Hosting a dinner party can be nerve racking, especially if you haven’t hosted before or its been a while since gatherings have been limited. With the holiday season approaching, many of us are looking forward to spending time with our friends and family members.
So we put together this handy guide on how to throw a holiday party! Lets start with holiday hosting tip number 1: whether you have 2 guests or a crowd of 20, a home cooked meal or catered food, fine china or paper plates; just remember that its the thought that matters most. Inviting guests into your home to enjoy food, drinks and great company is a gift you are giving to them.
Now lets dive into our plan to help you get through hosting this holiday season with ease!
Create a Guest List
When creating a guest list, you need to consider the following when it comes to determining the number of guests to invite:
1. Formal or Casual?
The larger the gathering, the more casual you will want to go. What I mean by casual is that you should consider going with disposable dishes instead of your regularly used or best dinnerware. This doesn’t mean you have to go picnic style paper plates! You can always find some fancy disposable dinnerware in stores these days.
You should also consider a buffet style set-up on a separate counter or table to make it easier for guests to serve themselves as opposed to people having to pass serving platters around.
2. Does Everyone Know Each Other?
When creating your guest list, you may not want to invite too many guests who do not know many people in your social circle. As tempting as it may be to introduce all your friends to each other, if you are the only thing they have in common, the evening might be a little awkward. Instead, invite people who know each other, then add one or two people who are new to the group so you can properly introduce them.
Do you have enough breathing room and comfortable seating for the number of guests you want to invite?
Picking the Perfect Date to Host
Picking the date of your gathering is very important. It goes without saying that Fridays and Saturdays are usually the best nights to host. Any other night will interfere with work and/or school schedules. Even Sundays are not the best of nights to host because most people have to go to work or school the next day, so they won’t be as relaxed or able to stay for very long. The only time Sundays will work for most is if Monday is a statutory holiday.
Try to send out invitations at least 2 to 3 weeks in advance. This gives people enough time to clear their schedules, but not too much time that they will forget about your party! Also when you send out invites, make sure to ask for any dietary restrictions.
What’s on the Menu?
1. Make Tried and Tested Dishes
Rule number one in hosting is that its never a good idea to try out a new recipe for your dinner party unless you are a master chef! So please try to resist the urge. Stick with what you know and what you are best at cooking if you are planning to do a home cooked meal.
2. Accommodate Dietary Restrictions
Consider any dietary restrictions your guests may have when they have replied to your invitation before you set the menu. As a good host it is your job to be hospitable, and that means providing food options that guests can safely eat and enjoy without worrying about having an allergic reaction.
However! Despite what I just said above, as long as you are able to provide at least 1 or 2 options that a guest can eat that is free of the item they are allergic too, then you don’t need to stress about it. They should be happy that you made an attempt to accommodate their needs.
3. Provide Dishes that Compliment Each Other
When planning your menu, consider 2 to 3 main dishes and at least 3 side dishes.
Try to avoid too many ‘heavy’ dishes. What I mean by heavy is, for example, not having too many starchy dishes with just meat and no vegetables. Try to have a good balance so your guests will have some room for dessert afterwards.
4. Always Start with an Appetizer and End with Dessert
Appetizers are wonderful to serve at dinner parties. Its nice to have your guests come in and get comfortable with a few snacks and light conversation while you heat the food in the oven and do any last minute food prep. Try to have a reasonable time frame for the dinner to be ready within 45 minutes to 1 hour after all guests have arrived and appetizers have been started.
Always serve dessert at your gatherings. Try preparing a beautiful fruit platter with a dessert that is either store bought or homemade or even a cheese platter with some dried fruit. Guests of all ages look forward to something sweet at the end of their meal.
One Week Before the Party
1. Count your RSVPS
Make sure that you have received all guests RSVPs and know how many people you will be feeding. It’s always better to have left overs than to have a shortage of food and drinks when hosting so make sure that everyone is accounted for. Sometimes kids eat just as much as adults do, if not more, and running out of food would be embarrassing.
2. Grocery List
- Go over all your recipes and check your pantry to see what ingredients you will need to purchase
- Write out a shopping list and check it twice as you do not want to be running to the grocery store on the day of the party
- Make a list of the beverages you want to serve and start purchasing them
Think about any décor you may want to put out: flowers, candles, center pieces, string lights etc. Note: Flowers should be purchased day of or at the very latest the night before so they look fresh.
Decide if you will be serving the food on your fine china or disposable plates and check to see that you have enough: plates, cutlery, cups/glasses, and napkins.
Having a music playlist that is playing softly in the background is nice to have. If you are pressed for time, remember you can always rely on apps like Spotify and Apple Music to assist you. Just be sure to give the playlist a listen or scan the song list before you play it for your guests!
4. Your Hosting Outfit
Have an outfit in mind that you will want to wear on the night of the dinner party. There is nothing more stressful then having your guests arriving within an hour and you’re still in your closet sweating and trying to decide on what to wear.
1 to 2 Days Before the Party
Prep, Prep, Prep! The last two days prior to your gathering you will want to prep your cooking, prep your house and prep yourself.
1. Complete Grocery Shopping
Once you have all the groceries done, go over your recipes and place all the ingredients out on the counter for each recipe. This will eliminate any surprises on cooking day. Make sure you didn’t forget about any garnishes you may need like lemons, limes, cilantro, parsley and so on.
2. Start Prepping Dishes
Start preparing some of the dishes ahead of time. Think about what you can do beforehand and if the answer is nothing, then you might want to choose something else to serve your guests! You do not want to be stressing yourself out too much on the day of the gathering by doing all the prep work and cooking on that day.
See which recipes you can cook ahead from start to finish. Also consider recipes you can half make now and finish off on the day of such as desserts, dressings, and chutneys.
3. Clean the House and Decorate
Next you will want to get your house ready. If you have young children, you might want to save this part for the night before as rooms don’t tend to stay clean for very long if you have little ones running around your house. You do not have to make sure that your house is spotless from top to bottom, just the areas your guests will be in and seeing. This means you should focus on the bathrooms, living room, dining room, and of course the kitchen. You will want to save the kitchen to clean once all the prep work is done.
4. Arrange the Seating and Set the Table
It may take time to set the table if you are planning a formal set up. Take your time and put your festive touches on when you are not pressed for time to create a warm and welcoming environment.
5. Finalize Your Look
The last prep is yourself! This step is just as important! Know what you’re wearing and give yourself enough time to get ready before your guests arrive. Remember to give yourself at least an hour to get dressed and do your hair and makeup. I would recommend that you lay out your outfit the night before and iron it if necessary. Also try it on to make sure it is something you will be comfortable wearing.
Day of the Gathering
1. Complete the Rest of the Cooking and Baking
Give yourself plenty of time because you don’t want to be scurrying around frantically as your guests arrive. Just like when you go to a restaurant, all the prep work isn’t started the minute you walk into the establishment. So take your cue from these professionals and get as much done in advance as you can.
2. Tidy Up Any Loose Ends
As the majority of the cleaning was already completed a day or two in advance, on the party day a quick tidying up should be good enough. Its also a great time to enlist the help of the rest of the family and assign some responsibilities.
Some of the final tidying up I make sure I do includes:
- Putting clean towels in the bathroom and making sure there is enough toilet paper
- Empty the dishwasher before the party begins. This way you will have plenty of room for all the dirty dishes from the meal and you can load it as you go
- Empty out the trash, especially from the kitchen and also if your guests are using disposable dinnerware
Its nice to give yourself at least an hour to get ready before your guests arrive. This not only includes taking time to dress up and do your hair and makeup if you wish, but also a little time to unwind before things get busy!
You want to be calm, cool and have everything under control…or at least appear that way!
Have music lightly playing, a few lit candles and greet your guests into your home. You want to start off with some light conversation to catch up with your first couple of guests. As soon as a few more people start to arrive you will want to start with appetizers and drinks.
Once the appetizers are out and drinks are poured, guests will start talking amongst themselves. This is the perfect time for you to sneak out to the kitchen and start re-heating all the food for dinner.
At this point, it’s a given that someone will ask you if you want some help in the kitchen. Go ahead and accept some help if you could use it. This is personal and totally up to you as some people don’t want their guests seeing the behind the scenes chaos. But if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, it might be a good idea to have a second set of hands to help you out and there is no shame in that!
Try to manage your expectations of the evening. Not everything will be perfect and do your best to go with the flow. Whatever you do, don’t apologize for the food you have prepared. So the roast was a little bit overdone than you’d like. So what? Trust me when I say that no one has ever left a dinner party thinking, I wish she said she was sorry for the dry roast she served. And if anyone does say this, find out who and never invite them back again. Haha.
Try to relax during dinner and enjoy your meal with your guests.
After dinner is done, clear the table and load the dishwasher which should be made easier with an almost empty dishwasher waiting for you.
Serve your dessert after dinner with some coffee or tea. This is your time to really sit back and totally relax. You have accomplished a wonderful dinner party with family and/or friends. Give yourself credit for all the hard work you have done to get to this point.
With a great plan and a little practice, every dinner party you put together going forward will be less stressful and much more enjoyable.