Get your guests to help. I do the main course, and I always ask somebody else to serve the wine or pour the water. Then friends feel as if they're on the A-team. It's collaborative and more relaxed that way.
Assemble rather than cook food. My favorite assembled dessert is a wedge of blue cheese—like a Stilton—fresh Bartlett pears and a glass of port. I served it once, and people actually clapped.
Table manners. For larger crowds, I prefer a narrow, rectangular table. I seat the most talkative guests in the center. That way the energy spreads outward.
Serve family-style. Everything—the wine, the water, the platters of food—goes on the table so guests can help themselves. It makes for a truly shared experience.
Loosen up. The stuffier the guests, the more casual I want the food to be. When I know men will show up in jackets and ties, I'll serve fried chicken or ribs to make them roll up their sleeves and eat with their hands.
Brunch, anyone? I think Saturday night is the hardest night to give a party. People come late and stay way past my bedtime. I'd much rather do a Sunday lunch or, during the holidays, an afternoon buffet.