Wander Into the Kitchen
Guests go where the action is—besides, they want to hang out with the host. Be ready with a hospitable setup.
Prop for socializing. Give over the far end of your work zone (kitchen counter or island) to appetizers, so people know exactly where they can linger without being too in-your-face.
Welcome help. Reserve certain small jobs for early birds and those who shy away from small talk. Offer the sorts of tasks you could give to an older child: setting out dishes and silverware, plating hors d’oeuvres, filling the water pitcher, trimming green beans, putting rolls in a basket, and ferrying sides to the table.
Hide signs of stress. If anything makes a guest feel guiltier than watching the host do dishes after the meal, it’s watching her do them before the meal. If you’re in a big rush (imagine that!), use the dishwasher as a hiding spot for dirty pots, even those you’ll ultimately wash by hand.
Distribute the apps. Send flat breads, crudités, and other hors d’oeuvres that take up a lot of real estate out to the living room with a gregarious guest. Keep kitchen snacks compact so as not to crowd your busy surface. Go with the sort of low-key nibbles you would find in a classic bar: small bowls of nuts, wasabi peas, and olives.
English Baguette five-piece place setting in Rumbled Silverplate, $129; and Chinese Porcelain Grand rimmed dinner plate in white, $48 for four: rh.com. Hasami dinner plate in sand, $36, canoeonline.net. Fog linen kitchen cloth in green-blue plaid, $15, John Derian Dry Goods, 212-677-8408. Mud Australia tray in Bottle, $130; and platter in Bottle, $96: shophorne.com.