Hacks for Entertaining

white ceramic plates

In episode 430 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, we discuss our favorite hacks for entertaining.

Why does this issue matter for happiness?

As I explore more deeply in my book The Happiness Project, ancient philosophers and modern scientists agree that a key—perhaps the key—to happiness is strong relationships. We need strong, intimate bonds; we need to feel like we belong; we need to be able to confide; we need to be able to get and give support.

One of the quickest ways to deepen and strengthen relationships is to invite people into our homes. But that can require a lot of time, energy, and money!

These hacks are meant to make entertaining easier and more fun.

From our mother, who is great at entertaining:

  • Use place cards, and, if you’re feeling ambitious, menu cards.
  • Seat people on the ends of rectangular tables, to make conversation easier.
  • If you can afford to, hire someone—such as your children—to help with serving and clean-up.
  • Make your own printed invitations.

From Elizabeth:

  • Have a theme.
  • Set your event after dinner,  so you provide dessert or snacks and drinks.
  • Brunch is easier than dinner.
  • Set up a recurring event like a book club or lunch club.
  • Entertain at the last minute.
  • Have a party favor.
  • Co-host with someone else.
  • Have a planned activity, such as mahjong, a taste party (I describe a taste party in my book Life in Five Senses), a board game, or a podcast club

From Gretchen:

  • My mantra: “It’s always the right number of attendees at a book club.”
  • Look for an opportunity to celebrate—anniversary of a book group, holidays, etc.
  • Need wedding readings? Click here.

Hacks from listeners

Get help:

  • As discussed in episode 393, First Lady Jill Biden suggests putting up sticky notes with suggested tasks. People can choose their own task, take the note, and you can see what remains to be done.
  • Ask for help!

Be prepared:

  • Make a checklist for shopping and prep.
  • Stock up ahead of time.
  • Create index cards for each holiday with a menu and shopping list.
  • Toss dirty dishes in a laundry basket and hide them in the bathtub before guests arrive.
  • Keep your house “company ready” (with a baseline of cleanliness and some snacks and drinks on hand) so that it’s easy to invite friends over. (Need inspiration for clearing clutter? Check out Outer Order, Inner Calm.)
  • For kids’ birthday parties, the night before, pre-scoop ice cream into cupcake liners and put them in the freezer on a baking sheet.
  • Have a birthday box containing everything you need for a birthday party in one place: balloons, a reusable happy birthday sign, birthday candles, photo props, streamers etc. 
  • Run the dishwasher and empty it before guests arrive so you have somewhere to put dirty dishes as the night goes on.

Lower the bar:

  • Embrace limitations, such as the number of people who will fit on your porch.
  • Host a themed potluck.
  • Invite another family over for take-out. Only one rule: you’re not allowed to clean up!
  • Host an open-house cocktail party from 4-6 pm.

Make it easier:

  • Choose a “signature” event to host a few times a year. You develop a system, and guests look forward to it.
  • Nothing beats instant brownie mix: It’s easy to customize with different ice cream flavors or mix-ins.
  • Try the Aussie way of entertaining: Bring your own meat and drinks.
  • Ask each guest to bring a side dish, drink, or dessert so you only have to make the main dish.
  • Serve tacos—they work for meat lovers, vegans, gluten free, dairy and nut allergies, and picky kids.
  • In his book Your Invisible Network, Michael Melcher talks about being a “Secret Agent at a Party.” Make it your mission to make the party go better.
  • Give yourself the job of Party Photographer.

What other hacks do you use to make entertaining easier or more fun? Entertaining should be…entertaining!



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