TIPS + TRICKS
Start with drinks!
Guests might be used to bringing over wine, but teaching them to make a killer cocktail starts the evening off on a playful note. Michael sets out the mixers and ingredients on the counter, then lets friends pour and shake away. "Cooking should be fun and very low-pressure," he says. "So once people arrive, we make a cocktail and chill for a little bit -- then get to work."
Tag-team the tasks!
While it's the host's job to provide plenty of cutting boards and cooking tools, each guest can tackle a part of the menu, like rolling the asparagus in carpaccio. Michael's only rule: Eat while you work! "Nibbling is the greatest part of dinner," he says. Choose dishes you can eat with your hands, or buy extras of finger-friendly ingredients like cheese and veggies to snack on during prep. While Michael and Liz start on the main course, their friends find their groove with the appetizers.
Switch up the party scene!
Eating the first course while standing around the kitchen is the kind of casual entertaining Michael loves. But dinner itself is best enjoyed while relaxing around the table. "If you're not done till midnight, who cares?" Michael says.
Make dessert together, too!
Chances are that dinner will leave everyone stuffed (mission accomplished!), but preparing the final treat together is a built-in breather. Pour some coffee or shake up a new batch of cocktails while you roll and fry the doughnuts.