There have definitely been times when I've felt more like a distracted, harried chef in my own home than a calm, welcoming hostess with guests over. Of course, there are certain things a host needs to do to put their guests at ease and set the tone for a good time, but it doesn't have to be at the expense of you enjoying the party. Here's how I've been preparing for parties recently, so I can fully enjoy them once the guests arrive:
I typically put a pitcher where guests naturally congregate—by the appetizers, and one on or by the dinner table so I'm not constantly keeping an eye on and refilling everyone's drinks.
I've gotten into the habit of having two fully assembled cheeseboards so that when the first one is devoured, I can seamlessly replace it with a fresh, and ready-to-serve-and-eat tray. If you know that crackers tend to disappear before anything else, have another vessel of crackers hiding nearby to add to the board. The same idea can be applied to mains and sides: Instead of hedging your bets on whether or not you should make the dressing for more salad, just make it and if you don't use it, you have delicious leftovers!
When G isn't in the mood to whip up cocktails all night, I sometimes write instructions, frame them, and set them at the bar cart along with all the necessary ingredients and instruments so people can try their hand at making their own cocktail. It's a fun way to break the ice and take another hostess duty off your shoulders (unless you love making drinks for your guests and that adds to your personal level of enjoyment).
I've written this before, but it's worth repeating since it's one of my favorite tips from my dad, a master entertainer. Not only does it give me a moment to unwind, but I've also noticed that when I'm the first to break into that cheeseboard and open a bottle of wine, my guests are much quicker to dive into the appetizers and drinks.
This is a no-brainer in the summer, since a roast or other oven-prepared food is not a menu standard while cold or room-temperature salads and dips are. I know that from a mental standpoint, having any kitchen equipment 'on' is a distraction and stress, so avoid it all-together with dishes you can prepare in advance.