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How to Host Like a Pro

John Marshall Catering
John Marshall Catering

Planning and executing a dinner party in your home for family, friends, coworkers or neighbors can become overwhelming in a hurry without the right tools and experience. Creative décor, a well-planned menu and other small touches can make or break the experience for your guests. A bit of thoughtful preparation goes a long way toward pulling off a soiree that will leave your guests raving.

First-timers might be more nervous than seasoned hosts. Tapping into the expertise of local caterers, decorators and other event-planning specialists can alleviate some of that stress.

Set the Tone with Specialized Invitations

Once you’ve nailed down the date for the get-together, the first thing you can do to make the experience unforgettable is to send out creative invitations to your guests.

Jen Gebrosky
Jen Gebrosky

Jen Gebrosky, a local wedding stationer and owner of Blush Paper Company, realizes that E-vites are convenient, but sending a paper invitation to your guests adds an extra touch that lets them know they’re special. “Sending an invite in the mail is a lovely, tactile way to make a first impression, whether it’s for a lavish affair or a small, at-home gathering,” she said.

Be sure to include all the key details for your event – date, time and menu. If you require special attire, the invitation is the perfect time to discuss those expectations.

Hosts who want to level up their invitation game can generate some oohs and aahs from their invited guests by getting creative. “An invitation is literally a first impression, and it sets the tone for the entire event,” said Gebrosky. “Make it special by including themed details, hints of the event to come and personalizing it for each guest.”

Remember to order printed invitations well in advance of your special event. Gebrosky said it takes most print shops a minimum of two weeks to print invitations once a design is finalized.

For additional tips on how to address your envelopes, visit Gebrosky’s blog at

Plan the Perfect Menu

John Marshall, the talented chef behind John Marshall Catering in Gibsonia, offered some words of wisdom based on his 35-year food service career.

“When deciding on a menu, many factors, such as dietary restrictions, preferences and the timing of the meal, must be considered,” he said. “For instance, during summer parties, one may opt for lighter, more appropriate options, while heavier meals may be more suitable during winter parties.”

For guests with special dietary needs, Marshall recommends creating separate meals that cater to those dietary restrictions.

It’s also wise to consider adding a few crowd-pleasers to your menu that work well for dinner party hosting success. “Nowadays, charcuterie trays and antipasto trays are more popular,” Marshall said. “Other entrée items are chicken romano and different pasta dishes.”

While the main dish is the centerpiece, it’s important to balance different flavors and textures to improve the presentation. Hosts can achieve this with a variety of side dishes that work well with each entrée. “If you have beef and a vegetable, you need a good starch,” Marshall said. “You need color on your plate. For example, if you have chicken, you don’t want to pick mashed potatoes and cauliflower; it’s white on white on white.” He suggested changing the vegetable to broccoli or a vegetable mix to brighten up the main course.

Hosts nervous about preparing a meal themselves have the option of hiring a caterer to plan the menu and serve the meal. To make the caterer’s job easier, share the specific details of the event, including the time the food is to be served, where you want to have it served and when to start the clean-up.

“Timing is everything,” he said. “You want to set up before the guests arrive and determine cocktail hour and dinner. Having details of time makes the event run smoothly.”

Set the Scene

Lastly, no dinner party would be complete without creating the right ambience with décor. Patty Grubbs, owner of Pippa’s Pieces vintage rentals in Gibsonia, suggested asking the following questions before choosing decorations:

  • Who is coming?

  • What is the purpose of the get-together?

  • Is it formal or informal?

  • Do you want to have a theme?

  • Do you want to use color schemes?

Setting a theme helps hosts go in the right direction, she said. “Look around your house before you buy or rent any décor,” Grubbs suggested. “You can certainly use things you already have. If you collect something, you might be able to use that for a centerpiece.”

Budget-conscious hosts can get creative by visiting their local party store. “Look for anything that’s going to carry through on your theme,” she said. “For instance, using linen can make it special. If you don’t own any or don’t want to buy them, there are quite a few linen rental places in Pittsburgh.”

One of Grubbs’ favorite places is Seasons in McIntyre Square. The store specializes in unique items, including printed napkins.

“Even if you’re having a simple affair, find some way to make it special, even if it’s just a simple touch like a colored napkin or spring for chargers with your plates,” said Grubbs.

Hosting a party can be stressful, no matter the size. But if you plan ahead and take care of key details, then your guests will be sure to have a fabulous time.

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