Don't be a martyr
Bear this in mind before the event even begins. When a guest asks "Can I bring anything?", say yes. Everyone appreciates that it is expensive and time-consuming to lay on even a simple dinner for five or six people, so let your guests pitch in.
In an ideal world one would prepare everything the night before, arrive home from work in plenty of time to bathe, lay the table, and answer the door to your guests looking fragrant and serene. In reality, the Tube is delayed, visitors are early, and hosts and hostesses are frazzled. Remember that in letting your guests help, you are doing them as much of a service as you. Be it laying the table or opening the wine, having a job to do gives an awkward guest purpose.
Just as excellent table decorations do not a great party make, no gathering ever went down in the annals as the worst night of all time because the host had forgotten to hoover the living-room, or used lime instead of lemon for the gin and tonics. Don't come over all Promethean and try to be Nigella Lawson if the most you usually manage is pasta and sauce – it is a recipe for disaster. Have modest ambitions and everything is much more likely to go to plan. So, relax. The mood of the host sets the tone for the whole group, so make sure you're having a good time – or at least act like you are.
Think quality, not quantity
Just as it is better to have one nice dress than 10 cheap ones, it is infinitely preferable to have a small, select gathering than a massive one filled with people who are there to make up the numbers. Also, consider the combination of people you are inviting. It sounds simple, but avoiding ex-boyfriends, people who hate each other, and anyone terminally dull is a good start. It is also important to remember not to invite a lot of couples and only one or two singles – the single people will either think that they are being set up with each other, or be annoyed that you haven't invited anyone eligible for them to talk to. Parties are prime hunting grounds for singles, and for many being seated next to a hottie will more than make up for a burnt dinner.
Get your guests drunk
If it looks like the event is floundering, crack open more booze. Even boring things seem interesting when everyone is a bit merry, so make sure the fridge is well-stocked. Everyone knows that the real fun – revealing too much information, dancing badly, kissing someone inappropriately – begins when we abandon our inhibitions.