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Take a deep breath. We’ve got you covered.

Tim Cebula
November 14, 2017

Cooking for your immediate family is easy—you do it every day. Done right, it can even be a way to unwind. But when you’re hosting a big event (like a certain turkey-themed feast) with extended family members and friends trooping into your home to nosh on—let’s face it—your blood, sweat, and tears, you find yourself thinking: “Are they going to judge me? Is my dish good enough? Can I really pull this off?”

Thing is, we make it much harder on ourselves than it needs to be. Avoid these common pitfalls, stop second guessing yourself, and you’ll spare yourself unnecessary drama and trauma.

You Don’t Plan Ahead:

This is easily the biggest rookie blunder. An impromptu dinner for a friend or two is something you can pull off with pantry items and whatever looks interesting in the fridge. Feeding six people or more takes plenty of forethought and prep.

Decide on the menu ASAP—maybe even before you send out invites. You need to choose something seasonally appropriate that suits the tastes of your guests and the level of formality of the gathering. It also needs to be a meal that won’t chain you to the kitchen for the night: There are plenty of sides and salads you can assemble ahead of time and chill or leave at room temp. Choose a main course that needs minimal attention from you during the event—roasts, braises and stews are great in colder seasons since they can either be heating or resting while you tend to your guests, and only need to be sliced or ladled when you’re ready to eat.

Take time to think the whole thing through: beverages, snacks, table settings, how much you need to buy, the logistics of cooking/serving. The more detailed your game plan, the better your chances of success.

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You Don’t Delegate:

If your guest list includes friends or family members, enlist them in some of the prep work or serving. Or have them bring a dish to contribute to the menu. Don’t feel you have to do it all yourself.

You Don’t Make Enough Food:

Watching guests ration meager portions among themselves is pure horror for a host. This one’s simple enough to avoid: overestimate the yields for all your dishes. Have 12 guests? Plan to feed 16.

It’s far better to have leftovers that you can send folks home with than to make them fight for the last bread crust in the basket. Oh, and buy lots of wine—it’s the answer to a great number of hosting dilemmas.

Photo: Christopher Testani

You Overreach:

This is not the time to make fancy, fussy, or labor-intensive dishes. And it’s definitely not the time to be trying new recipes.

Reach into your repertoire for tried-and-true dishes you’ve mastered—comforting classics like roasts and stews are always crowd pleasers. Even skilled professional chefs turn out simple, rustic dishes for guests at home—it’s easier for them, and actually feels much more hospitable than a restaurant-style, esoteric plate of haute cuisine.

It’s Not Ready Yet:

So you mistimed the main course, and it needs another hour in the oven. Guests have already been there an hour and they’re ravenous. Here’s where the extra wine comes in handy. Make sure everyone stays topped off, and keep them nibbling—before guests arrive, you’ve laid out an assortment of snacks like olives, a cheese board, dip and crudité. You remembered to do that, right?