setting the scene...

"Parties are productions, not unlike theatrical productions. Some have lavish sets and big casts, like Broadway, others use makeshift spaces and exotic decor."-Martha Stewart Entertaining

We're all busy, and no one expects Emily Post perfection out of you, but if you're going to host a get-together, at least try to play the part of host/hostess. Shove your dirty laundry in the closet, and try to set things up so it looks like you were, in fact, expecting people at your place. Even if it's just the same friends who always seem to be camped out on your couch, I'm sure they will appreciate the effort to make things look a little nicer than usual.

ipod

music.

It calms the savage beast, why not the hungry dinner guest? Music can be more controversial than politics these days, so a good general rule is to keep it to a background level and go generic if you don't know everyone's tastes. The only real piece of advice I can give you is to make a playlist, and a backup playlist or two in case the night goes longer than expected. Definitely don't rely on the shuffle feature of your MP3 player.

I read an article once that described iPod shuffle as musical Russian roulette, and it is so true. We all have our guilty pleasures when it comes to music. Maybe you don't want all of your scene friends to know just how many Kenny Chesney CDs you have, and I'm sure you have no idea how Celine Dion made her way into your iTunes library. Maybe you think you have no shame, but I know I have everything from the Spice Girls to chapters from audiobooks saved on my iPod, so I always make playlists before I shuffle.

decor and table setting.

My first job in high school was working as a hostess at a fine dining restaurant. There was a lot of downtime during the off-season, so I spent a lot of time folding napkins. We always folded them in the same pyramid shape, and I swear I could do it in my sleep to this day. The slideshow at the left will show you how to use this simple technique. Check out the napkin folding guide for more elaborate designs to impress your friends. You can get a pack of cloth napkins at Target for about $6. They really add a touch of class to a dinner party and you can just throw them in the washing machine at the end of the night.

Table coverings are also a nice touch, but you don't necessarily have to use an actual table cloth. Any clean and interesting looking sheet or piece of fabric can make a great table cloth or table runner. You can also buy single placemats in different colors to mix, match and layer under serving platters. The same goes for dishes and platters. Buy things as you find them on sale and chalk it up to an edgy eclectic style.

seating.

Consider how many people are attending and how you would like the room to be set up. Do you want people to stay in one area, or move freely throughout the house? Is your dining room table big enough to seat everyone? If it's too small or looks like it will be a tight fit, consider serving food buffet style rather than cramming everyone in. Put the dining room chairs around the living room to make smaller seating groups, and lay all of the food out on the table for people to serve themselves. If you have the space, consider purchasing a set of collapsible snack tables to put near chairs that can hold drinks and small plates.