A Solo’s Guide to Effortless Entertaining
Christmas is coming, and even Covid can’t stop us from feeling a little bit more cheerful now that there are Christmas lights and decorations and window displays everywhere. I got my tree up this week – all seven feet of it – and it was worth every inch of the effort it took to get it home from the shop by myself. I smile every time I walk into the room, and my whole house smells of Norwegian pine!
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a few things it’s worth remembering if you’re spending Christmas by yourself. Quite a few of you have contacted me to say that due to Covid, this is the first year you’ll be spending Christmas alone, and that it’s been helpful to have a few pointers on how to make it into a meaningful day. Others of you have told me that you’re actually hosting Christmas for the first time – or at least for the first time in some years – and in some cases for more people than you’re used to. Covid really does keep on throwing spanners in the works of all kinds of best-laid plans!
Hosting for larger groups when you live alone comes with its own unique challenges, and it can definitely take some getting used to as well as being a lot of fun. The first few parties and gatherings I ever held for larger groups of friends were a blur – my guests told me they had had a great time (and they kept coming back…), but I often came away feeling like I’d done nothing but work! I’d spent so much time running backwards and forwards from the kitchen, keeping an eye on quiches while pouring wine, collecting coats, clearing dishes etc that I missed the whole point – which was to have a great time with my friends.
I had a think this week about some of my top tips, and here they are – six ways to entertain effortlessly and host like a god or goddess, even when you live alone. Use the comments box below to add your own!
Outsource all the catering that you can’t or don’t want to do yourself
Decide what you want to do, can afford to do, and know you can realistically take care of while looking after your guests. Everything else, outsource! That could involve having food made elsewhere and collecting it, buying it pre-made from the supermarket, or even just ordering in take away for everyone – it really depends on the occasion as to the most appropriate workaround. One of my favourite things to do is to ask my guests to take on a dish – or even an entire course. You’ll find that as long as you’re clear about what the ground rules are and what you will / won’t be providing (e.g.: drinks, atmosphere, great company and the main course), most people are surprisingly happy to do this – after all, they’re there to see you – or should be! The food is really just a delightful accompaniment. There’s absolutely no need to feel apologetic – taking on more than you can comfortably afford or accommodate can lead to stress and resentment, and can undermine the whole event.
Prepare as much as you can beforehand – and make sure you have multiples of everything
When you live alone, you probably have enough plates, cutlery, chairs and glasses for anything from 2 – 6 people. No matter how many people you’re hosting, it pays to do a quick check before your guests arrive that you have everything you need. If you break a glass when you’re by yourself, you probably have another one to hand. Break more than a couple when you have people with you, and you could quickly find yourself short, and your guests drinking wine out of mugs (this has definitely happened to me…) Your friends might think you’re adorable for it, if you’re anything like me then you’ll prefer to avoid the temporary panic! As well as plates and cutlery for each course, chairs for eating and for relaxing, and enough glasses for different types of drinks plus breakages, you might also want to look at mugs or cups, serving bowls and spoons, tea towels, and perhaps even an extra kettle if everyone will be having coffee or tea at the same time. Extras don’t have to cost – you can borrow things from your neighbours, or just ask your guests to bring a couple of specific items with them. Do as much food prep as you possibly can beforehand, and don’t forget to make sure there’s enough toilet paper and handwash / soap in the bathroom!
Task your guests
People love to be helpful – if you’re hosting solo, then take your guests up on their offers of help! There are some pretty standard ‘jobs’ that need doing at every gathering, from welcoming guests and taking coats, to sorting the music, to keeping the drinks topped up, and offering nibbles. Offer these roles to a mixture of people who are good at them and can help put others at their ease, as well as those who don’t know the others as well, and / or guests who feels self-conscious in social situations and find it helpful to have something practical to do (this can work really well for children and teenagers too). Avoid giving your guests anything too awful – you want to leave people feeling valued rather than used, and no one wants to spend an hour washing up all the dishes, cleaning the kitchen floor, or taking the trash out! But asking for help with specific, necessary and useful tasks can free you up to focus on one thing at a time – including actually spending some quality time with your other guests.
Find creative ways to get your guests talking to each other
If your guests already know each other pretty well, then this likely won’t be an issue. But if anyone’s new to the group, they might be looking to you to help them out – which can be tricky if you are also trying to focus on meal preparation and other hosting duties. Take the pressure off yourself by helping them integrate quickly into the wider group, and getting the group talking to them and to each other as well. Creative introductions can be great for this – including introducing people who have similar interests to one another, as well as those who have completely opposing views! Tell your guests interesting facts about the others to get the ball rolling. You could try creating some talking pieces – have some interesting posters or artwork on the walls, put on some quirky music. Or you could use literal conversation starters – there are plenty of games and even downloadable sets of questions and prompts which are thought-provoking and a lot of fun. You could also quietly task your more extravert guests with keeping the conversation flowing, and bringing in those on the outside. The sooner your guests are chatting away, the more relaxed you’ll feel, and the more able to dip in and out while you concentrate on other things.
Consciously make time to sit and chat
The whole point of entertaining is to be able to enjoy your friends’ company – but this can sometimes get a bit lost when you feel under pressure to entertain. It might feel a bit orchestrated, but consciously making a point of physically sitting down with someone between courses or drinks rounds and kicking off a conversation can be a good way to make sure that it actually happens! As long as your other guests are involved in their own conversations and they aren’t starving hungry, they won’t mind waiting for 15 – 20 minutes in between courses. It can actually help to have a simple, flexible timetable or plan for your event, so that you know roughly what time everything needs to go into the oven / out of the fridge / candles on the cake need to be lit etc, for the event to flow. This should help you relax during the times when you know you don’t need to be doing anything! And don’t forget that it’s fine to ask your guests for help.
Have a clear-up strategy
Whatever you do, at all costs AVOID the awkwardness of launching a full-scale solo cleaning operation while your guests are still with you. I know so many people who do this – but even if you’re desperate to get everything tidied away, remember that your entertaining responsibilities carry on until your guests leave. Have a game plan for clearing up that doesn’t leave your guests out in the cold. My suggestions would either be to include everyone – get everyone into the kitchen, put some music on, have some people scraping plates while others stack the dishwasher, and have a dance around while you work. Either that, or leave everything – EVERYTHING – until everyone has left, and do it yourself.
With a bit of preparation and some simples tactics, it’s possible to be a fantastic solo host while also really enjoying yourself. The key is to stay focused on the heart of the event – which is having a lovely time with some brilliant people, and helping everyone else do the same. As long as that’s happening, you are absolutely winning.
Have any other more tips for effortless solo hosting? Let me know in the comments below!
We send out a monthly newsletter – just leave your email address with us for the latest news, exclusive updates and offers from the Living Well Alone Project.