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Holiday Party Planning Tips

November 07, 2022
Family at a dinner table at a holiday party

Whether it’s a lavish work party, an intimate family dinner, or a lively gathering of friends, fall officially kicks off the start of seasonal get-togethers. It’s a great time of year to celebrate and connect with those you care about, as well as reflect on the year and share your hopes for the next.

If the joyful burden of holiday hosting has fallen upon your shoulders, you may be feeling the pressure. We’ve put together some holiday hosting tips to help eliminate stress, amp up the feel-good atmosphere, and allow your guests (and you!) to enjoy every single moment.

1. Send your invitations early

We get it – it’s hard to even think about the holidays before Halloween, but your friends and family’s calendar is filling up just as quickly as your own. After all, there’s not many of those coveted Saturday evenings between Halloween and New Year’s Eve. Sending your invitations early not only ensures that the guests you really want there are available, it gives you a headcount and a jumpstart on planning.

Winter table setting with birch chargers and snowy pinecones

2. Choose a theme

Whether it’s a color scheme, a seasonal fruit, or a nod to nature, choosing one design element to pull everything together will create a memorable and cohesive event. For example, if cranberry is your piece to tie everything together, incorporate it into your festive tablescape, create a signature cranberry cocktail for the evening, and try out that recipe for the goat cheese and cranberry tartlet for dessert. It doesn’t have to be overly matchy or in-your-face, but a few nods to your theme will elevate the experience just a bit more.

3. Create a timeline for the day

You may be more of a go-with-the-flow type, but having some kind of plan for the day or night of the event will be beneficial. Get as detailed as you need to help minimize your stress – plot out when you need to start heating the oven, have the roast go in, light the candles, and have everyone eating by 7:00.

Family giving a toast at a dinner table at a holiday party

4. Stock up

The last thing you want to do is run out of something when you have a house full of guests. Whether it’s food or drinks (or heaven forbid, toilet paper), it’s better to overestimate how much to have on hand than to be short.

If you’re worried about having too many leftovers, send some home with your guests in take-out boxes or donate the leftovers to the nearest shelter. After all, aren’t the holidays about giving?

5. Cook ahead

Even the most organized host may find themselves feeling a bit frazzled the day of an event. To help reduce the last-minute stress, cook ahead some of your menu. Soups and stews are the ultimate winter and holiday food. Many can be made in advance and frozen until they’re ready for use on the day of your event.

We’re not saying you have to be the one cooking in advance. While we love a good, home-cooked meal, attempting to make every single dish from scratch is just asking for trouble. Whip up a few of your signature dishes, and buy the rest! Plenty of grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants offer holiday dishes that are tasty and a time-saver.

Another trick? Pull out whatever bowls and platters you’ll need for serving in advance. This will help you visualize everything you have and give you time to fill the gaps with whatever you may be missing. Take it a step further by using sticky notes to label them with what’s going in each one. No one has to go digging through your cabinets to find an extra dish and there’s no confusion or scrambling at serving time.

Mother and daughter cooking together in a kitchen

6. Ask for (and accept) help

Once you send out the invites, your friends and family will most likely be calling and texting you asking how they can help. As much as we like to think we are superhuman and can do it all, everyone needs help now and then. Letting your guests assist with party-related tasks makes them feel more involved, so don’t be afraid to accept their offer!

To be on the safe side, keep the essential items in your court, but let your friends and family help with extra side dishes or drinks. If your auntie isn’t the stellar baker she claims to be, gently guide her to another task such as helping you set up the bar cart or greeting guests when they arrive.

7. Anticipate guests’ needs (as best you can)

You don’t have to be a mind reader or have your crystal ball in working order, but it helps when you are prepared to meet the needs of your guests – before they even realize they have them! Ask about any dietary restrictions or food allergies before you create your menu. If you’re unsure, have them help you out to ensure whatever you’re cooking is in line with their needs.

Free up closet space or bring out a coat rack so there’s somewhere convenient for jackets to go. Your guests don’t want to dig through a pile of coats at the end of the night, nor do you want everyone’s jackets on your bed.

Set up a bar cart or drink station so your guests can help themselves to their beverage of choice. You can keep focus on the activity in the kitchen and they don’t have to stand around awkwardly waiting for someone to serve them.

Holiday cranberry cocktail on a wood charger

Make sure to have a variety of non-alcoholic drinks available for your guests if they aren’t drinking. Whether for reasons of wellness or personal choice, more people are leaning towards non-alcoholic options. Create a fun, seasonal mocktail to offer in addition to a traditional holiday cocktail.

Pamper your powder room so it feels like a little sanctuary for your guests. Make sure it is well stocked with essentials like toilet paper and paper towels, and elevate it with little touches like fresh flowers. Take it a step further with a box of toiletries like breath mints or toothpicks – things your guests may need, but are too embarrassed to ask for.

Lastly, place plenty of trash cans throughout the party area – one by the serving stations, one by the bar, and one by the seating area. Place extra liners in the bottom of the waste can so you can easily remove the filled bag, put a new one in, and move on. You don’t want your guests standing around with trash in their hands!

People serving food from a buffet

8. Arrange the party wisely

It’s human nature to gather around food. Your guests will congregate wherever they can eat, so put the appetizer stations in different locations. This will force them to mix and mingle, rather than clump together and crowd the kitchen.

Choose your serving set up in advance. If you don’t have a large table suitable for family-style dining, opt for a buffet layout. Just be sure to pull the table away from the wall so there are four sides available to people, otherwise lines form and it becomes tricky to get to the food.

Consider assigned seating. While many think it may be awkward or overly formal, it can actually have the opposite feeling! Your guests aren’t anxiously trying to figure out where to sit, it can be a great icebreaker if they don’t know each other, and it can spark new friendships.

Group of friends laughing at a Christmas party

9. Add some tunes

The little things make all the difference. Music is a great way to set the tone of your event. Apps like Spotify and Pandora have already-curated holiday playlists you can use, or you can play DJ yourself and create a playlist of your liking. Get your guests involved by asking them to send you a few of their favorite songs and include those. It’ll be a fun moment when they recognize their song of choice playing in the background.

10. Take a deep breath

While it’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” it can be stressful being responsible for creating lifelong, happy memories for the entire group. If you start to feel overwhelmed, remove yourself from the situation, gather your thoughts, and take a deep breath.

We promise, your guests aren’t putting that much pressure on you to make everything perfect. Few things kill a vibe quicker than a stressed-out host. If you’re relaxed and having fun, your guests will be too!

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