It's supposed to be fun! Now, there's a phrase that should be outlawed.

Few notions are as crippling to the soul (or facial muscles) of the insecure hostess. Bad enough that your so-called quick hors d'oeuvres are still raw after 45 minutes in the oven and that your eye keeps being pulled, magnet-like, to the patch of dust you missed on the bookcase. On top of all this, you're supposed to have a rip-roaring good time at your own shindig? Ha.

Here's our gift to you: You don't have to have fun. You should, however, go ahead and have a party anyway—an imperfect, somewhat chaotic, invite-some-people-you-like-and-a-few-you-wish-you-knew-better party. Why? Because entertaining matters. Welcoming people into our homes is the best way we human beings have come up with to flatter, beguile and honor one another. And we've been proving it for tens of thousands of years.

Anything important takes practice, and summer is the best time to get some. The sunshine and heat ensure that guests arrive in the right frame of mind: content, languid, sociable. And cooking is less stressful because fresh, ripe ingredients require minimal effort to taste wonderful.

Get O's first-ever guide to becoming a great hostess, in three easy parties. Ranked in order of complexity, there's a cocktail party, a potluck dinner, and a buffet lunch. You'll notice that none is a seated dinner. That's because seated dinners require a keen sense of timing in the kitchen—every dish has to be done at just the right moment—and a bit of showmanship.

Our parties are built around the idea that you set out some food, some drinks, some chairs. Then you take a deep breath, make a few introductions, and let your guests do the rest—feed themselves, entertain themselves, and generally have a blast. People do that at parties, you know. And as you watch it all unfold, be careful—you might actually find yourself starting to have fun.

Three party plans that will definitely bring out the party girl in you!


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