Hosting a party is fun. Working your butt off and stressing out, not as much fun. When it comes to throwing a party, it feels like you have to go big, right? Make it fancy, make it perfect, be prepared, go above and beyond--but really, you don't. You can have a fun party that will make everyone who comes to it a little happier without wearing yourself out.
The overall best way to make it easier on yourself is to break it down into parts, and the best way to do that is with stations.
Making stations at your party might sound like turning it into an elementary school classroom, but you don't have to be quite so basic with it. Instead, break it down like this:
Decorate it simply with coasters, trays, cool decanters, and flasks, and load it up with enough ice, drinks, and glasses to last a while. Chill a bottle of wine and have it on ice ready to go, as well. Giving your guests options on drinks (without the mess of a signature cocktail or tedious mixed drinks) will keep them satisfied while keeping you cool under pressure.
Near the bar or in an area where you want to encourage your guests to mingle, set up a table for appetizers.
Don't stress yourself out over the appetizers, though--make a few homemade options (and homemade doesn't have to mean difficult--try some simple crostini, pinwheels, or canapes) , then fill out the table with easy items like pretzels, olives, and nuts. These are staple bar snacks for a reason, and they'll satisfy everyone's craving for something to munch (and let's face it, having something to do with their hands).
If you're doing a dinner party, the next stop is the dinner table. Of course, this is probably where most of your focus will be, but there's one handy tip to keep in mind when throwing a dinner party to keep your stress levels low: don't experiment. It's really fun to try new and exciting dishes in the kitchen, but when you're cooking and serving guests, it's much less stressful to cook something you know you can make, the kind of dish you could make with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back.
Also, you can make the decor both extremely classy and super simple by sticking with a fine white tablecloth and white dishes, and then punctuating that with a bright color, like bold orange or red flowers and napkins. No need to go out of your way trying to make a theme or something too upscale--simple, classic, elegant work well and don't require too much!
Mm, a good dessert can go a long way in finishing up a great party, but that doesn't mean you have to go for 5-star homemade pastries here. Instead, try individual servings of desserts that are easy to make and serve, like cupcakes (pick up some great ones from your local bakery and put them on a cake stand--we won't tell!), cookies, and mini cheesecakes.
Whatever party you throw and however you make the magic happen, remember to take a deep breath and enjoy it as much as possible. Chances are, not everything will be perfect, but that's okay--roll with the punches and everyone will have a great time.