The Anxious Person’s Complete Guide To Hosting Your First Dinner Party

Flickr / Michael Nutt
Flickr / Michael Nutt

Whether you are having guests over for wine and hors d’oeuvres or an elaborate dinner, hosting your first party can be exhausting on your panic-wrought soul. Thankfully, I took one for the bumbling mess of a team we are and ventured into the terrifying world of hosting. The verdict: I did it, and you can, too! Yes, my mentally tortured friend, you can execute a dinner party and nothing will start on fire.

First of all, unless your guest list includes the likes of Martha Stewart, the Pope, or Ina Garten — Duchess of Food Network — you need to calm the hell down. Like, for real, your friends are your friends for a reason, and you have zero reason to bend over backwards to impress them. They’re just excited to have plans on a Saturday night.

However, I know that you — the fragile ball of stress that you are — will disregard everything I just said, so here are some guidelines to help you navigate the unpredictable horror known colloquially as “throwing a party.”

Your house is fine. Even if you live in a shack or a small apartment deep in Brooklyn. Don’t you dare buy new light fixtures. Remove those cloth napkins from your Etsy cart. Put down the shelving unit and leave Target right now. Your bathroom is fine — the sink works and the toilet flushes and the door closes. Repeat after me: I will not go to IKEA and buy new plates. Or a fancy cheese knife.

Don’t you dare apologize for anything. Follow the wise words of Julia Childs, no matter how much the need to show your remorse tempts you. You’re going to want to apologize for living in such an inconvenient location. You’re going to want to apologize for using plastic knives instead of that IKEA cheese knife. You’re going to want to apologize that your vegan cashew cheese log didn’t turn out exactly as you had hoped. You’re going to want to apologize for using two different sets of plates that don’t match. Shut your mouth and enjoy the party. Apologizing will only bring attention to trivial things that nobody would have noticed anyway. You are literally the only person who cares that you don’t have a fancy cheese knife.

Exception: if you spill red wine down your friend’s dress, you should absolutely apologize. But good grief, don’t go into hysterics. You’re making people uncomfortable. Stop it.

Chillax. Exude confidence. Your guests will feel more comfortable if you are not pacing the kitchen, muttering about plastic knives. Stand tall and pretend your apartment with outdated cupboards is a freaking palace and the food turned out exactly as pictured in the recipe, even if you used bottled lemon juice instead of fresh lemon. Set out those mismatched plates with pride. If your guests start laughing at your fretful rambling and suggest that maybe it’s time for you to open that wine and have a glass, you have officially blown your cover. You are a hot mess, and they all know it. Pull yourself together, and for Julia Childs’ sake, DON’T APOLOGIZE. Laugh with them, take the cork off that sucker, and have a glass. You deserve it — we all know you’ve been scrubbing the floors (and walls and ceiling and every crevice of your apartment) for the past five days.

Your food is great. First of all, for your first dinner party, consider doing it potluck-style. It saves money, saves time, and takes a ton of pressure off your already-burdened shoulders to deliver an epic meal. However, if you decide to ride out your anxiety and cook everything yourself, remember this: if you are in your 20s, there’s a strong chance that your guests can only cook pasta. The fact that you chose to cook for your friends proves that you probably have above average cooking skills — own it! Don’t fall apart if you burn the toast for the bruschetta. Laugh it off — and do. not. apologize. (Seriously, we’ve gone over this. No apologizing.) That tomato-basil mixture you lovingly diced up just became the best dip they’ve ever tasted, so throw away the charred toast, break out some crackers, and enjoy your company, damn it!

Your guests will surprise you — in the best way possible. While you have been imagining every possible disaster that could occur at your premiere dinner party, your guests have been counting down the days in excitement. You may have spent a month worrying that your friend will not bring the wine she promised, but she will probably show up with two bottles, a huge box of assorted crackers, and an enthusiastic smile that will lower your heart rate to a healthy 80 beats per minute. That quiet friend will not be a killjoy. The perpetually late friend will definitely be late, but it won’t ruin your evening. And when they compliment your space — and they definitely will because everyone likes each other’s homes more than their own — do not respond, “But those light fixtures…” This is an apology in disguise, my frazzled friend! You live in a palace, remember? The appropriate response is a glowing smile and: “Thank you! Isn’t it spacious?” OWN THAT SPACE WITH PRIDE. Well, not literally — we all know you’re renting.

Have fun. You will soon realize that your guests are devouring the food — even that cheese log you almost apologized for. (Aren’t you glad you didn’t apologize?) You will witness the biggest smiles and the most exuberant laughs. Your cat will charm all of them, despite her repeated attempts to jump on the table. See? Everyone is enjoying themselves, and you should, too. Nobody was stuck binge-watching Netflix that night, and it’s all thanks to you.

Bravo, young grasshopper. Enjoy those leftovers. TC mark

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