Hosting a great party should never really feel like work. Sure, you might be the one making the food, refilling the wine glasses, and tidying up afterward, but you also get to decide who is (and isn’t) invited, what music to play, what to serve — hello, only food that you enjoy — and your commute is only the number of steps from the living room to the bed.

Whether you’re planning a low-key backyard BBQ or a proper dinner party, here are five ways to make sure you and your guests have a great time.

1. Create the Perfect Menu

You might not be able to please every picky eater in your social circle, but with some solid menu prep, you can come pretty close. Dishes that allow for customization, like sheet pan flank steak, Instant Pot carne asada tacos or pan-seared sirloin steak with balsamic herb cream sauce (numbers one, eight and 12 on this awesome recipe list), mean folks can take what they want and leave their least favourite foods off their plates. Don’t get fixated on food trends, but do keep your menu seasonal; not only will you be using the freshest produce for your dishes, but you’re less likely to have to hit up multiple grocery stores to find an out-of-season ingredient.

2. Pair Your Food with Wines

Depending on your guest list, you can either allow invitees to bring a favourite bottle or prescribe a theme to ensure that all wines are paired with your menu. Those carne asada tacos (or any great cut of meat) would be complemented perfectly by a hearty glass of red wine, such as those produced by Carnivor, a California wine brand. Try pairing them with a big red with a satisfyingly smooth finish, such as the Cabernet Sauvignon. Carnivor’s Zinfandel is packed with flavour and spicy aromas, making it perfect to pair with dishes like barbequed ribs. For a match made in heaven, try it with these mouth-watering sticky spicy baby back ribs. If you’re in BC, you can pick up both the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Zinfandel at your nearest BCL; in Ontario, look no further than the LCBO for all your Cabernet and Zin needs.

Provide extra wine glasses or invest in some glass-friendly pens so that folks can keep track of theirs with a name or a signature doodle. You could even offer up notepads for recording names of new wines discovered. Regardless of your guests’ wine knowledge, a wine tasting is a fun way to keep everyone entertained — and possibly send them home with a new favourite label.

3. Choose a Theme

This doesn’t necessarily have to be over the top — unless that’s your thing, in which case, more power to you! You don’t need to choose anything that requires too much forethought or investment, but it’s nice to have an angle that ties the event together. Even just a little accessory, like a lei left at each place setting for a Hawaiian pork roast or sprig of greenery for a fall feast theme, adds a little something to an otherwise regular evening. If you don’t have a lot of time to craft, focus on table settings and other small touches that show a little care.

4. Build a Great Playlist

Building a playlist to suit the theme of the event is never a bad idea. Some guests might not know the top 40 hits on your playlist, so be sure to include some familiar favourites. And once the wine has been flowing for a little while, it doesn’t hurt to play classics that people can sing along with or even dance to. Not a burgeoning DJ? Remember that apps like Spotify and Apple Music, along with radio station websites and more, have got you covered. Just be sure to give the playlist a listen before you make your decision — you want to avoid forcing your best friend to change up the music while you’re scrambling to answer the door.

5. Choose Lighting That Sets the Mood

For example, stringing full-sized bulbs over outdoor seating next to the grill is a fun, festive, and picture-perfect choice for a backyard soirée. Avoid overhead lighting at all costs and opt for indirect lighting that’s flattering, but not too dim. If you light candles, keep them unscented so as not to compete with the food and drinks, and be mindful of placement. No one wants to go home with burnt shirt cuffs.

Hosting should never feel like a chore, but your party should also never be a bore. A little planning and forethought (and some excellent bottles of wine) will show your guests that you want them to enjoy themselves in your home. That way, even if you stray from the plan a little, you’re bound to have a great time.

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