The Ultimate Host’s Guide to Entertaining at Home

Hosting a gathering at home can be a lot of fun, but it can also be stressful. Enter The Bar’s ultimate at-home hosting guide. With a little planning and a few tips and tricks, all outlined below, you can relax and enjoy the festivities — just like your guests.

Set The Mood(board)

Creating a mood board is a great way to visualize the overall look and feel of your party. Gather visual inspiration from magazines, Pinterest, Instagram, or blogs, grouping images by color and theme. Whether you’re using a physical board or a virtual one, step back and review the mood board along the way, nixing any images that don’t fit your intended vibe. Once it’s picture-perfect, you’ll have a handy visual reference guide as you make decisions about décor, drinks, food, and other facets of your event. 

Create the vibe:

It’s All In The Details

Beyond just décor, think about all the extras that make an event memorable: Playlists, cocktail napkins and accessories, printed menus, party favors. These fun additions add depth and texture to your evening and can provide a tangible, take-home element for your guests. Plus, you’ll want to think practically, too. Clean and polish any glass and silverware you’ll be using for the event in advance, and rearrange the furniture in common areas to create an easier flow. Empty the dishwasher and have empty trash and recycle bins ready to go so that as the glasses and bottles pile up, you can party on. 

 Create the vibe:

Make a List, Check It Twice

In the weeks leading up to your event, think about what you can purchase ahead of time (supplies, décor, certain drinks) versus what you’ll need to get in the days before, or even the day of (food, ice, etc.). Your shopping list will depend on your event’s theme and size, but in general, you’ll need items like the following: 

  • Food (appetizers, entrees, desserts, snacks)
  • Drinks (alcohol, mixers, non-alcoholic beverages)
  • Garnishes
  • Ice
  • Cups, glasses, stemware (aim for 3–4 glasses per person to account for multiple drinks and misplaced glasses; colored glasses or drink charms can help guests mark their glasses)
  • Plates, napkins, utensils
  • Serving platters and bowls
  • Serving utensils
  • Trash bags and cleaning supplies 

When to buy perishables: 

  • Fresh food: A few days to a week beforehand.
  • Frozen food: Up to a few weeks in advance — remember to move items to the fridge to thaw about 1–2 days ahead of the party for faster prep the day of.
  • Garnishes: Depending on your garnish, these can usually be purchased at the same time as any fresh food ingredients. 
  • Ice: This depends on how you’ll be storing the ice. If you have a large freezer (and room to spare!) you can purchase the ice at any time. Otherwise, plan to work in an ice run the day of. 

Create the vibe:  

Do The Math

Estimate how much you’ll need to keep your guests sated. A good rule of thumb is to plan for about one alcoholic drink per hour per guest. For non-alcoholic drinks, plan for two per guest for the first hour, then an additional drink per hour after that. For food, there’s no perfect formula, but we always recommend overestimating (Bonus: Buy some affordable plastic food storage bins so you can send any leftovers home with them). Make sure you have lots of ice on hand, too. We recommend planning for about one pound of ice per guest. There are even handy ice calculators available online that factor in the type of event and whether you’re holding it indoors or out, so you always pick up the perfect amount. 

Consider a Signature Cocktail

Now that you know roughly how many drinks you’ll need, you might choose to make it easy — and special — with a signature cocktail. A signature drink can add a fun, personal touch to your gathering with an added bonus: You’ll only need to think about one kind of drink compared with a full roster of alcoholic beverages. To make it even easier, choose an easily batched cocktail, such as a whiskey punch, sangria, Moscow mule punch, or rum punch. The night before the party, make sure you put your ingredients in the fridge/freezer for optimal coldness. High-proof spirits won’t ice over in the freezer but definitely keep mixers in the fridge.

 Create the vibe:

Make An Impression — Then Let Guests Help Themselves

Start by offering your guests a pre-prepped signature cocktail when they arrive. Even if they decline, it’s a nice touch that sends a warm welcome. Then, whether you opt for a batched cocktail or a full bar, set up your home bar area (be it a bar cart, a table, or a countertop) so that guests can serve their own subsequent drinks. Set out all the spirits, glasses, and utensils they might need, plus garnishes that accompany the theme, season, or beverage. Keep extras stowed away in a low-traffic area and restock when needed. To create a truly impressive DIY bar, check out our guide below! 

 Create the vibe: 

Feed A Crowd

Whether putting together simple snacks or a chef-worthy spread, you definitely don’t want your guests to go hungry. Think about the timing of your event for starters. For happy hour, you might be able to get away with light snacks and appetizers, such as a cheese and charcuterie board, mini quiches, or a crudité platter. An event that spans a typical dinner time, even if it’s technically only a cocktail hour, should include a mix of appetizers, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and some sweet options. If it’s a morning event, consider hearty brunch finger foods like mini cinnamon rolls and scrambled egg bites, or setting up a bagel bar with all the toppings. Channel a French bistro at your next dinner party by serving a simple yet show-stopping roast chicken. For any desserts, you might opt for cakes, pies, chocolates, and other confections that can be served at room temperature versus ice cream or frozen desserts — less mess and more room in your freezer for ice.  

 Create the vibe: 

Accept Help

If a guest offers to help, let them! Maybe they can bring a dish, or maybe they can help clean up after the party is over. Show your appreciation by sending helpful guests home with extra food or a floral arrangement.  

Host Graciously

The most important part of your event is to enjoy your guests’ company. As the host, you set the tone for the evening, and if you’re enjoying yourself, guests will follow suit. Greet everyone as they arrive, introduce people to one another, and make sure everyone feels comfortable. Then, toast to a fun, stress-free fête. 

When planning your next event, use the tips in this guide to help the day go off without a hitch. Put on some music, pour yourself a drink, and get the party started.

This article is sponsored by The Bar.