Okay, let's get to the meat of the matter. I only have a couple of general tips. At any dinner party I host these days, there are some number of children. Generally, those children are between the ages of three and eight. Feed them first. Feed them food they will eat: chicken strips, potstickers, pizza, macaroni and cheese, muffin tins, WHATEVER...and have a dessert for them. If the dessert is different from the adults, this can cause havoc. Play it by ear.
I am about to say something controversial...then put them in front of a cartoon or movie. Get them all to agree on something and then put them in front of it. The adults want to talk to other adults and not their children. The dinner party is like the playground for the adults. Unless you have a nanny at your house or some kind of magical wonderland inside an attic wardrobe, the "video" is your best bet. That's my opinion.
I like to then bring everyone back together for dessert.
I used to be one of those fluttery, apologetic, harried hostesses, but now I am a laid back hostess who tries to plan as much ahead of time as possible. Do not put yourself in a position where you are trying to poach fish or saute something while refilling wine glasses. This is a no win situation. For winter parties, make heartier dishes that you put in the oven or your crockpot hours ahead and all you have to do in the presence of your company is toss the salad.
If you entertain with a partner, like I do, agree ahead of time on what everyone's job is. Hubby and I have eased into this pretty seamlessly. He does coats, drinks, early banter, getting the kids' playing, introducing the appy...I plan/shop/cook and we both clean up. He is usually the first one up from the table, staging coffee and dessert, and since I'm still sitting there, it helps keep everyone relaxed. They seem to think if the hostess is giggling and telling stories with an Irish wine tan, then what do I have to fret about?
I am also a HUGE fan of Sunday brunch, particularly in the Spring when it's an asparagus/strawberries kind of affair. I try to do brunch instead of dinner in the Spring and early Summer.
I also like to serve new things and sometimes have a single, special festive cocktail. If I know a particular guest is fond of something like pistachios or a certain dip or dessert, then I will probably have that item every time that person comes over. Katy, I'm not sure what you think I do well. These things now seem so routine to me that it's hard for me to pull them out and articulate them.
Over time, my entertaining has become more elaborate, but I am very particular about which things I am willing to spend time and money on.
Start simple and as you become more skilled and comfortable, expand your repertoire. Try to relax and remember that they are there for the company and not the food.
If any of you has specific dinner party questions, fire away. I'm all ears.