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 an impromptu hang or an epic party.

people picking table food
Make like Mary and welcome guests with a martini—shaken, not stirred.
| Credit: Photography by Getty Images

What is a great classic cocktail to greet guests with when they arrive? 

—Laurie Xepoleas, Livermore, CA

I am a martini kinda gal, and I take great pride in offering my guests a perfectly shaken chilled martini upon arrival. Now, that may be a bit strong for some guests, so another classic and easy-to-prepare drink is a champagne cocktail. All you need is champagne (if your budget allows) or Prosecco (just as yummy, and often yummier) with a dash of bitters (there are so many great bitters and shrubs these days) and a simple maraschino cherry. And speaking of traditional cocktails with cherries, how 'bout a Dirty Shirley? It's an adult, vodka-splashed play on the Shirley Temple. Hey, just because we're older doesn't mean we can't revisit our childhood favorites! 

How do you grapple with having to invite people who don’t like each other to the same party? 

—Lisa McCormick, Brooklyn, NY 

Nothing brings peace among people faster than breaking bread together. My grandmother Lucille owned several successful hotels, and her favorite thing to do was host people from all different walks of life, with different lifestyles, opinions, and politics. She felt that keeping company only with those who agreed with you was too safe and wouldn't allow for any real positive change to occur. She liked the uncomfortable. I like the uncomfortable, too, especially these days. My advice: Don't be afraid to invite people who don't get along. Just make sure everyone is notified about who is attending so everything is direct and drama-free, and each person can choose whether they still want to join in the fun. Also, make sure the drinks are stiff and there is lots of melted cheese available. This, in my opinion, is the road to peace on earth.

How do you save and store decorations after the party? 

—Diana Cesares, Orange, CA 

I always save my decorations. Even my popped confetti goes in a reusable jar for days when I need a little extra sparkle. I have a storage box for each occasion, so after each party I add my keepers to that growing assortment (occasionally tossing the ones that are getting too old into the recycling bin). They stay stored in my party closet (yes, I have a party closet), and I love adding new memories every year.

I love a theme! What are your favorite themes for a party? 

—Denise Sortor, Colchester, VT 

I'm a huge sucker for using a TV show or movie as a theme. You know another place to get party-theme inspiration? Record albums—I've thrown Magical Mystery Tour–themed parties, Willy Wonka parties (the original soundtrack is great!). I say that for your theme, the more outside the box, the better. But my favorite type of "themed" parties are the simple kind. I love a gratitude party—inviting your pals over just to let them know how much you appreciate them. 

What’s the easiest appetizer to make when you have company coming over at the last minute? 

—Janet Pridgeon, Wauchula, FL 

I love that you used the word "company!" I feel like my mother was always prepared for company stopping by when I was growing up. She always had cheese ready to be boarded, a cake ready to be dusted with sugar, and a drink ready to be poured over ice. I think we're a little less equipped these days for that kind of drop-in, but I encourage you to show off your old-school party preparedness by throwing together a quick dip (frozen spinach and artichoke dip with some leftover Parmesan chunks and fontina cheese mixed in), a refreshing cocktail (grapefruit juice added to any clear liquor is delish), or some frozen pigs in a blanket (have I mentioned how much I love them?) topped with "everything bagel" seasoning to show your company how happy you are that they stopped by.

This article originally appeared in our Harvest 2020 issue. Get the magazine here.