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
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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."