If there is one thing my mother is known for, it’s being an amazing party planner. She hosts almost every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter at my parents’ house, and I’ve inherited her love for family gatherings now that I have a home of my own. Dinner parties are an exact science for her, and there are a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way for my own holiday hosting endeavors.
1. Lay out the night before.
It doesn’t matter if the party is for 5 or 500, the night before my mom will start laying out serving dishes, tableware, decor, and any food items that won’t spoil. She’ll even go so far as to label where she wants individual dishes of food to go so the process is as simple as possible the next day. It also makes it easier for others to help set up when she makes it nearly foolproof.
2. Party lights.
This one drives Orlando crazy when I do it, but it’s effective. My mother always flips on literally every light bulb in the house before guests arrive. It makes the house warm and inviting, and if there’s an area where she doesn’t want people to go she’ll leave it dark as a subtle signal. But it’s a party, this is the chance to use every lamp, up lighting feature, and pendant light you’ve got to make the whole space sparkle. Not to mention it’s great for photos.
While my mother is superwoman, she still doesn’t try to do it all by herself. She’s more than happy to dish out food items for others to bring, or to enlist their help in taking things out of the oven as needed. I think it actually makes guests more welcome when they’re given something to do, like they’re part of the team to make the evening special. So don’t be shy when someone offers to help. Let them take the dessert out of the fridge, or put more ice in the cooler. Then the party can get started with more relaxation on your part and less guilt on theirs.
4. Have a place for everything.
The drink dispensers go in the exact same spot on the kitchen island every time my mom has people over. The desserts go on the bar, the silverware goes at the end of the peninsula, and adults will sit in the dining room while kids go at the kitchen table. The benefits to this trick are two-fold: one, it makes set-up a cinch for my mom, and two, for people that have been to my parents’ house before they feel right at home when everything is where it should be. There’s no asking where to get a drink; they know right where to find it.
5. Get the music cranking.
Nothing is more awkward than being the first to show up at a party and the house is dead silent. Create the party atmosphere by having iTunes Radio playing before anyone’s even pulled in the driveway. I also like to use the AppleTV for this to occupy the television and prevent people from just mindlessly staring at a screen instead of interacting with one another, but not you might not want to take it that far. 😉 Apps like Pandora and Spotify are great for finding playlists that match the theme and vibe of your party, too. My mom often enlists the help of my younger siblings to create a playlist on iTunes, which gets them involved in the party planning. Either way, just make sure the tunes are on and the volume is up.
6. Greet guests with a drink and an app.
And by app, I mean appetizer. Similar to walking in to a silent house, it’s also awkward to have nothing to do with your hands when you’re first getting comfortable at a party. This tip I actually learned from The Barefoot Contessa, but she’s just as brilliant as my mom. As soon as guests arrive, make sure they have a cocktail and something to munch on. That uncomfortable span of time where folks are getting to know each other will almost entirely dissipate and the celebration can get going.
7. Leave the clean up for the next day.
Amazingly with my mom and I’s Type A tendencies, we’re both ok with letting the mess go until the next morning. Family and friends will of course help tidy up before they leave, but there are inevitably items that still need washed or put away properly once everyone’s gone home. But there’s no bigger buzz kill to a great evening than having to dry dishes or sort toys. So just let. it. go. Resist the urge to organize and savor the fantastic soiree you just threw. The chaos will still be there in the morning, and you’ll be in a better mood to take care of it.
What are your tips for hosting holiday parties? Let me know in the comments!