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Here’s how to host the best fall gathering at home

Having friends over this time of year has its very own special flavor (Literally: Pumpkin spice, anyone?), and I simply love it.

But what I don’t love is stressing over entertaining in any way. And that’s why I keep the following cheat sheet in-hand, and always ask my guests to bring one thing for each guest or couple — maybe it’s a nice salad, a charcuterie board or a pie. That leaves mostly just the main dish (if you’re serving dinner) and some cocktails for you to whip up, and some lovely settings to put out. Keep this cheat sheet nearby, and you’ll be enjoying all the fun things about your get-together, minus the stress.

The main dish: Since all of your guests are bringing a dish, that leaves the entree up to you. I absolutely love braises, roasts and stews this time of year anyway; their rich flavors and warm heartiness are perfect for the chilly weather. But they’re also the ideal thing to cook all day, since all of the prep (cutting vegetables, browning and such) is done early on, and then it goes into the oven (for tagines, pork roasts, braises) or on top of the stove (stews) for hours — which gives you plenty of time to get everything else ready.

Have a simple cocktail ready: Pre-made batches are your friend when it comes to spending time with guests instead of being the bartender, and making them in advance gives you more space to add some customized, creative and seasonal touches — like a pour of apple cider and ground cinnamon into a Old Fashioned, for example. Mix up a pitcher of your favorite, get the glasses laid out, and then when guests arrive, shake it up with ice (if the recipe calls for it) and add any garnishes at the very last minute.

Keep things family style: Even if it isn’t family you’re having over, family style eating is the way to go. It’s easy and unfussy, so you can bring it straight to the table from the oven. And it’s more interactive — it lets guests decide what they want and how much, and something to share and pass around.

Table decor: Fall decorating is so much about natural elements, it makes dressing up your table or buffet a cinch. I love colors, textures and patterns that give a nod to the outdoors and the bounty of fruits available now. A handful of beautiful pears in an earth-toned bowl are simple and elegant, for example. A woods-inspired vase full of branches of foliage you’ve collected is bright and stunning. I also love a collection of smaller vases — like Afloral’s Set of 3 Mini Matte Porcelain Bud Vases ($42 on — placed around the table, so guests don’t need to peer over one big one.

Pile on the coziness. Pillows on dining chairs feel like a luxury when everyone sits back into them, and yet they’re such an easy touch. Patterned and textural ones like Velvet-Suede Cypress Pillow ($88 on add design interest and depth to your dining room — or your patio, if you’re using leaf-print outdoor pillows like the Priddy Outdoor Lumbar Pillow ($44.34 on And they just make everything more comfy.

Also if you’re outside, blankets will be in order (yes, even if you’ve got a fire pit going). They add a hospitable touch, and significantly up the odds that guests will hang around outside longer. I don’t recommend cashmere — or anything equally delicate — for using outdoors, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be stylish. The Italian Plaid Throw Blanket in Highland ($79 on proves as much.

Boost the aromas: Of course we all know about the power of scented candles in creating coziness and comfort. But the scent of food is every bit as powerful in that category. When the gathering seems to be a little over halfway through, if dessert is a pastry or pie, I pop it in the oven to warm up — and the scent gets everyone excited for the last course, and encourages them to linger a little longer.

Touches of fall around the table and place settings make a get-together extra special. (Photo Metro Creative Services)
Touches of fall around the table and place settings make a get-together extra special. (Photo Metro Creative Services)

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