No 2 - Music On!!! In one of Ina Garten's cookbooks (I know you're sick of hearing about my idol Ina) she mentions that there's nothing worse than showing up at a party and ringing the door bell, the door opens, and there is no music. You kinda feel early, like you've shown up before the party. Turn that music on at least 30 minutes before your party begins, it will make sure the house feels festive and it will put you in an entertaining mood before guests even arrive.
No 3 - Candles lit!!! You don't have to have tons of candles lit, or even the candles on your table lit if you don't plan to sit down to dinner for another hour or so, but just having one or two candles in your house lit will make things instantly feel more festive. A candle in your den where you may be having drinks, and a candle lit in the powder room is always nice, but I always forget this one!
No 4 - Cocktail in hand, and get one in your guest's hand pronto! It's much more fun to show up to a party and see that your host is enjoying herself and as a hostess, get your guest a drink asap too! Even if the rest of the night you'll encourage guests to help themselves self serve at the bar, it's always nice when someone arrives to quickly say "what can I fix you to drink?" "can I pour you a glass of wine?" "would you like to try a Gin and Jack Rudy?" They'll be happy to have a drink in hand to let the party begin!
Honestly, even though making food ahead of time (my all time No 1) will make entertaining easier, Music On, Candles Lit, and having a Drink in Hand will make your party more fun. These are arguably more important to me because they make things feel festive and relaxed. They really go without saying but it's easy for me to forget about them, and another thing, no need to save these for a "party." I think the same apply if just a girl or two who live next door stops by for a glass of wine on a weeknight. If you light a candle and turn on the music, small get togethers instantly feel more special too.
rooftop dinner party image via ...etc | record player via urban outfitters | tortoise ice bucket via furbish | candles via furbish