Easy ideas for entertaining at home

Zoomer | August 25th, 2011

Sometimes it just seems easier to go out, but our homes provide a relaxing and intimate atmosphere for hosting friends and family. However, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for the “same old” entertaining ideas or spend more time on the preparation, cooking and clean-up than you do with your guests.

Looking for something new? Here are some ideas to try for your next gathering:

Games night

You’ve seen the studies: laughter is good for you and it’s definitely contagious. Why not share the joy with a game night or tournament? Haul out the board games or a few decks of cards and let everyone unwind. Games give everyone something to talk about and takes the pressure off making small talk — especially if you’re bringing together new people. You can make it an one-off event, or organize a monthly club with rotating hosting duties.

How much planning you need will depend on the size of your party. A few board games or some cards will work for groups of four to six, but you’ll need more seating and a plan for larger groups. For instance, how will players partner and rotate? How will you keep score and determine when games end? To prompt some competition, have prizes for the end of the night — including a gag gift for the person who comes in last.

The prep work doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Think veggies and dip, fruit platters, savoury appetizers and signature dessert to serve at the end of the evening. Soda pop, club soda and blended drinks help keep the alcohol quotient low too. (See Games galore for inspiration.)

Looking for some dip ideas? Try this Healthy Layered Dip recipe or some of our readers’ favourite dips.

Movie night or TV marathon

Few entertaining ideas let you don your comfortable clothes and put your feet up. Besides, favourite movies and TV shows are a hit with guests of all ages. Pick a theme like action movies, animated hits or “chick flicks” — or have your own commercial-free marathon of your favourite TV shows. Have guests bring some of their favourites, or save a little cash by looking for deals at your local movie rental place or through online services like Netflix.

Try to keep the refreshments as self-serve as possible so you can relax and enjoy the evening too. For instance, organize a bar with drinks, plenty of ice and garnishes in one area of the room and keep the munchies within reach. Think party platters and finger foods, or go with a classic bowl of popcorn dressed up with a seasoning blend. (See Host a New Year’s movie night for full details.)

Looking for an upgrade for popcorn? Try our recipes for Chewy Popcorn Bars and Gigantic Turtle Candies.

Dessert buffet

If you think dessert is the best part of the meal, why not skip ahead? Take some of the stress off by inviting people over for dessert and drinks rather than dinner. Enjoy mingling and games while guests help themselves to an assortment of goodies from a sweet buffet.

When choosing tempting choices, aim for balance and variety. For instance, have some lighter choices like meringue cookies or chocolate dipped fruit to complement richer fare. Look for items that slice up neatly into smaller servings or can be made into “bit sized” portions like mini-tarts and cakes. If you must serve that twelve layer cake, make it the star of the show and round your offerings with fruit or cheese.

You can add some extra “wow” to your buffet with a few simple touches. For instance, dress up a warm plate of cookies with fresh herbs, edible flowers or a sprig of holly, and add a little height to the centre of the table by placing items on overturned bowls — you don’t see them under the table clothe. (See ‘Tis the season for sweets, treats and wine pairing for more ideas.)

It doesn’t have to be about the chocolate — go for fruit with a Cherry Vanilla Slab Pie or a Winter Sparkles Fruit Pie.

Tasting party

Looking for an idea with lots of variety and without the prep work? Sampling parties continue to grow in popularity, and there’s a wealth of tasty foods and beverages on the market this time of year. It doesn’t have to be wine — try beer, gourmet coffees, tea, chocolate, confections, cheese or another favourite food instead. You can also do double duty with food and beverage pairings.

When it comes to selecting samples, you can set the menu yourself by purchasing a selection of items or get everyone involved with the choices. Depending on the number of guests, have each couple or guest bring a favourite pick and one that they have never tried before. While you may have to watch for duplicates, this option ensures a good variety and helps keep costs down for the host too. On the side you can serve some complementary nibbles — like cheese and grapes for a wine tasting or a chocolate dessert to go with coffee.

To keep the flavours at their peak, keep plenty of water on hand and schedule lots of breaks to give the palate a break. Have some scorecards on hand so everyone can rate the samples, and arrange a game or draw at the end of the evening to divvy up the leftovers. (See Host a beer tasting party for ideas you can adapt.)

Black-tie Potluck

It may sound like an oxymoron, but a little glamour doesn’t have to mean hiring a caterer or spending all your time in the kitchen. Invite your guests to dress up for the occasion, pick a theme and start building a list of who is bringing what dish. You could opt for a five-course dinner — with each couple bringing a course — or keep it simple with a dessert buffet or tapas.

Want to save on the costs of formal wear? Alternatively, invite your guests to shop their closet and dig out a special occasion dress or outfit that hasn’t been worn in a while. Many ladies will get a laugh out of wearing a bridesmaid dress, wedding dress or “mother of the” outfit a second time.

To keep prep to a minimum, look for easy and elegant recipes that you can make ahead of time like Baked Mushroom Topped Brie or Salmon, Avocado and Arugula Pinwheels.

Fondue for Two (or more)

Looking for a cozy evening in? Picture this: a candle-lit room, a fire crackling in the fire place, and the flavours of your favourite fondue. Fondue in its many forms is a classic for a reason — it’s easy, tasty and fun. You can cook a whole meal or switch things up with a dessert fondue.

Make a fondue using popular confections like Toblerone bars (or go for caramel instead), gourmet cheeses or marinara. For a lighter meal idea, use a broth fondue or lighter dipping sauce for meats, seafood and vegetables. (For ideas, try or your favourite recipe website.)

Hosting a family or a crowd? Make sure the seating works for your group. Round tables are ideal, but if you have long tables try using a couple of pots and multiple platters for food to keep things in easy reach.

Opening your home to guests can be a rewarding experience, but it doesn’t have to be a lot of hassle or break the budget. For more tips, see Budget-savvy holiday gatherings.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Baris Simsek

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