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

Having friends this time of year has its own flavor (literally: pumpkin spice, anyone?), and I just love it.

But what I don’t like is stress over entertainment in any way. And that’s why I have the following cheat sheet in hand and I always ask my guests to bring something for each guest or couple – maybe a nice salad, a charcuterie board or a cake. That leaves mostly just the main course (if you’re serving dinner) and some cocktails to make and some pretty backdrops to display. Keep this cheat sheet nearby, and you’ll enjoy all the fun things about your meetup, minus the stress.

The main course: Since all of your guests bring a dish, the starter is up to you. I love pot roasts, roasts and stews this time of year anyway; Her rich flavors and warm heartiness are perfect for the cool weather. But they’re also great for cooking all day, as all the prep (cutting veggies, browning, etc.) is done early and then popped into the oven (for tajines, roast pork, pot roasts) or on top of that comes off the stovetop for hours (stews) – so you have enough time to prepare everything else.

Have a simple cocktail ready: Pre-made batches are your friend when it comes to spending time with guests rather than being the bartender, and preparing them ahead of time gives you more room to add custom, creative, and seasonal touches—like a shot of cider and ground Cinnamon an Old Fashioned for example. Mix up a pitcher of your favorite, get the glasses ready, then when guests arrive, shake with ice (if the recipe calls for it) and add any toppings at the very last minute.

Keep things family style: Even if you don’t have family, family style dining is the way to go. It’s simple and unfussy, so you can take it straight from the oven to the table. And it’s more interactive – it lets guests decide what they want and how much, and share and pass around.

table decoration: Fall decor is so much about natural elements that decorating your table or buffet will be a breeze. I love colors, textures and patterns that evoke nature and the bounty of fruit that is now available. A handful of beautiful pears in an earth-colored bowl, for example, looks simple and elegant. A woodland-inspired vase full of leafy sprigs that you’ve collected is bright and stunning. I also love a collection of smaller vases — like Afloral’s Set of 3 Mini Bud Vases in Matte Porcelain ($42 on — that are placed around the table so guests don’t have to look over a large one.

Rely on comfort. Cushions on dining room chairs feel like a luxury when everyone reclines in them, and yet they’re so easy to manage. Patterned and textured pillows like Velvet-Suede Cypress Pillow ($88 on add design interest and depth to your dining room — or patio — when you use leaf-print outdoor pillows like the Priddy Outdoor Lumbar Pillow ($44.34). And they just make everything more convenient.

Even if you’re outside, blankets are fine (yes, even if you have a fire pit). They add a hospitable touch and greatly increase the likelihood of guests staying out longer. I don’t recommend cashmere – or anything equally fine – for outdoor use, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be stylish. The Italian Plaid Throw Blanket in Highland ($79 at proves that.

Boost Flavors: Of course, we all know the power of scented candles in creating coziness and comfort. But the smell of food is just as strong in this category. If the gathering seems to be over a little over halfway through and the dessert is a pastry or a cake, I put it in the oven to warm up—and the scent gets everyone looking forward to the final course and encouraging them to linger a little longer to stay.

A touch of autumn around the table and place settings make a get-together something very special.  (Photo Metro Creative Services)
A touch of autumn around the table and place settings make a get-together something very special. (Photo Metro Creative Services)

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