It took me a while but I think I have finally figured out what works for me in entertaining and hosting big gatherings. It was a bit of a journey to find my own style because while I don’t particularly enjoy cooking (unlike a lot of our south asian hostesses who are such amazing cooks), I do love to host and have friends & family over. I also don’t own any fancy crockery or serving ware BUT I do want my table to look beautiful. It’s so easy for us to get stuck on our limitations BUT now finally I think I’ve gotten past that to host the way I want to even despite it all:)
So today I’m just walking you through what looks like hosting a gathering of friends for us. Will go over everything from sending out the invites to my after-party cleaning up philosophy. Ha, are you ready? Yay! Let’s do this!
(All of these photos from our Thanksgiving potluck from last year)
PLANNING THE PARTY
INVITATIONS : I personally feel the tone of the party is set from the invite so for me that is an important part of hosting. I personally don’t like Whatsapp invites because the time / date / address invariably will get lost in the conversation (unless it’s a casual, small thing of-course that is different). Emailed invitations have the chance to be forgotten or missed as well so right now making a Facebook event is most practical for us. But a few of the recent apps that I’ve tried out are actually awesome and I definitely want to move to them more (I have a few friends resisting because you know it’s a bit of a new thing lol). This is also easier if you have guests who aren’t on Facebook. The two that I’ve loved using are Paperless Post (has an app version as well) & Hobnob to make pretty invitations. I love that you have the option to send your invite via text message as well. Guests can reply through that too and they’re much more convenient to keep all of the info / potluck menu etc in one place. I also love personalizing invites with one’s own photos:).
PLANNING THE MENU: I mostly host potlucks for larger gatherings which takes the stress of cooking off of me. But either way, whether cooking myself or hosting a potluck, I like to finalize the menu for our gathering at least a week before so everyone (including myself) can do groceries accordingly in time. For potlucks, you can give people food item choices to pick from which makes it nonrestrictive and still gives a little order to your potluck menu. In our friends’ circle, the host comes up with a basic menu, let’s everyone know what she is making and adds menu options that everyone picks from on the event page (eg: rice dish, meat curry, kabab , veggie dish, dessert …).
For this Thanksgiving celebration, here’s the menu I shared on the invite page: Rice Dish / Turkey / Cutlets / Soup / Chicken entree / Second meat entree/ Potatoes / Fish or Salmon / Dessert / Dessert / Pasta.
GROCERIES + MAKING LISTS : You know I can’t plan anything until I write things down so everything from my guest list (including a headcount), menu plans, grocery lists & also things to do before the party happens in writing. I mostly just use any notepad or my regular journal to do this. It helps to do this in the week before + before you do your groceries so you don’t forget anything that you have to buy (there is invariably a last day grocery trip, I will admit).
DECOR VISION: A week or so before the event, I go through my Pinterest board and finalize the “feel” of the party, order any supplies etc. Having a vision in mind also helps me with selecting colors for the flowers which I pick up when I do groceries.
For this season of life where it can easily get too overwhelming, focus is on keeping it simple yet have a pretty ambiance for the event. I used to enjoy dreaming up more elaborate details but have let go of that and any need for “perfect”. Most of my decor plans are around candles, flowers & greenery these days lol.
(Tip: I save all jars/bottles etc from jam bottles, sauces and just take off all the stickers etc to reuse for this. I love that the different sizes, shapes etc add a fun whimsy to it).
GETTING READY FOR THE PARTY
CLEANING THE HOUSE : In my earlier years as a host, I used to clean the house from top to bottom before my parties until my mom made me realize it wasn’t worth it. It took me a little time but I have changed the way I clean FOR my parties now. I have a list of non-negotiables which I definitely do so my place feels fresh and clean enough. For me this includes, cleaning my floors, dusting surfaces, cleaning up the powder room including fresh towels, kitchen counters + surfaces wiped down etc and then just freshening up with fresh flowers & candles to get my place party-ready. I might vacuum the main rooms too if they look messy to me but in this season of life with everyone having younger kids, I’ve learned with experience to save the detailed cleaning for after the party. (Last time I even had my cleaning lady scheduled day AFTER the party which felt SO good I cannot tell you).
I also try to divide the cleaning tasks over a few days (1-3 days before the big day) but leave some things eg: powder room till a few hours before the party, fresh towels and all.
COOKING AND MORE: I have a new tradition where the cooking, setting the table & decor etc happens the night before (or two if I have to divide it). After everyone’s gone to bed, I put a drama on and get all of my work done in complete peace. I love it, even enjoy cooking almost hah.
Once my cooking is taken care of, I start working on the food table etc. If I’m planning to serve food on the dining table like for this gathering, I like to just mix in the food with candles / little succulents / flowers. I love using wooden boards too (secret: I use my cutting boards) .
MORNING OF THE PARTY + THINGS TO DO
Once I’m done with last minute cooking related things and cleanups, I start my stovetop simmer on to freshen up the space + open a few windows as well / I also like to dish out everything in oven proof serving ware and keep in the oven turned on low to keep things warm / Bilal also helps make sure we have enough room for everyone to sit, set up extra chairs and more. Next, I do a final check for the powder room, turn on some favorite music (Coke Studio on the tv / ask Google Home or Alexa to play coffeehouse music), and turn on candles last.
INVOLVING AND PLANNING FOR KIDS
I think it’s really important to think from the kids perspective as well when planning our parties. I always ask Anya about any special toys that she wants to put away if it’s hard for her to share them. We do this before the party.
It can be helpful to come up with activities for them to do with their friends, games to play etc. I also have playroom rules displayed and it is a good idea to make a quick check-in and remind kids of the expectations. We also also like to ask the kids to help clean up before leaving. It is also good to keep a movie in mind if things get too crazy.
For this gathering we also set up a kids table to do activities and to eat together. Here’s why & how we did this.
SUSTAINABILITY TIPS FOR OUR PARTIES
Over the years it has started bothering me how much waste our parties create. So many of us use paper-ware & plastics to make it easier for us but honestly there is just too much waste being created at our desi, immigrant gatherings! It has started making me feel very guilty so I’ve tried to make some changes over the years. I blogged these tips & ideas earlier here.
AFTER THE PARTY
I used to be this crazy mom except AFTER the party! It was terrible! Not only for myself but everyone around me. Thankfully I’ve changed over the years, hah.
Once guests leave, I do a basic clean-up, collect & throw out the trash, start the dishwasher, put leftovers away, clean up any spills and then just sit down with a plate of food to eat, chai to drink and bask in the glory of a party done well. The detailed cleaning happens over the next whole week. The decor sometimes stays up for weeks or even months after. And you know what, no one dies or the sky doesn’t fall down and we all survive fine. haha. As I said, if I’m able to I will even have my cleaning scheduled for within the next few days and honestly it’s the best feeling ever.
I send out any thank you messages to guests and exchange any photos. And that’s it for after the party. (My mom does this wonderful thing after a party where she writes down any takeaways or lessons learned for next time.)
The point is to enjoy our friends and our guests and having company over, not just for yourself but our whole family. So if throwing parties is stressing us out too much, if we’re fighting with our families every time we are having guests over, maybe talk with each other and adjust things around a little bit to make them better!
Do you have any favorite tips to share? Thanks so much for reading.
Lots of love.
(Alot of these photos especially of the food table taken by my friend, Sumera, who graciously asked and picked up my camera to document our gathering. Ever thankful for photographer friends.)