Inviting floral pieces really set the mood and establishes your theme. The more the better and a foyer is a great place to start if you have an entry table. It’s the first impression when guests enter the house, so make sure your guests are greeted with a beautiful statement that sets the tone.
Chose vibrant colors that contribute to your theme. It’s important to carry the warmth and energy of the fresh floral throughout the dining areas by adding coordinating pieces to the buffet and other serving areas. Centerpieces should be beautiful and mesmerizing and don’t have to be expensive. Use your imagination and definitely check out Pinterest for ideas, just search centerpiece or [your theme] centerpiece.
You could choose a beautiful bowl, and then add fruit, berries, ornate balls, seashells, or something that flows with your chosen theme. Pier 1 is a great store for this kind of filler. The centerpieces should never be taller than twelve inches so guests can comfortably have a conversation without obstructed views. You could also use a single plant or beautiful tropical leaves. You can also layer the table by placing single blossoms in small floral vases instead of choosing only one centerpiece. In every situation, candles are a must. I prefer to use unscented candles so they do not interfere with the delicious aromas of your food.
The table setting is a major key to creating a lasting impression. Somehow, the food always tastes better when it is presented with care. This presentation includes the serving dishes, how the food is laid out—either on a buffet table or on the plates themselves—and your tablescape. Set your table with no fuss, stylish glass-wear, dinner plates and beautifully colored napkins and napkin rings that all support your theme. I love to emphasize the beauty of the season with my tablescapes that look good enough to eat and bring Ooo’s and Aahh’s from my guests.
So there you have it. Decide on your theme, design menus to support it, and set the mood with arrangements and focal pieces that tie it all together. For me, creating that perfect, beautiful ambience for guests to relax and enjoy themselves is as important as the meal itself. In the end, it’s all about having a good time and creating a memorable experience that doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or stressful. Now, relax and enjoy the party!