‘Tis the season to eat, drink, and be merry, but with jobs to juggle and kids to care for, sometimes playing hostess during the holidays can feel more like a burden than a blessing. Fortunately, we’ve got 28 practical and professional tips for entertaining with ease, all of which guarantee your parties will be a delicious, stress-free success. Cheers!
1. Always Plan Ahead
Break out the pen and paper and make a menu, write to-do and grocery lists, and keep notes on anything else that might be important for your holiday hostess duties.
2. Stick with What You Know
Don’t try any new recipes the day of your party. Instead, make foods that are simple, familiar and uncomplicated. In other words, this isn’t the time to try that beef bourguignon recipe you bookmarked earlier in the year. If you choose a menu you’re comfortable making, the meal is guaranteed to be a great success.
3. Delegate Dishes to Your Friends and Family
As the host don’t feel compelled to cook every part of the meal. Unless you want to, in which case email a sibling and ask them to bring a bottle of wine, or get your father-in-law to stop by the local bakery and pick up a few dozen rolls to serve with dinner. There’s always something that someone else can contribute to your event.
4. Do a Deep Clean the Week Before
Enlist the help of everyone in the household the week before your guests are due to arrive, and do a deep clean of the entire house. Then, when it’s time to entertain, you can do a quick clean that focuses on three main areas: the bathroom (close the shower curtain, clean the sink, empty the garbage and put the toilet seat down), the living room (tidy surfaces, put away throw blankets, tuck toys away, vacuum) and the kitchen (wipe and clear countertops, empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage and recycling).
5. Embrace the Potluck
Hosting is fun, but being cooked for is even more special, and a potluck party offers the benefits of both, not to mention it avoids putting excess stress or expense on the person hosting.
6. Shop for Essentials in Advance
Take a look at the most commonly used items in your pantry and fridge and purchase extra when you go shopping now. When you’re cooking and baking in the middle of December, you’ll be thankful you don’t have to make an extra trip to the grocery store to buy more butter.
7. Book a Babysitter
This genius idea will change your parties forever. By booking a babysitter, you can open your party to include kids, but the parents can still enjoy food, drink and conversation while the kids are cared for in another room of the house. Your guests will appreciate not having to book and pay for a babysitter, and you can also be a guest at your own party because you won’t have to entertain the kids.
8. Plan a Special Menu Item Just for the Kids
If you do have kids in attendance, be sure to put something special on the menu just for them. This cheesy Christmas tree is simple to make, yet impresses everyone who comes across it.
9. Make Ahead Meals
Main courses that can be made ahead of time allow you to spend more time with your guests and less time in the kitchen on party night. Other meal components that can be made in advance include salad dressings, most desserts, and nearly all fruit and vegetable prep (peel and slice).
10. Arm Yourself with An Easy Appetizer
These bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese are a foolproof, crowd-pleasing, gluten-free and make-ahead nibble that delights everyone who tries them. If blue cheese isn’t popular with your crowd, feel free to replace it with slices of Parmesan or creamy Boursin.
11. Pitcher Cocktails
When entertaining, be sure to have your butler make drinks for your guests so you can spend your evening chatting with your friends instead of creating cocktails for them. Oh, wait, you don’t have a butler do you? Instead, make a batch of pitcher cocktails, punch or mulled wine so you won’t need to spend the whole night playing bartender.
12. Elevate the Food
If your table, counter or sideboard is on the slim side, elevate the food by using serving pieces of varying heights (think platters, cake stands, and wooden cutting boards).
13. Reduce and Reuse
When shopping, look for items that can serve double duty in the kitchen, allowing you to reduce how much you buy while also reusing what you have on hand. For example, pomegranates and clementines work well as colourful table décor, but can also be served as a snack.
14. The Dish on Plates, Glasses and Cutlery
If you don’t have enough plates, glasses and utensils, rent them. Most party supply stores offer inexpensive rentals that can be returned dirty, making your post-party clean up a cinch. Alternatively, embrace the use of disposable plates, cutlery and napkins. Mama doesn’t have time for dishwashing all season long!
15. Host an Open House
A holiday open house is an ideal way to open your home to friends and family during the holidays, when the desire to host is the strongest, but you have the least amount of time to do it. Keep the timing short (2-4 hours), and ideally hold it between lunch and dinner so you aren’t obligated to feed your friends a full meal.
6. Cheese, Please!
When preparing a cheese board, be sure to remove cheese from the refrigerator at least one hour before serving, because cheese tastes best when served at room temperature. If serving two cheeses, choose one soft and one hard. If offering four, opt for a blue, Brie, goat and cheddar.
17. Savvy Seasonal Snack Suggestion
Here’s a savvy snack idea: when guests pop by set out bowls of clementines (bonus points for choosing ones with stems attached), foil-wrapped chocolates and mixed nuts to create the easiest, no-cook, seasonal snack you can offer.
18. Know How Much Alcohol to Serve
Here’s the general rule of thumb when it comes to alcohol quantities:
Assume guests will consume 1.5 – 2 drinks per hour.
- For wine, you’ll need ½-2/3 bottle per person
- For beer, 1.5 bottles per person
- For sparkling water, 1L per person
- For soda or mixer, ½ can per person
- For spirits, 2 oz. vodka/scotch/gin or 1 oz. rum/rye/bourbon per person
19. Banish the Full Bar
Speaking of alcohol, everyone is a cocktail connoisseur these days, but being an expert requires a well-stocked bar with a laundry list of necessary supplies. Serve wine and beer instead, with maybe one specialty cocktail or a holiday punch, and leave it at that.
20. Skip the Fancy Dessert
Serving something simple like store-bought vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce and crushed candy canes, or a platter of homemade cookies alongside hot coffee and tea can go a long way and will delight most people.
21. Weekend Brunch is Best for Kids
Weekend breakfasts and brunches are a great alternative to Saturday night dinner parties, especially when kids are involved. Most little ones are happy in the morning, not in need of a nap, and will enjoy themselves so much more than if out at an evening event.
22. Ice, Ice, Baby
Don’t forget the ice! You’ll need a pound per person for chilling and drinking. If you happen to be ordering rentals (see hack #14), most companies also sell ice in 20-25 lb. bags, which saves you from having to purchase smaller packages from the grocery store or gas station.
23. Perfect Party Food
Here’s a foolproof formula for a menu that won’t make you lose your mind: when deciding what to make, opt for a mix of homemade, store-bought and assembled items. Your guests will be satisfied and you’ll save both time and money in the kitchen.
24. How Much Food Do You Need for a Crowd?
One of the biggest obstacles any host can face is figuring out how much food to prepare for the number of people expected. While there is no foolproof formula, there are a series of things to consider before you begin planning an event, such as the type of food you want to serve, the breakdown of guests you’re expecting (ratio of men, women and children), and the start time of your meal. Head here to see our guidelines for how much food you’ll need to feed a crowd.
25. Timing and Temperature are Everything
If you need to bake multiple dishes at the same time, choose recipes that bake at the same temperature so you can move them in and out of the oven with ease. Make in advance anything that be reheated easily, and if you have a toaster oven, use it to keep dinner rolls warm.
26. Keep Calm and Decaffeinated
If hosting an evening event, don’t forget to offer decaf coffee to your guests in addition to a regular variety.
27. Create an Auxiliary Fridge
If you don’t have a large refrigerator, you can create an auxiliary one by setting a cooler on the front porch or back deck. Use it to chill any extra drinks, or to store bulky items you won’t need like condiments and pickles.
28. Plan Something Special for the Kids
This can be as simple as playing a holiday movie in another room of the house, or more detailed like giving the kids a gingerbread house kit to assemble in the kitchen while the adults are wining and dining somewhere else.