Hosting a party is fun, but it can be a lot of work. You can reduce your stress, and enjoy the festivities by learning these expert party-prepping tricks.
Here are three guides for to how to make sure the drinks are ready, the shrimp are chilled and the dirty dishes put away—all before your guests arrive.
GUIDE 1: How to Keep Beverages the Right Temperature
What’s more of a mood killer than serving lukewarm beer or coffee to your guests? How do you make sure drinks stay frosty or piping hot—whatever they’re supposed to be—throughout your event?
Use a cooler or tub. If you’re having lots of guests over, you may run out of room in the refrigerator for all your drinks. Instead, put them in a tub or cooler that can be filled with ice. Don’t have one handy? You can create a makeshift tub using any large bowl or bucket.
Add drinks first, ice second. As you pack your cooler or party tub, use a little science to keep your drinks colder: Put your bottles and cans in the cooler first and then cover them with ice. Why? Cold air travels downward, meaning the ice will be more effective when placed on top.
Make fancy ice cubes. You can buy bags of ice at a local convenience store to use in your coolers. But you can spice up the ice that you put into your guests’ drinks by making flavored ice cubes from juice or soda. You can even add pieces of fruit or herb sprigs to the cubes for extra flair. Another option: Buy reusable ice cubes to avoid watering down your guests’ drinks.
Use a damp paper towel for a quick fix. Forget to put your bottled beverages in the fridge and guests are arriving in 20 minutes? One handy trick for quickly chilling liquids in glass bottles involves wrapping a damp paper towel around each bottle and placing them in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Have insulated drink sleeves handy. Once your guests are served, it may take them a while to actually drink an entire beverage. Insulated sleeves for glasses, cans and bottles (sometimes called “koozies” or “cozies”) can help maintain the temperature of drinks for longer.
Store hot beverages in thermoses. Serving coffee, tea or hot chocolate? Unless you are keeping the coffeemaker on or have a large electric urn, make sure to put those beverages in an insulated container, such as a thermos.
Make slow-cooker hot chocolate. Making hot chocolate in your slow cooker is a great option. You can whip up one big batch and keep it warm throughout the party. You’ll want to add your hot chocolate ingredients to the cooker at least a couple of hours before your guests arrive. Set it to high while the hot chocolate “cooks.” When it’s ready, stir the hot chocolate, and set the slow cooker to low to keep it warm but prevent overcooking.
GUIDE 2: How to Keep Food the Right Temperature
Drinks are one thing, but your guests might be especially taken aback if the food is the wrong temperature. You want to make sure the dip stays warm and the veggies stay chilled. And some foods—like certain cheeses or salads containing mayo—could start to spoil after several hours at room temperature.
Here are some tips for keeping food at the right temperature:
Chill the serving trays beforehand. Put the serving bowls in the refrigerator for a few hours before the party. This will keep your food colder for longer.
Store chilled foods over ice. Serving shrimp cocktail, fruit salad or other dishes that need to stay cold? As with beverages, use large tubs that will allow you to set the food bowls or serving platters over ice. You can turn a kiddie swimming pool into a makeshift ice tub, especially if you’re hosting an outdoor party.
Make homemade ice packs. Melting ice can cause a mess, especially if someone accidentally splashes the water onto the food. You can create your own ice packs using sponges wrapped in plastic freezer bags. Not only are they reusable, but they’re easier to clean up, too.
Make the most of your oven. You may need to prepare some of your dishes an hour or two before your guests arrive. But you can keep them warm by covering them with aluminum foil and storing them in the oven at the lowest temperature setting, which is typically 200 degrees.
Serve warm and hot foods in electric warmers. Slow cookers and electric buffet warmers can be your best friends at a party, especially if you’re serving dishes that must stay warm, like fondue or macaroni and cheese. Make sure to set these to the right temperature setting, though, or you could end up with burnt mush.
GUIDE 3: Pre- and Post-Party Cleanup Tips
Once the party is over, you’re probably anxious to get the dishes washed and your home back to normal. Or you may need to tidy up quickly before your guests even arrive.
Either way, here are some tricks to help make cleaning quicker and easier:
Keep a lint roller handy. The adhesive rollers used to pull lint off your clothes can also be used to clean dust from lampshades and pet hair from upholstered furniture before guests arrive.
Line trash cans with multiple bags. Trash can pile up quickly at a bash. One way to avoid having to constantly replace trash bags is to line each trash can with multiple bags before the party begins. That way, when you remove a full bag, a clean bag will be ready to go below it.
Use baking soda and vinegar on burnt pans. If you cooked, you probably have lots of dirty dishes—including some pots and pans with burnt or crusted food. To cut down on your time spent scrubbing,first pour one cup of water and one cup vinegar into the pot and heat the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and add one tablespoon of baking soda. Once the fizzling from the baking soda stops, empty the pan. You should be able to easily clean off any remaining bits using a sponge, baking soda, soap and water.
Use baking soda on china. Have coffee stains on your fine china? Dampen a cloth with water and dip it in baking soda. Then, gently scrub the stain to clean it away.
Get carpet stains out with baking soda.Make a paste using baking soda and water and use it to thoroughly cover any carpet stains. Once the paste has dried, use a dry brush to remove it and then vacuum away any remaining debris. For red wine stains on carpet, soda water can also be useful.
Get tough stains out with mineral spirits. During your post-party cleaning, you may discover hard-to-remove lipstick or food stains on your cloth napkins or tablecloth. Apply a few drops of mineral spirits to the stain and use an old toothbrush to work it. Then rinse the stain with rubbing alcohol and repeat, if necessary, until the stain is out. You can also use store-bought spot removers meant for upholstery, carpets and dry-cleaned clothing. Whatever solution you use, be sure to test it on an inconspicuous area of the fabric first.
Pick up broken glass with bread. Broke a glass? First, use rubber gloves to pick up and throw away any big pieces of glass. Then, vacuum the area where the glass broke, making sure to get under any furniture. Finally, press a piece of bread against the floor to pick up any tiny fragments the vacuum may have missed.
Remove wax from candle holders. Here’s one trick to get the melted wax from the bottom of your glass or metal candle holder: Put the candle holder in the freezer for a few hours. The wax will shrink and should then pop right out.
Parties should be fun and relaxing, but that can be a tall order when you’re the one hosting. Before your next soiree, take some steps in advance to make sure everything goes off without a hitch—so you can enjoy it more.
Share your favorite party planning tips and tricks in comments!