Mary Giuliani—caterer to the likes of the Rolling Stones and Oprah, and pal to our gal Rach—answers your entertaining questions so you can host like a pro, whether it's a weeknight hang or an epic fête.

illustration of champaign and cocktails
Give yourself one hour more than you think you need for party prep.
| Credit: Illustration by Asia Pietryzk

What are your tricks for timing everything so that it’s all done at the same time? 

—Belinda Sanders 

"If only there were an I Dream of Jeannie app that we could download, press, and poof—it's all done on time! Timing is always a host's biggest hurdle, and even the best of us have burned a casserole or two. While it will never be perfect, I find the more prep, the better. However long you think it's going to take to get everything done before your guests arrive, add an hour. It makes a big difference. Take time to walk through the night from arrival to departure. Set the bar, table, and serving pieces for your meal before your guests arrive. I like using Post-its on my platters to show what goes where. I also set up my bar in the kitchen so while my guests are enjoying a welcome cocktail, I can keep an eye on the meal. And, of course, raise a glass with everyone!" 

How do you know how much food to make for a dinner party and how many different items there should be? 

—Chelsey Cook 

"I'm Italian, so there is never enough food! But I've found sticking to a simple formula helps. For hors d'oeuvres or mini bites, think two or three options, and four pieces of each food per guest. So 10 guests times four pigs in a blanket equals 40 pieces of that food item. When it comes to drinks, the general rule is that guests will have two drinks during the first hour and then one drink every following hour. (Cheat sheet: One bottle of wine fills five glasses, and one liter of hard alcohol makes 12 to 14 cocktails.) For a buffet dinner, one protein, one starch, one green, and one salad equals a full meal per person. I also like to make sure the starch and greens are hearty, so if I have a veggie guest, they're covered."

How do you cater to everyone’s food-allergy needs or chosen diets? Do you even have to? So many people are gluten-free, paleo, or vegan.

—Angela Kirkpatrick

"Tell them to bring their own food. JK! As a caterer, I'm constantly adjusting menus to fit my clients' needs, but if you're unsure of your guests' dietary restrictions, veggies are your best friend. There are so many amazing vegetable options now that eat like a meal. For example, cauliflower is the new black! It can be grilled, sautéed, 'Parmesaned,' you name it! If you're worried, I find that nailing one great veggie dish (try some hearty eggplant Parm boats) and serving it for the unknowns usually covers all."

Eggplant Parm Boats
One of Mary’s fave ways to please veggie guests!
| Credit: Photography by Peter Ardito

Recipe: Try our Eggplant Parm Boats