Expert: Jennifer Tye is the chef and principal of dc Taste. Tye, 40, an Oklahoma native, followed her best friend to the District 12 years ago. She worked at Michel Richard’s Citronelle and Central downtown and started catering on the side to make some extra cash. She lives in Alexandria with her dog, Philippe, whose name is a nod to her mentors in French cuisine.

Every year, Tye hosts an ornament exchange with 20 of her closest girlfriends, where she tests new hors d’oeuvres on her guests. She also makes a pot of wassail that includes apple cider, orange juice, grenadine, rum, cloves and cinnamon.

Shop for inspiration

Visit a nearby Crate and Barrel or check out the outlet in Old Town. Tye loves World Market because of its wide selection of decorations and cocktail mixers. For cooking supplies, try Sur la Table for handy tools and serving dishes.

Do what you can in advance

A lot of cooking can be done a day or two before the event. This way, you won’t be scrambling when the doorbell rings.

Keep decorating simple

Tye says she embellishes simple white platters with cranberries and greenery found in the floral department of most grocery stores or a local nursery, and leaves the rest of the decor to vases and glassware. She dreams of having Waterford Crystal Lismore wine glasses, particularly in jewel tones, which she said could be stunning for a holiday party.

Jennifer Tye (Courtesy of dc Taste)
Be strategic with seating

If you’re tight on space, rent a small folding table and chairs from a company such as D.C. Rental. A table, chairs, tablecloth and napkins can run you less than $100. Or invest in a convertible table, such as the Span White Gateleg Table from CB2 — and store it for future parties.

Know your limits

Don’t attempt dishes that are overly complicated. Start off with an easy dish for grazing, such as a dip or cheese or charcuterie board. This will keep guests occupied while you finish cooking. Then, she says, try to offer both light and hearty dishes. She suggests mozzarella and tomatoes with balsamic dressing along with shrimp cocktail or sliders.

Practice makes perfect

Alleviate your nerves by practicing a couple of dishes in advance to help you work out the kinks. Remember to have fun, she says, because that’s what entertaining is all about.

Waterford Crystal Lismore wine glasses (Waterford Crystal)
Embrace your fear

A certain level of fear is natural, and even healthy, when you’re entertaining, she said. It allows you to look at your situation from a guest’s point of view, which forces you to get your house in order and formulate a plan of action.