Throw a dinner like Padma Lakshmi

Though Padma Lakshmi shared her advice with us, she’s really interested in seeing your best party-planning tips: As the spokeswoman for Sterling Vineyards Ultimate Host campaign, she’s looking for one amazing entertainer via Sterling’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/sterlingvineyards). The winner will nab $25,000, a trip to the Sterling Vineyards campus in Napa, plus a vacation to the Food & Wine Festival in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Make your shopping trips easier
“Maybe you need some weird spice or some specialty ingredient. … You can always call ahead,” Lakshmi advises. “Call the spice shop and say, ‘Hi, I’m coming down to pick up yuzu, do you have it in stock? Can you save a bottle by the register? I’ll be there in half an hour.’ That way you know it’s waiting for you. Even give them a credit card, have them run it. You pick it up, you sign the bill, you’re home that much faster.”

Design the menu around your guests
“If you have a guest list of people you know well and you know that a certain person likes a certain dish, it is nice to make it for them because it shows you’re thinking about them and what pleases them,” Lakshmi says. “The No. 1 thing that a good host or hostess should remember is that hosting a party is about making others feel welcome. It’s about making other people feel loved and thought about and making other people have a good time.”

Prep early so you can enjoy yourself
“The No. 1 key to having a good party — whether it’s a cocktail party or a barbecue or a formal dinner party — is when the host is relaxed,” Lakshmi explains. “The way to ensure that is preparation. Don’t wait until the last minute to go shopping or plan your menu. Try to plan a menu that has at least half or two-thirds of the items on it that can be made ahead. … You want to make things that are easy on you. Nobody comes to a party for the food; they actually really come to the party for the people.”

Serve a buffet

“If it’s a dinner party for more than six or eight people, I always do it buffet,” Lakshmi admits. “It allows your guests to mingle with other people rather than just the person to their left  and right, and [it] allows you to have more guests rolling in and out.”

Choose the right music

“Music is important in the beginning, especially when the first guests are arriving — [so] there’s not  crickets or silence,”?Lakshmi says. “If you’re planning a soundtrack you should plan it for the whole evening: maybe cocktail-y music at the start. During dinner I like jazz or classical, mostly instrumental, because I’m interested in the conversation.”

Your party timeline

Three weeks before: Send invitations
“I think you want to give people time to make room in their schedule for the party … whether [your invite is] just an e-mail or a phone call sayin, ‘Hey, I want to have you over for dinner, how does three Thursdays from now look?’”

Within the week of the party: Get a guest headcount

“If I’m planning a dinner party for six, that’s different than a cocktail party for 60 or a buffet for 36.”

Three or four days before: Start stocking up
“There’s some things, like flowers and fruit, that you  want to buy three or four days in advance so they have a chance to bloom, to ripen. … Talk to your florist: Say, ‘What days do the flowers come in? They’ll tell you.”

The day of:?Buy any last-minute items, and prepare what you can in advance

“Fish you always want to buy the day of, you want it to be fresh. … Make a salad, make a quiche, warm the quiche up in the oven. Make a roast that you can turn the oven off at 3 and it just stays warm and you can slice it tableside.”



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