In an Editor's Letter in Martha Stewart Living Magazine* Gael Towey declared that "entertaining is my sport." I loved that line! It got me to thinking about how entertaining and sports - in my case running - have a lot in common.
Training - I recently trained for a half marathon (and have just started training for another). Prior to running 13.1 miles, I did a number of training runs that got increasingly longer. They prepared me for the race physically and mentally - which, it turns out, are equally important. The same holds true for recipes. Try a recipe out before serving it to company. Not only will you be able to make sure the recipe actually works and do any tweaking, you will be less stressed about serving it because you have practiced. A calm host is happy host.
Equipment - running does not require much in the way of special equipment but there are a few must-haves such as professionally-fitted running shoes and (for women) a running bra. Equipment for entertaining can vary and each party will have its own set of requirements. Dinner parties need napkins for example. Think through what sort of party you are having and gather up your necessary equipment well in advance.
Nothing new on race day - any runner who has run a race has heard this advice. That means broken-in shoes, clothes you have run in before, pre-tested race snacks, etc. For entertaining I'd soften this advice to "very little new." And what's new should not be very important - for example, trying a new cheese as part of an hors d'oeuvre platter or trying a new vegetable side dish. Trying a new main dish is probably more stress than you need.
Pacing - pacing is huge in a race. If you go out too fast you risk burning out before the end. Pace is also really important for entertaining. A two hour cocktail hour is great for a cocktail party, not so great for a dinner party. Take some time before the party to think through what you are making and what needs to happen at the last minute for each dish. Consider logistics such as oven and stove space. Sketch out a timeline. Do as much in advance as possible.
Post race relaxation and recouping - I always take a few days (well, sometimes a week) off from running after a race. The same goes for entertaining. Make it a point to relax after your party and don't have another one too soon!
*I believe it appeared in the July, 2009 issue