Fill your freezer with more ice than you think.

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Great hosts have great tricks. In Supper Club, Jonah Reider taps into the joys of do-it-yourself hospitality, sharing his essential tips for becoming a more creative, improvisational, and confident host.

One of the best-kept secrets to entertaining at home is that you don’t need to be a good cook to be a good host. I host about ten meals a week, and whether it’s my supper club, Pith, or an impromptu lunch, the mood matters more than the food.

Jonah Reider Hosting Tips
Credit: Sarah Crowder

Most of my friends, it seems, avoid hosting at home out of performance anxiety. But it really is a myth that a great meal requires flawlessly cooked food. I devote more energy to setting the right mood for a meal than I ever do actually cooking it. In the process, I’ve found myself less stressed, and my guests happier. It’s a more hospitable approach that’s less about showing off skills and more about receiving people as generously as possible. 

Don’t overcrowd the table

No matter what space you’re hosting in, embellish your dining table and draw attention to it. I try not to overcrowd the table by keeping each place setting minimal. Everyone gets a fork, knife, plate, cup, and wine glass, and I don’t change these throughout the meal. 

Stock up on some simple linen napkins

Tablecloths are expensive and easy to stain, but simple linen napkins add comfort and elegance.

My picks: I like these from Crate and Barrel ($7.95) and these from Williams Sonoma ($24.99).

Jonah Reider Cloth Napkins
Credit: Sarah Crowder

Pack your freezer with ice

Having ice on hand for water and cocktails is a free way to further boost tableside luxury.

Make liberal use of snack bowls

And don’t forget one final, necessary touch to any dinner table: a few bowls of ready-to-eat snacks. Whether you put out olives, nuts, or bread and butter, they'll leave you free to finish preparing the main dishes as guests arrive.

Switch to dimmable light bulbs 

Experimenting with lighting in your dining room will make any meal feel more intimate. Restaurants have dim lighting and tables with flickering candles for good reason—they draw attention away from a room’s messier corners and towards the table.

More than anything, I recommend switching your light bulbs to dimmable ones that glow a delicate golden hue, mimicking the warmth of natural flame. Avoid pointing all the light directly at your table, and perhaps place one or two floor lamps in corners to help light the room gently and evenly. 

My pick: Philips LED Dimmable Frosted Light Bulb, 8-pack, $19.99, amazon.com

Invest in giant candles

I’ve also invested in giant candles that burn through dozens of dinners. Fake candles just don’t cut it, and there’s a satisfying decadence to candles (and wine bottles) wearing down slowly throughout a meal. Plus, leftover wax is surprisingly easy to clean with a spatula and hot water.

My pick: 3" x 8" Ivory Pillar Candles, Set of 2, $16.90, amazon.com

One bunch of wildflowers is more than enough

Flowers can add celebratory, sculptural, and organic bursts of beauty. I avoid overpriced technicolor ones in favor of simple bunches of wildflowers. One bunch can become three or four smaller arrangements that fill up a table yet keep guests’ faces visible to one another. 

Pick music, and check the volume ahead of time

Researchers call it “sonic seasoning.” Studies consistently show that food tastes better in a room with music playing. Background music can also lessen social inhibitions, making guests more comfortable to chat with one another (avoiding awkward pauses when I have to tend to dirty dishes or undercooked meat).

Whether you’re bumping music from your phone or a giant hi-fi system, pick a playlist with hours of music that you love, and check the volume ahead of time so that you don’t have to anxiously fiddle with the music throughout a meal. (If you want to tune into the sound of my own dinner parties, here is the playlist I use practically every time I host.) 

Don’t fixate on mistakes

Nervously apologizing for overcooked chicken doesn’t exactly set the best mood. Cooking is hard—have pride in your creations!

When I radiate pride over a dish, I’m certain guests enjoy it more. Sometimes this means brightly reclassifying burnt carrots as charred. Sometimes it means biting my tongue about overcooked pasta. Even if you have no music, no lights, even no damn table, just remember: if you’re happy, your guests will be.

Is it professional suicide for a home cooking columnist to claim that cooking may not actually matter that much? I don't think so—imperfection is exactly what makes cooking at home so relaxing and fun. A bean stew, a $10 bottle of bourbon, and a smile will get you way further than that trendy recipe.