Throwing a great party, whether it’s a casual cocktail party or a sit-down dinner for 12, can be quite the undertaking. While the most seasoned hosts make entertaining look effortless, there’s a lot of prepping and planning involved behind the scenes. So how do you make sure the evening goes smoothly and your guests have a great time (well, not such a great time that they don’t want to leave!)? We asked our very own party-and-event-planning-extraordinaire, aka our Founder Jennifer Margolin, to share with us some of her hosting wisdom.

1. Let's start with a personal question - have you always enjoyed hosting parties and where did that come from?
I’ve always loved hosting. It comes from my grandmother who was the consummate host. She loved having people over to the house and was often adding extra seats to the dinner table. It was so important to her that you felt welcome and had a good time, and everyone always did.

2. If you could only give one tip for hosting a great party, what would it be?
Plan ahead. This seems like a given but don’t underestimate how important it is. Design a menu that allows you to prep in advance so you can spend more time with your guests. Create a detailed list and timeline so that you don’t forget anything. But remember, no matter how organized you think you are, there’s always going to be inevitable glitches. My advice - don't stress, handle it the best you can and pour yourself another glass of wine!

3. What’s your preference - a sit-down dinner for 6 or a casual party for many?
I love sit-down dinners. When people think sit-down, they often think formal but that’s really not the case. I love the conversations you can have at a table. At a cocktail party you’re often flitting from one person to the next but with a sit-down dinner there’s more intimacy and you’re able to spend more quality time chatting with your guests.

4. How do you create the perfect guest list?
It’s the company that makes a great party so spend some time on your guest list, especially if it’s a sit-down dinner. You want people to enjoy each other’s company and that comes easily when they have things in common. Most of the time I invite people who know each other but sometimes I add new people to the mix. I love it when people who have never met hit it off.

5. Do you have a go-to dish or a favorite cuisine you gravitate towards?
For casual get-togethers in the summer, nothing beats a good BBQ with fresh and simple salads. In the cooler months, I love making my mother-in-law’s lasagna which is the ultimate comfort food crowd pleaser. The sauce takes three days to make and it’s so good! It’s also no secret that I'm a huge Ina Garten fan, so I’m often whipping up one of her many delicious recipes.

6. Do you have a signature cocktail?
I like to make cocktails based on the theme of the party and what goes well with the menu. In the summer, refreshing long drinks with citrus or tropical notes are always a hit. I love to experiment and often take the classics and put my own spin on them.

7. How do you decide on your table setting/decor?
I usually pick a theme that translates from the menu through to the décor and table setting. I enjoy mixing and matching my table settings. My advice is don’t be afraid to mix pieces like vintage items with everyday dinnerware as it helps to make the table more visually appealing. I find it helpful to start with a basic color palette and build from there. Fresh flowers, candles and fun yet stylish table linens are always a must for my tables.

8. What are your favorite flowers?
Peonies are timeless. They’re spectacular when fully bloomed and add a sense of glamour to any table. I think they look most elegant when styled on their own, or with some simple foliage. For extra drama you can create arrangements with different heights of vases. The fact that peony season is short-lived only adds to their allure.

9. How do you create the right ambiance?
A good playlist is a must. Whether it leans more jazz, soul or current, I like to mix it up with different artists from different eras. Mood lighting is also important to set the tone. A perfect combination of decor, lighting and music is key to making sure everyone feels relaxed and at home.

10. For a sit-down dinner, do you pair food with wine or do you keep it more casual?
It depends on the occasion. I like the experience of pairing wine and food especially if the meal is more elaborate with several courses, and if I know the guests I have invited particularly love their wine. But sometimes it’s good to just keep it casual and have a few options for people to choose from. I usually offer sparkling when guests arrive and then I also have a couple of white and red wine options available.

11. What's the biggest mistake people make when entertaining?
Not planning in advance and rushing around at the last minute. You’ll end up being stressed and you won’t be able to enjoy the party. Don’t try to be too ambitious and do too much. It’s also probably better not to experiment with a menu or recipe you have never tried before (unless of course the guinea pigs are your best friends and pizza is on speed dial!).

12. What’s the best gift to take to a host?
I always try to think of useful gifts that any host would appreciate, like a serving set or a pretty tray. Even a water pitcher is a nice gift - it’s something that you always need but never think to buy for yourself. And of course flowers are always appropriate but it’s usually best to bring a vase arrangement so that the busy host doesn’t have to run around looking for something to put the flowers into.