After several decades of party planning under our belts, we’ve become somewhat of an expert on the topic of entertaining large groups of people. And we’re here to share what we’ve learned with you so that you can enjoy every second of the holiday season possible – without making some of our past mistakes.
While most people love the holidays, we know that entertaining a big group of people can feel a bit… daunting. You’re handling different taste preferences, food allergies galore, and don’t forget about that crazy aunt that always brings up inappropriate topics! If we’re being honest, it can be downright exhausting at times.
If you’re hosting a holiday meal in your home, then here are 5 tips we’ve learned that will help you make entertaining as smooth as that glass of eggnog you’ll be enjoying beside the fire. Enjoy!
5 Tips to Make Entertaining Easy
Pick Your Playlist
Music is the secret sauce to set your party’s ambiance. Whether you’re with a group that prefers holiday big band, bossa nova, or catchy pop tunes, think ahead of time about what your guests might like to hear.
If you’re creating a playlist from scratch, consider this structure to make your playlist sparkle – start with it being a bit mellow, building slowly throughout the evening, then starting to bring the tempo back down as guests are settling in and relaxing on the couch following their big meal. We actually built one holiday playlist that we listen to every year during our family’s Christmas celebration – it’s now become a bit of a festive, family tradition we all enjoy.
For those of you skipping making a mixtape, we get that it can be a bit time consuming. If you have a smartphone, free apps such as Spotify and Pandora host several holiday playlists that are pre-built to fit your crowd.
Prep Ahead of Time
While we’re big fans of foods that you can prep in advance, many people miss an easy opportunity to prep that’s sitting right in front of them. And it is… servingware.
The night before your big function, set the table so that you don’t have to worry about that task on the actual event day itself. In setting our table, we love including as many tea lights on the table as possible, as they can be easily lit in a hurry to set the mood without fuss.
Additionally, feel free to get out any serving bowls or platters you might need well in advance so that you don’t need to dig through cabinets while you’re prepping the food. As a pro tip: We suggest using serving bowls and platters from different sets whenever possible so that they don’t match too much, which can end up looking like a catering hall.
Plan Your Meal Well in Advance
While you may not be able to purchase every ingredient well before your party, you can make the list ahead of time of what you’ll need. This will make shopping much easier when the time comes, helping you to avoid some of the crowds and stress that comes along with the grocery store.
Typically, when planning the menu, our primary rule of thumb has become using recipes that can be made in 45 minutes or less. This way, if we’re running late, we’ll quickly be able to catch up. We are also very conscious of picking recipes that don’t need ongoing attention so that we don’t have to spend all night in the kitchen. Sorry risotto, but now’s not the time.
When setting up our self-service bar (no need to serve each guest their beverage individually), we love to create a specific, pre-mixed beverage for the event. We’ll also consider what dishes we’ll be serving and pair them with appropriate wines that complement the flavor of the dish. (If you’re new to pairing food and wines, feel free to join our class on Party Pairings, coming up next on December 14th. Learn more details and sign up here.)
Remember that YOU Set the Tone
No matter who your guests are, you, as the host or hostess, sets the tone of your function. If you’re running around like crazy and are feeling frazzled about something not going as planned, then your guests are going to feel like an inconvenience.
We, instead, focus on feeling relaxed and helping to make our guests as welcome as possible, while showing them that we appreciate them being guests in our home. As long as you’re relaxed, your guests will feel comfortable and at-ease, too.
Especially if you’re having a large function, having all of the food and table set-up done in advance may be next to impossible. If that’s the case, then don’t worry about having everything all ready to go. Instead, think about the three main elements guests might notice as they walk in the door. Our typical priorities include having the music ready to go, having a couple appetizers ready to enjoy, and being ready to offer a fresh beverage as soon as our guests walk in the door.
From there, we don’t worry much about having all of the details ready immediately as people arrive. Your guests will feel comfortable being a small part of the process.
Cleaning Up Afterwards
While it can be tempting to want to clean everything the second the plates are piled up and the last guest leaves, we actually suggest otherwise. Don’t force yourself to keep cleaning until the early hours of the morning! Instead, we suggest that you get things prepped to clean the next day. Put everything in the sink and add soapy water to anything that might stick or stain.
Then relax for a bit. You worked hard and served your friends and family with love – each plate and glass will be a reminder of the fun night you just experienced. A few extra minutes of calm relaxation may be just what you need.