Those with spacious, conveniently located apartments: Welcome to the world of hosting. For many twentysomethings living in cities such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, space to spare seems like a blessing that can’t go unused. If you’re the one who lives near the good subway line and are lucky enough to land an apartment that can fit a couch and a table, start investing in extra folding chairs. You’re the official hostess of the year.
The biggest challenge to hosting is usually cost—literal monetary cost, but it also costs time. When you first start adulting in a new city, workdays can be long, and the bills can be expensive—not the most ideal scheduling and financial combination when embarking on entertaining at home. I refer to this as the double-budget.
To host comfortably in your twenties, simply find a balance between the time spent planning a fun evening and the money spent on refreshments. The more elaborate the event, the more elaborate the menu; the simpler the event, the simpler the menu. You may not have much leeway on either end, but these basic tips can help you get a few steps closer to an enjoyable and cost-efficient night.
01. Pick one realm of drinks.
If you're hosting a daytime event, my personal preference is tea, iced or hot. It’s affordable, simple, and long-lasting. The most prep you’ll have to do is buy fresh milk. Once your apartment becomes known for a certain drink, people will know what to expect. For evening game nights, pick one or two two-liters of soda and a beer. Wine is obviously for a Tom Hanks movie marathon. And for cocktail parties, I recommend having all the supplies for one drink, be it something fancy or gin & tonics—anything else is gravy.
02. Ensure enough seating for people and food.
You never want your guests to feel bound to a specific seating arrangement; having extras chairs and tables on standby helps create a welcoming and inclusive vibe. No one wants to get stuck on the arm of a sofa or with nothing but precarious floor space to rest their wine and canapés. If extra seating is not a possibility, simply shrink your guest list.
03. Recruit your ‘go-to guest.’
This can be a roommate, a good friend, etc.—preferably someone social who knows a majority of the group. Their number one responsibility is to help the evening run smoothly, to keep the conversation going while you’re in the kitchen putting out a literal fire, to answer the door, to send someone out for ice, and the list goes on.
Their number two responsibility is to keep attendance high—the more the merrier! Having your go-to guest text your attendees that ever-important “See you at Annie’s tonight?” is a subtle yet effective reminder. If people know at least two friends (you and your go-to guest) will be at an event, they’re more inclined to attend. Don’t ask me about the logic behind it. It's as inexplicable as pumpkin carriages and glass slippers.
04. Be ready early.
Without a doubt, guests may arrive as early as thirty minutes before, especially if you’re hosting on a workday. If your version of baking is buying Oreos from the grocery store, don’t leave it to the last minute—make yourself do it the night before. The most uncomfortable thing is to show up to your apartment after a guest or, worse, to be so inundated with preparations that you accidentally ignore them.
To clarify, there is no shame in “cooking” or “baking” via the grocery store, especially if your time and money are limited. I haven’t opened my oven in more than a month, but the deli cashier down the street and I are on a first-name basis. Remember the double-budget, time and money? It might have to bend a little. You may have to run home straight from work with only minutes to spare before guests start knocking at your door. Spending a bit more money on prep than you can on time sometimes means hitting up the hot food bar. As long as you're cool with that, we are too.
05. Everyone should have something to eat.
Ensuring there is enough food so guests don’t feel guilty eating more than their share is a task that can drastically increase the positive perception of an evening. Unfortunately, food is usually the most money-conscious area of a small-scale event.
I’ve found that the easiest, most cost-efficient formula is providing very simple options of (1) something healthy, (2) something salty, and (3) something dessert-like. With different allergies or dietary needs in mind, having some vegetables and dips to accompany cookies and popcorn tends to cover your bases. Finger foods like cheese cubes and crackers, pretzels, cupcakes, and macaroons are other examples of easy options that fill the sweet and salty genres.
Getting refreshment amounts correct takes practice. My advice is to err on the side of too much until you get used to the eating habits of different friends. You can always buy something extra that you’ll eat regardless so that it’s not a waste if it ends up as a leftover.
For weekly events like book clubs, it is 100 percent appropriate to rotate who brings the food. In general, this lowers costs and brings a nice variety to repeated gatherings. Have at least one food option on standby in case people forget it’s their turn to bring the seven-layer dip. If they are bringing seven-layer dip, buy some extra chips. Without chips, your guests will resort to dipping those Oreos you bought into a Tex-Mex rainbow. It sounds delicious. It is not.
That concludes this quick list of “double-budget” hosting tips. Remember to have fun with it; hosting can be a really enjoyable experience. Once you get into the rhythm of small-scale entertaining, it’ll become less stressful and more second nature. So go forth, and embrace the warm and welcoming hostess in you!
Photo Credit: Lauren Miller