When I moved to Japan, I knew entertaining might be difficult. Living in Minnesota, hosting parties was easy because we had plenty of room for friends and food. Moving from our 1,000 square foot apartment in St. Paul to a 450 square footer in Tokyo was a shocker. I thought our entertaining days were over. However, entertaining became simpler and more efficient with a little creativity. These tips may seem obvious, but they make a huge difference in how successful your next gathering can be.
Choose two dishes to prepare in advance. I find that if I am busy making food and putting together drinks as guests are arriving, stress is sure to be close behind for my friends (and me.) I use a lot of recipes that can be prepared a day or two ahead, then kept in the refrigerator or freezer until I am ready to assemble and serve.
One of the most confusing things at parties (and the least addressed) is where on earth to toss all that garbage. Guests end up wandering around searching for the correct receptacle or putting garbage on just any open surface and subsequently taking up space. Not cool. Use more than one garbage location, make sure you label garbage and recycling, and tell guests about the system. Make sure the garbage is empty at the start of the party so it doesn’t get stinky.
In our tiny apartment in Japan, it is difficult to fit more than a few pieces of furniture in any room. A more space-savvy choice for us happens to be using floor pillows and coffee tables. Not only is it easy to store the pillows, but they help to create a fun, whimsical environment that guests enjoy. Keep in mind that sitting on the floor may not be comfortable for everyone. It’s helpful to provide a wall to lean against and of course, mix in any chairs you do have available. It may sound like “roughing it” but our circle of friends does it all the time with much success.
Small spaces are tricky for hosting, but also for storing the materials I need to put on a fabulous party. Bowls and large numbers of place settings are not easily stowed away in a small apartment. To better utilize our limited space, I started using stackable plastic trays. I decorate them using thin sheets of cork or rubber and a hot glue gun. The decorations are cute and help keep items from sliding around. And of course, the lightweight trays are easy to stack and stow without taking up much space.
The plastic tray idea brings me to my next tip: bite-sized food is the way to go when you have limited dishes and/or space to serve. With bite-sized food there is no need for a formal dining table, leading to fewer dishes and less table space. Trays of food can be scattered around the entertaining space, allowing people to circulate the room(s) rather than creating a traffic jam around only one table. Trays are also easy to replenish throughout the night (with all that food you prepared in advance).
For those who do have outdoor space, use it! Whether it’s coolers for drinks, or a couple chairs, outdoor space is like hitting jackpot for home entertaining. I use lanterns, candles, and strings of lights to help add a little romantic flare and provide a haven for guests who need a breather. When the weather is cold, it’s a built in cooler for beverages. Score!
I find that the mood of a space makes or breaks an event. Fluorescent lighting has to go. Set up candles and other soft light instead. It’s more flattering to guests’ faces (which they will thank you for) and creates a more relaxing atmosphere for everyone, including you. Make sure the music is at a volume that facilitates conversation. Here are some artists that I put on shuffle at our gatherings:
Our first year in Tokyo, my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving. No oven, limited counter space, 450 square feet and no real table to speak of made this a challenging venture. One thing that made the entire event run smoothly was simply using a desk for a drink area. Make a bowl of punch, set out wine bottles and plastic party cups (see tip #9). When guests need a refill, they can help themselves to the punch or wine selection. I often put out drink recipe cards to provide some cocktail ideas for guests using the available mixers.
When I set up my drink table, the last thing I need is a lot of glassware taking up valuable real estate. Instead of using fancy wine and cocktail glasses, I often use disposable glasses that can be stacked. Use biodegradable cups, plates and silverware if possible, like these from The Branch Home. There, isn’t that better? Environmentally friendly and much more room for extra beverages!
Assign guests to “bring your own” (BYO) food to share. Anything that saves room in the refrigerator or on countertops is helpful. I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to entertaining and prefer to do everything myself. But letting go of that control allows me to relax and enjoy the party along with everyone else. Fewer dishes, less responsibility, more food. Perfect. I use mypunchbowl.com for help organizing who brings which item. They have a sign up for guests where you can list what is needed from food to party supplies.
Rachael White is the author of the blogs Set the Table and Tokyo Terrace. After four years of living, eating, and entertaining in Tokyo, Japan, she and her family have relocated to Denver, Colorado. Rachael is constantly searching for new ways to make entertaining easier and more interesting for guests in a variety of environments and situations. In addition to food blogging, her recipes have been published in cookbooks including Foodista Best of Food Blogs and Peko Peko: A Charity Cookbook for Japan and in Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper. Originally from Minnesota, Rachael strives to recreate recipes and settings that reflect Midwestern comfort with a modern twist.