How to avoid the most common hosting snafus

The doorbell rings. Your first guests are right on time—or (oh no!) a few minutes early. If you’ve completed some basic tasks to get your house ready and your party off to a smooth start, there’s no need to panic. Follow these rules of thumb and you’ll make your guests feel welcome and as important to you as they actually are.

1. Some Bathroom Business

Before guests arrive, make sure to prevent any unexpected encounters by remembering to flush all toilets—even the one in the basement that hasn’t been used since Grandpa Joe’s last visit (you never know where inquisitive guests will wander). While you’re at it, give the seat a quick swipe with a disinfecting wipe. Double-check that the toilet-paper dispenser is loaded up with a full roll, and leave a replacement roll in clear sight.

2. All Aglow

“Make sure the ambience is right,” says the sought-after event planner Kristi Amoroso, “not too dark, and for sure not too bright, when guests take their first overall peek at the party space.” Just before guests arrive, light any candles so they won’t burn out midparty.

3. Listening Pleasure

Along with candlelight, nothing creates a good atmosphere like music. When guests arrive, “make sure the music is on, and the sound level is just right,” says Amoroso. “Background sound level is best if the party starts with cocktails and conversation.” Save the floor-vibrating decibels for later. (Dancing, anyone?)

4. Vanishing Act

You want to serve hot-out-of-the-oven hors d’oeuvres, but you don’t want your guests to be greeted by a sink filled with dirty dishes from last-minute assembling and baking. Remember to run the dishwasher on speed cycle in the hour or two leading up to the party. Empty it as soon as the cycle is done so you can stash those crumb-flecked baking sheets and spatulas out of sight. (Hello, crab-cake sliders.) If you’re really thinking ahead, de-scuzz those stove burners the night before the party.

5. Bar None

Cocktails should be ready and set out so guests can grab them as they walk in, Amoroso advises. That way, partygoers can help themselves, and you can focus on greeting everyone instead of juggling drink orders and bottles. Include a few nonalcoholic beverages—Italian sodas or sparkling water—and have them arranged in an ice bucket or a favorite serving bowl filled with ice. Don’t forget to give stemware and glasses the once-over for water spots, and put out more than you think you’ll need—they tend to get misplaced or abandoned during the course of a rockin’ party.