9 Hostess Mistakes to Avoid This Fall, According to 'Southern Living' Editors

Dos and don'ts to help you host, no matter your party style.

teal tablescape
Photo: Robbie Caponetto; Styling by Buffy Hargett Miller

Fall is no-doubt a time for gathering with friends and family. Whether throwing a dinner party, watching the game, or celebrating Friendsgiving, hosting a group of any size, for any occasion, can seem like a daunting task. And especially so when you're welcoming people into your home. But it doesn't have to be!

Fall in the South is one of the most spectacular times of the year, with cooling temps, football games and holidays, and all the seasonal produce. So make the most of it, and host a celebration (or two) this season. Love to read? Raise your hand and host the next book club. Want to involve the kids? Ask the neighbors over for burgers in the backyard and set up the fire pit for s'mores after. Feeling inspired after refreshing the dining room? Set a pretty table and invite your nearest and dearest for a fancy meal inside.

To help you host, no matter your party style, we asked Southern Living editors to share their tips and tricks for entertaining off-the-clock. Sure, our editors may be pros in the kitchen and with a cocktail shaker, but we're also parents, friends, and neighbors here to tell you that you, too, can be a fabulous host. Follow along, take a deep breath, and just do it! Once your loved ones are around the fire pit, and into that second bottle of wine, you'll look around and be thankful you did.

Don't Overthink It

There's a saying that goes, "If you wait until everything is perfect to host, you'll never host at all." It's a good reminder to stop waiting until "someday" to entertain. The food doesn't have to be homemade, your house doesn't have to be finished, and the table doesn't have to be elaborate. As features editor Betsy Cribb says, " Nobody's ever been sad about eating Chick-fil-a nuggets off a tray."

Do Remember It's Football Season!

Come September, it's officially football season in the South. So, even if your plans don't revolve around the Bama game every Saturday, remember that others will be counting down the minutes until kickoff. "Don't plan something during a big game unless the event is to watch the game," advises associate digital editor Jenna Sims. "Otherwise, people will be watching on their phone!"

Don't Forget to Prep in Advance

Whether serving take-out or a three-course meal, there's no reason to stress yourself out for timing's sake. The secret? Cameron Beall, assistant homes editor, is a big fan of the to-do list. She even recommends adding times, if needed—i.e., pick-up cake at 2 p.m., defrost rolls at 5 p.m., light candles at 6 p.m. "This especially goes for if you're hosting a seated dinner," she explains. "Plan ahead for when things need to cook, et cetera, so you're not scrambling at the last minute when you can't fit everything in the oven at once."

Mixed pattern tablescape
Robbie Caponetto; Styling by Buffy Hargett Miller

Don't Try to "Do It All"

Already making dinner? Don't be afraid to ask guests to bring over dessert or handle the wine, says assistant food editor Alana Al-Hatlani. And the next time a friend texts, "What can I bring?", promise you'll reply with an actual answer?

Do Spread the Party Out

Whether you take the above advice or not, guests will show up with something—we don't like arriving empty-handed around here. Knowing this, it's smart to prepare a "landing pad" for them to place dishes, wine, and gifts as they arrive. "A separate drink station helps with this—people can go right to it with their bottle," shares Ivy Odom, editorial producer. "It's a clear, easy way for them to feel like they're helping stay out of your way in the kitchen."

Holiday Details: Portable Bar
Photo: Ngoc Minh Ngo

Do a Walk-Through

Odom has another tip for buffet-style service: Set out your food in a well-thought-out order. "I like to pretend to go down the line myself and make sure it flows," she says. "For example, it's easier to spread condiments on plain buns than fully assembled hamburgers, so put condiments by the buns. And don't put dishes with lots of sloshy liquid first—it'll seep liquid all over the plate!"

Don't Keep Folks Waiting on Dinner

You've probably been told to not try a new recipe for a party, but senior food editor Josh Miller has another tip for those in the kitchen. "Pick a braised recipe for the main dish and make it a day ahead; it'll taste better and you'll be less frantic and more present for your guests," he says.

Don't Overcomplicate the Sides

On the food front, Odom also recommends choosing side dishes that can be served at room temperature. This way, they can be prepared ahead of time, and you won't have to stress about keeping them hot or cold while mingling. "But if you are serving things and want them to stay hot or cold, serve them in a warmer like a slow cooker, or over some ice," Odom advises. "You can fill a baking dish with ice and set a tray on top of it to keep things colder."

Spicy Sweet Potato Crostini
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Do Think About Presentation

True, your table does not need to be elaborate but that doesn't mean you can forget about presentation altogether. The way drinks, appetizers, and dishes are displayed determines the whole mood and flow of a party. This also applies to how individual dishes are plated. "If you're serving a large-scale dessert, like a cake or pie, or anything on a grazing board, go ahead and cut a slice out of the dessert and cut into the cheeses on the board," Odom advises. "No one wants to take out the first slice of anything, so it encourages people to not be shy. And it leaves you with less leftovers!"

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