There was a time when picking up a six-pack and a couple of pizzas was enough to call yourself the host.

Don’t get us wrong, we love pizza and beer, but when it’s more than just the guys from poker night, you should step it up a notch. Over the next few pages we’ll show you how to raise your social standing with some simple tricks of the trade, from sure-fire cocktails to no-fuss, delicious snacks. Forget calling in the caterers, our go-to guide will demystify the details and help you host guests without so much as breaking a sweat. Thanks for coming, grab a drink…

Set the scene

Your mother was right – towels drying on furniture and an unmade bed are a no-no. Before your guests arrive, tidy up, empty the dustbin, sort out the bathroom, mop the kitchen floor and, unless you’ve invited your mates for a rugby or soccer game, turn off the TV (or at the very least the sound). Music, loads of candlelight and, yes, even fresh flowers set the scene. SORT YOUR SPACE Keep things intimate by placing the key elements for your get-together (food, drink and seating) relatively close to each other so you can create an atmosphere instantly. And it goes without saying if your space is small, keep the numbers down and if not, extend the guest list. If your kitchen is tucked away, try to prep as much as you can beforehand – a host who is hidden away out of sight is a dampener on any party or get-together. You need to be in charge of the meal rather than the other way round.

FIX THE GUEST LIST
Whether a dinner party or drinks, the same is true: invite your good friends, plus one or two work friends. Invite people you’d like to be friends with and take a chance with a wild card or two. Having a party? Don’t forget a healthy quotient of singletons, both male and female, and up the ante by inviting that pretty girl and her friend you met at gym the other day. Rope in a confident, regarious friend to help keep shy guests involved and if someone’s at a loose end, give them something to do.

SORT YOUR SPACE
Keep things intimate by placing the key elements for your get-together (food, drink and seating) relatively close to each other so you can create an atmosphere instantly. And it goes without saying if your space is small, keep the numbers down and if not, extend the guest list. If your kitchen is tucked away, try to prep as much as you can beforehand – a host who is hidden away out of sight is a dampener on any party or get-together. You need to be in charge of the meal rather than the other way round.

PREP THE FOOD
Finger food is essential if you’re having a drinks party (and we’re not talking about cocktail Viennas and sausage rolls). It’s also ideal if you’ve invited people who don’t know each other very well as they can mingle easily (plus it’s simple to get right). You’ll need:serviettes, side plates, a couple of platters or big bread boards, a tasty selection of one- to two-bite snacks or easy-to-assemble choices.

ORDER THE WINE
Wine can be intimidating. Chat to a wine merchant, like Rick Bennetts of Wine on Time* in Cape Town. He’s involved in the distribution of lots of boutique wines. Give him a call, tell him your budget and mention the kind of get-together. He’ll source a selection for you and deliver it to your house, as well as offering a cellar filling service. Norman Goodfellows liquor store in Joburg (ww.ngf.co.za) is famous for sorting out parties, big or small.

PICK A THEME
If you’re feeling a little anxious about what to serve, consider having a theme where you only have to get one or two elements absolutely right. Like inviting people to come round for ribs and beer (try Frog’s Foods for outstanding pre-marinated ribs delivered to you in Cape Town or visit French specialities deli, Petit Cochon, in Joburg (petitcochon.co.za) for traditional French pâtés and cured meats). Or make a simple pasta dish for the hordes to enjoy with an excellent red wine. It doesn’t have to be complicated, the only essential is that you go for quality over quantity. So yes, you can serve boerie rolls – just visit your local food market and buy a selection of gourmet boerewors choices for your mates to try.

DON’T STRESS
If you’re new to the game or pressed for time, a theme can make life a lot easier. Pasta for main course? Make a Mediterranean platter to start, or if you’re into Asian, why not pick up frozen dim sum from your local Chinese supermarket? Steam for seven minutes and serve with a suitable dipping sauce (don’t forget the chopsticks). Try Yat Kee Supermarket or Mainland China.

CREATE A VIBE
Music sets the mood so create a playlist
or two for your party, press play and forget about it. There’s nothing more irritating than constantly swopping tunes. Think of it like a movie: intro, build up the vibe, keep the energy, then slow down to finish.
Cocktails: Acid jazz like The Moreira Project or world music from Putumayo.
Snacks: Go upbeat with MGMT and Faithless.
Dinner: Rat Pack swing favourites like Sinatra, Dean Martin and even Brian Ferry & Roxy Music.
Drinks: Bring in the crowd-pleasers: Temper Trap, Jamiroquai, Arcade Fire, Neon Trees and Depeche Mode.
Party time: Spin some cheesy Eighties & Ninties mixes: INXS, The Police, Men at Work.
Coffee: Fade out with cool vocals from Diana Krall and Melody Gardot. Nice job, DJ.

Play the Host

A good host is the life and soul of the party. A great host allows others to take the limelight. Your role? To ensure your guests have enough to eat and drink, that no one feels excluded, that people make new friends and that the conversation and laughter keep on coming. Introduce people to one another, spark up new topics of conversation, get out of the kitchen and have fun.

PARTY ESSENTIALS IN THE CUPBOARD
• Roasted cashews, pistachios
• Olives: black, green and stuffed
• Pretzels
• Kettle fried crisps
• Crackers (just add cheese or pâté)
• A couple of bottles of good red wine, like Alto Rouge or Porcupine Ridge
• Angostura bitters

IN THE FRIDGE/FREEZER
• Bottle of bubbly, try Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel
• A bottle or two of good white wine, like Groote Post Old Man’s White Blend
• Tonic and soda water
• Ice
• Lemons and limes
• Pre-made garlic breads

GOOD MATCHES
1 Brie and figs with crackers
2 Parma ham with melon
3 Artisan sausages and strong mustard
4 Pita breads and tzatziki
5 Smoked salmon wrapped around fresh asparagus
6 Cheddar, crackers and onion marmalade

Stock the bar

• Two or three ice buckets
• Corkscrew
• Beer opener
• Jigger (a tot measure)
• Cocktail shaker
For something different, try the Screwpull Compact Corkscrew (R135 www.yuppiechef.co.za). A step up from the typical waiter’s friend, it provides a bit of entertainment for onlookers as it requires some skill to use.

PICK THE GLASS
Get the basics right with your glassware choices.
Tumblers: essential for whisky, one or two crystal tumblers are nice to have too.
Collins: good for gulping water after a run, great for spirit-based mixers and cocktails.
Pilsner: while many like theirs straight out
of the bottle, some swear by a beer glass.
Martini: nice to have but not essential.
Wine: you’ll need glasses for both white and
red – if in doubt, go for a bigger bowl and use the same for both.
Champagne: assuming you’ll be inviting female company, they’ll want to drink their bubbly from an elegant, long-stemmed glass.
Where to buy: Banks www.banks-shop.co.za, Woolworths and @home countrywide.

RISE AND SHINE
Though plenty of water the night beforeshould help your head the morning after, a run or swim the next day will kick-start your metabolism to rid your body of all those toxins. Failing that, tomato juice and celery are full of vitamins and two of the essential ingredients in a Bloody Mary – which may be the hair of the dog you need.