Over the years I have hosted small dinners and events that feed hundreds. I’ve cooked for Oscar winners, billionaires, Hollywood studios, friends and family.
But no matter the size of the guest list, a successful party comes down to planning.
I’m sharing the exact strategy I use every time I host. And I’m confident that it’s a BLUEPRINT for a fun and stress-free party.
Cause having people over doesn’t have to be a total nightmare! I’ve got you covered with a tried and true formula that works everytime.
MY FOOLPROOF GAMEPLAN
DECIDE ON A MENU + THEME
Pick a mix of complicated and simple dishes. Try and choose something that can be made ahead of time and take into account your oven space. I usually pick a few items that I will cook on the grill and some that I can use the stovetop and oven for and a bunch of stuff that doesn’t need to be cooked.
PRINT UP ALL THE RECIPES
Once you have the recipes, print them up. Use them to make a list of all the ingredients you need. Scratch off any items you already have in your pantry and kitchen.
MAKE SHOPPING LISTS
Turn the remaining lists into shopping lists by store. I usually have a list that I can shop a couple of days before the event, and separate lists for fresh produce and proteins I will grab the day before.
DO THE BIG EARLY SHOP
I head out to the store and grab anything that I can buy ahead of time. Stuff for the bar, dried goods, and any nuts, oils, and spices. Once I’m home I group these ingredients by recipe and add them to the ingredients I already have.
CREATE A BUFFET STATION
I serve most of my food family-style at room temperature. So I create a buffet table, using large flat white platters and big bowls. People eat with their eyes so these showcase the food as the star. I mark each dish with a post-it note and place serving utensils on the dish. I put all ingredients relating to the recipe on each platter. If friends are bringing something I’ll make space on the table so I don’t have to reshuffle dishes when my guests are there.
SET THE TABLE EARLY
My motto is to keep it simple. I add low vases down the center of the table to add pops of color and greenery. I avoid tall arrangements that block your view. If I want to create a romantic mood I’ll add tea lights or candles. I use simple white plates and linen napkins. I usually seat kids at one end of the table or even create a separate table for them. And I make sure I’m near the kitchen. I sometimes create name tags but other times I leave it up to guests to decide if they want to sit with their partners or mingle with others.
MAKE ANYTHING THAT CAN BE DONE AHEAD
I usually make all the salad dressings, marinades, and dry rubs ahead of time. I also make any nut and seed mixes and cook and bake anything that can be kept at room temperature for a few days and stuff that can be frozen and thawed. I will put notes on these with temps and time so I have reheating instructions on the dish.
THE DAY BEFORE SHOP
I head to the stores and pick up all fresh fruits, veggies, breads, meats, chicken, and fish. I come home and marinade all the proteins. I create bags by recipe for all the fresh ingredients that need to be refrigerated and I put a copy of the recipe into each bag.
DAY BEFORE PREP
I don’t have much room in the fridge so I will chop any veggies I need to make soups, stews, and meat sauces. That way I can start cooking them the day of the party and leave them on the stove to cool. I will also cook any pasta, rice, quinoa, lentils and grains and store them in ziplock bags. Take anything that needs to be thawed out of the freezer that night and let it defrost on the counter.
THE DAY OF THE EVENT
I work back and make sure that my timetable has me done with the cooking a full hour before the party. I will begin with any soups or stews that take a long time to cook. I will chop any veggies that need to be roasted and get them into the oven. While they are cooking I will start assembling any platters and salads that I can leave on the table. I work one by one finishing them up and putting them back on the table next to the dressing and serving utensils.
I try to use the same mixing bowls, knives, and dishes as I cook to limit clean-up. I wash as I go and keep the counters organized. I find that it is easier to cook when you have a lot of open space and no clutter. And make sure to disinfect everything thoroughly when you work with raw chicken.
BRING PROTEIN TO ROOM TEMPERATURE
Make sure all fish, meat, and chicken are at room temperature before you cook it. I like to take it out of the fridge at least 2 hours before I cook it. Cooking any proteins in the oven. 2 hours before I will cook all my fishes on broil. I need to make sure I watch them cause they only take 10 minutes so they can burn. I allow them to cool before slipping them onto a platter and garnishing them.
ENLSIT OTHERS TO HELP
I don’t usually allow people besides my daughter into the kitchen when I cook. I know…. mashugana, but I work better alone. I usually send my husband to the store to get ice and any last-minute things. My daughter helps him set up the bar with glasses and alcohol, water, and mixes. She also helps arrange fresh flowers on the tables.
AN HOUR BEFORE THE PARTY
I make sure I have 30 minutes to wash the dishes in the sink. I sweep and mop the floors and wipe down all the kitchen counters. I turn my oven on, so I can reheat or warm anything that needs to be served hot. I will also turn on the grill so it is ready to go.
30 MINUTES BEFORE THE PARTY
I always make sure I have time to take a bath, change clothes, put on makeup, spritz on some perfume and look pretty. I have slaved for almost a week so I want to feel amazing when my guests arrive. Everyone knows not to come into my bedroom during this time no matter what. I usually send my husband out to grill anything that I am serving.
5 MINUTES BEFORE PARTY TIME
At this time I top the salads with dressing and drizzle platters with a hit of good quality Italian olive oil. I check on whatever is in the oven and pop anything I grilled into there to keep it warm. I light any mood candles, find a great playlist, and just inhale the intoxicating smell of delicious food perfuming the air.
IT’S PARTY TIME
Now it time to throw open your door and welcome your guests. There is no more cooking or stressing to do. Pour them a drink and toast your success. It’s time to take a bow and soak up all the compliments about your amazing incredible food. You’ve worked hard to pull this all together so savor it and enjoy.
PARTY NO NOS
The worst thing you can do is clean up or pack things away while your guests are there. I also want you to limit time in the kitchen to the minimum. That’s why I usually serve most of my food family-style at room temperature. But you can pop things in and out of the oven. I also suggest leaving a large sink filled with hot soapy water. I usually scrape food off the plates into the bin and just let everything soak till everyone leaves.
TO GO BAGS
Sometimes…. actually make that most times I over cater. So I have way too much food left. Also once a salad is dressed it really doesn’t keep well. To help with clean up and avoid waste, I usually hand all my friends some ziplock bags and foil and ask them to help themselves to some of their favorites. Everyone is all smiles and while they are packing some goodies to go, I put some of the food I want to keep in the fridge for my family.
AFTER THEY’VE GONE
I usally slip of my heels, wash my face, change into my PJ’s and head back to the kitchen. I have to confess I am an OCD neatness freak and there is no way I am going to bed till everything is washed and put away. But hey, if you don’t have my issues you can totally wait till the morning. At this time I take all the soaked dishes and serveware and load them into the dishwasher. I clean all the large platters and bowls by hand and any delicate glasses. I leave these to dry overnight.
THE MORNING AFTER
I unpack the dishwasher and put away all the platters, serveware, glasses and plates. I wash any napkins and table clothes I used. I wipe down counters and sweep and mop the floors. Housework is a great form of exercise, so I don’t mind the manual labour.
I usually feel great after soaking up all the compliments from guests. I take the time to reply to any messages people sent about the party. Then I give myself the rest of the day off to do something I love knowing that I have earned a break. And the best part is I know I don’t have to cook for a couple of days.
I hope this has been super helpful and you are excited to invite some friends over.
I’d love to hear how you used these tips.
Tag me on social @themelisssamayo or send me some pictures of your amazing celebrations.
I also created a list of all my go-to brands I’ve trusted for years.
They have all my cooking and entertaining must-haves.
Click on these links to shop my favorites.
If you want more amazing cooking tips make sure to download my HOW TO COOK MASTERCLASS. It’s an 80-page pdf crammed full of all my secrets and it’s a game-changer. It will turn you into a Rockstar in the kitchen.
And remeber to have fun and experiment. There is no right or wrong in the kitchen. Cooking is a magical dance that happens when you add love to great ingredients. And the best part is getting to share it with the people you love.
Happy entertaing. May you only know celebrations, laughter and joy. I love you most!