1. Take your shoes off—literally. A hostess without shoes feels comfortable herself, making her guests feel at home
2. The old standard: do as much as you can in advance. You’ve been to a dinner party where you barely see the host but can hear him yelling at the steak he’s agreed to cook you to order. Pick something you can prep the night before and cook during the day.
3. Games: a great way to break the ice if your guests don’t know each other! If you know your guests well enough, this is a great one. You collectively select a category (birds, for example). The leader picks one item from the category (a robin, maybe) and does not tell anyone. He is given a shot glass of water. Going around the table, each guest says one item from the category (blue jay, woodpecker, vulture) until one person guesses the leader's item. The leader throws the water on this person. Repeat with infinite categories!
4. Speaking of cheese…cheese is the new chocolate. Instead of making a dessert next time, try a selection of cheeses and an interesting honey—truffle, lavender or chestnut, perhaps.
5. Bring out the kids in your dinner guests. Provide a paper tablecloth or placemats and some crayons so partygoers can doodle as the night goes on.