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4. Plan seating arrangements with fun in mind. If you are hosting a sit-down dinner with eight or more guests, it's usually a good idea to assign places. Seating couples separately usually inspires more conversation (they do talk to each other all the time, right?), and seating your most charming guest next to a wallflower can help the shy one open up. And if you want to create a livelier atmosphere at your next shindig, reach beyond the usual suspects — invite a new neighbor or recent acquaintance, or ask a friend to bring a guest.
6. Get guests involved in the meal. Break the ice (and ease your workload) by inviting guests to assemble their own crostini, knead pizza dough or shake up cocktails at a DIY bar. Pitching in will help your guests feel at home — and when everyone has a stake in the dinner, you don't have to feel terrible if something doesn't come out as planned.
8. Set up your kitchen for easy cleaning. Before you start cooking, put a big bowl on the counter for garbage, and fill a dishpan (or the sink) with warm, soapy water to soak dishes as you use them. Line your baking sheets and pans with aluminum foil or baking parchment before using and you'll hardly need to clean them later. And if someone offers to help, let them!
10. Let guests go with gentle cues. If you're ready to go to bed but the guests are still going strong, try one (or more) of these friendly (yet clear) signs it's time to go.
Tell us: What is your all-time best easy-entertaining tip?