I've spent what feels like a lifetime hosting (and attending) incredible events around the world—and since I grew up in the south, throwing parties just comes naturally to me. Here are some of my tried-and-true tricks.
Details are everything.
Be sure to have your rooms properly lit with soft lighting; place scented candles in every room; fluff your down pillows on chairs and sofas; have a drink, relax, and greet your guests with a big smile.
Give your guests a drink upon entry.
Have your server meet your guests at the door with drinks highlighting the theme of your party. Because I am southern, I love serving mint juleps in silver cups with a sprig of mint as guests enter. And don't forget to offer champagne. It always makes parties more lively.
Classic presentation never goes out of style.
I love entertaining old school. It's how I feel the most comfortable, because it's what I experienced growing up. I always use silver trays to serve very small hors d'oeuvres that guests can eat in one bite. My absolute favorite hors d'oeuvres are tiny white lily flour flat Smithfield ham biscuits—bite-size and delicious. And being southern, I would never have a New York party without my signature pimento cheese spread. It's also known as 'Lulu paste' and is delicious on toasted thin bread the size of a quarter. Whether you are serving homemade or store-bought, everything looks better on silver. Take the time to polish your silver trays and put them to good use!
Always dress to impress.
I've always loved playing dress up, so I wear party dresses for anything I'm hosting. I think you honor your guests by paying attention to every detail, and this includes your own appearance. You'll have more fun and feel more festive if you feel pretty, so have a fresh mani/pedi the day before and a blowout the morning of your party. Also, try on your outfit the night before. Go ahead and pick shoes and accessories so you're not scrambling the night of the party. Planning ahead is key to ensure the night is stress-free, and you can enjoy being with your guests.
Beautiful, fresh flowers are a must.
Gorgeous arrangements are the perfect highlight for your rooms and your dining table. Make sure they are not too large and overwhelming. I like to have lots of flowers throughout my home. I usually pick one type of flower, cut them short, and put them in antique, mismatched silver mint julep cups. Larger tables get a grouping of three to five; the bathrooms get just one, but always use odd numbers. It's more visually appealing this way. I particularly love arrangements with peonies of every variety. My mother had a peony garden at Graymont (our Richmond house), and every year Dabney and I waited for that small time frame when all shades of pink peonies would fill vases all over the house. I also like to place small vases of freesia around to add that lovely scent to the rooms.
Don't be afraid to bring out the good glassware.
Use beautiful china, crystal, and gorgeous silver when having a dinner party. Why save it?
Always use place cards if having a dinner party.
First of all, everyone feels better knowing where the hostess wants them to sit. Secondly, beautiful place cards written in calligraphy—an expense well worth it—either in place card holders or by themselves, add so much to the decoration of your table. Mine may be a little over-the-top (Smythson ecru cards with the Mercer family crest blind embossed at the top), but they are stunning. Be sure to have the calligrapher write your guests' first and last names on the front and the back of the place card. This way guests will learn the names of those they don't know when looking across the table. Also, they won't have to walk around the entire table to find their names.
Don't forget the linens.
I use the monogrammed linen napkins of my great grandmother. Monogrammed linens freshly pressed make a statement when you hand your guest their drink and everyone loves them. Personally, I don't use tablecloths unless I am having a large dinner party and have to set up additional tables. Instead, I love using embroidered or (cut-work) voile or linen placemats. Though antiques are currently a bit out of favor, I love the contrast of beautiful linen and silver with the polished antique wood of my dining table.
Don't forget the music!
Either have a playlist ready with fun music or provide live music for your guests. Growing up, we had a baby grand piano at Graymont (it's now in Palm Beach). My mother would hire a pianist to play the piano as a backdrop to her dinner parties. When she had her annual spring and Christmas cocktail parties for 200 or more, she would add two other instruments with the piano. If you can afford it, hire someone to play a harp, a violin, or your own piano. Make sure to change up the music after dinner to fun dance music. I like for my guests to leave my place in a happy mood and wanting more!
Party favors add a special touch.
I love to have a party favor at every plate for my guests. Small packages of Ladurée macarons, individual Nest candles, dark chocolate Godiva figures, or my personal favorite, Christian Dior lip gloss in light pink for the ladies, and Cuban cigars for the gentlemen. Everyone loves a present!
Provide a carefree environment.
Southerners do not take their traditions lightly. While we are as informed about music, pop culture, or politics as the next person, we feel dining should be devoid of the stress of controversial topics. Sharing a beautiful, well-planned, thoughtful evening with your friends is like giving them a lovely present. So get out that sterling silver and show your guests some southern charm!
* Don't feel like you have to do it all yourself. Take-out is your friend when entertaining.
* Make a game plan and write it out.
* Have a backup plan if guests stay later. Frozen flatbread pizzas are always a hit, and if you cut them in strips they feel more special.
* Hire help! There are lots of easy ways to source staffing to help make your event easier. Start with the bartender—that's most important. And if they're cute, all the better!
* Don't feel like you need a full bar. One sparkling or champagne, one white, one red, and two to three spirits with basic mixers are plenty.
Bravo’s "The Real Housewives of New York City" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.