Emily Schuman, founder of Cupcakes and Cashmere, is the sort of woman who clearly knows how to throw a dinner party. For the benefit of those of us lacking her killer instinct for hosting, she’s compiled her ultimate guide—with useful tips like the fact that nobody’s going to notice that you ordered takeout if you distract them with better-than-average place settings.
My group of friends practically feels like family and, while everyone has their own hectic schedules, it's important for us to get the group together on a regular basis to share a meal and some laughs. When entertaining, I like to have a game plan—and so I present to you my cheat sheet, from my last minute beauty tricks to how I ensure maximum comfort for my guests.
I save mascara and the eyelash curler for the very last minute; if I do it beforehand, my lashes will fall and my makeup smear while I’m running between the hot oven and the freezer. I also apply a sweep of powder just before the doorbell rings.
Dry shampoo is a godsend for entertaining: a hot stove is guaranteed to flatten my hair and so I make sure to liberally spritz it onto my roots.
Usually for a dinner party, I’ll skip wearing scent and use body wash instead. I want people to smell the food rather than end up with a nose full of perfume!
Ahead of time, I pop on music for when guests come through the door—I set my Pandora station to something classic and upbeat: artists like Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, and Jackson Browne.
I always have drinks ready and appetizers on-hand. I typically lay out a cheese plate an hour ahead of arrival time: 3-5 cheeses, nuts, dried fruits and good crackers broken into bite-sized pieces.
I light scented candles in the bathroom two hours beforehand, keeping the door slightly ajar (right now, I can’t get enough of the santal-meets-smoky fragrance of Le Labo’s Cade 26). Then, I wait about 15 minutes before guests arrive to light the unscented ones in the dining area.
I never wear shoes; it sets the mood for a more relaxed vibe.
Don’t feel like you have to have everything finished when people first arrive. Often, we'll still be cooking the main course and plating the salad when people come over, which creates a an environment that doesn't feel rigid.
Most of our dinner parties are really casual, but I still love the idea of using place cards. It makes any regular night with friends a bit fancier (even if you're ordering takeout!).
Just before a dinner party, our place is at its cleanest. I have flowers in each room, our couch (typically laden with cat hair) is spotless and the dining room table is no longer home to a graveyard of boxes and papers. In the kitchen, I make a concerted effort to not only clean as we go (it makes the after-dinner process so much easier), but make sure to clear the dishwasher beforehand so as not to add on an additional task to the end of the evening. By that point, you just want to be able to revel in your achievement.
Photos courtesy of Emily Schuman.