10 Experts Weigh In on How To Throw a Holiday Party

Are you in panic mode because you’re hosting a holiday party this year? With the holiday season approaching, many people look forward to spending time with family and friends. Hosting a party is exciting but can feel like a significant undertaking. So we asked party planning experts to share their best hosting tips on how to throw a fantastic holiday party. 

From invitations to holiday decor and the menu, these expert tips will help your gathering go as smooth as butter on your warm toasted buns.  

The Guest List

The guest list is usually the first place to start. Set a date and list the people you would like to attend. Before sending out the invites, consider the space you have to accommodate everyone. Make sure there is enough breathing room for people to sit comfortably without knocking elbows at the table or sitting too close for comfort on the couch. 

When it comes to invitations, Hovik Harutyunyan, a Los Angeles-based event planner, says it’s paperless invites all the way. “There are plenty of electronic invitations with beautiful template designs and easy-to-use RSVP software. He also reminds hosts to share fun details, like if there’s a dress code or party theme or other fun holiday activities you want them to participate in.” 

Preparing Your Home

When preparing your home, Erin Wilson, owner of the website ChaChing Queen says to start prepping spare rooms and extra bathrooms for out-of-town visitors at least a week before the party. After a deep cleaning with fresh bedding and towels, close the doors and keep them off-limits until the party is over. 

Wilson also suggests thoroughly cleaning your home, including windows, ceiling fans, baseboards, and railings, at least a week before the party. “Tackling this early on will mean you only need to tidy up and give the floors and kitchen a good cleaning in the days before your guests arrive.”

Seating Arrangements

Arranging the seating can be a little tricky with more people. Interior designer Pat Del Gavio says to ensure your living room is prepped with lots of seating. “You can place an inviting ottoman and benches or poofs to add more options for when guests come to town. Arrange your existing furniture, so there is flow between standing and sitting arrangements.”

As for seating arrangements during dinner, leave space if there is more than one table of guests because buffet-style is still the go-to setup for many hosts. It allows guests to stretch their legs and serve themselves without bothering anyone to pass them a platter. 

How Festive Should You Get?

Chef Jason Smith, Food Network host and winner of the Holiday Baking Championship, says to keep home decorating simple, easy, and fast. 

“A couple tips I go by is to check what I have around the house and can I holiday it up? Adding a few fresh cranberries, a sprig of pine, and a pinecone into empty mason or jam jars will make quick and simple centerpieces or can be set around the room. Another quick centerpiece is to use a wreath that’s already decorated, lay it on the table, and add a few candles to the middle.”

Another vote to use what you have comes from Harutyunyan. “Unused tree ornaments can make wonderful decor on top of a fireplace mantle adorned with a fresh garland.”

If you need more festive decor, swing by your local dollar store. Not only will you get more bang for your buck, but you can also find a great variety of decorations for any holiday occasion.  

Setting the Menu

The menu is typically the area that causes the most anxiety. It can get a little heavy when you start planning for cocktails, mocktails, gluten allergies, finger foods, and vegan entrees. It’s best to break down each course and select a few items for each category: beverages, appetizers, mains, and desserts. 

James Kilpatrick, the owner of Beanie Coffee, recommends using jarred tapenades and pesto with your starters. “They can make an impressive dip when mixed with fresh sour cream.” 

Pair these dips with charcuterie and butter boards that continue to dominate the party hors d’ oeuvres scene. With a few different kinds of cheese, fruits, crackers, and bread, a board or two to snack on can be a quick and easy crowd-pleaser. 

Next on the menu, Chef Jason says to “figure out three or four easy dishes to serve and pick things that can be prepared a few days ahead and that can be heated up or finished off right before the party. Choose dishes that don’t take very many ingredients that will be budget friendly but also tasty.”

Kevan Vetter, Executive Chef at McCormick and their brand Frank‚Äôs RedHot, suggests enlisting the help of useful appliances. “Slow cookers and air fryers make for the best sous-chefs! Use home appliances to make delicious recipes without being stuck in the kitchen like buffalo chicken wings.”

Chef Kevan also says to prepare the night before.” Get together make-ahead recipes like cold dips, chopped veggies, and sweet treats. Don’t forget to store drinks, cold snacks, and meats in coolers with plenty of ice.”

Event Strategist Elizabeth Sherry has over 14 years of experience in hospitality. She advises cutting corners where you can, not in quality but in time-saving strategies. “Do an online grocery order for pick up or delivery. Already that is an hour plus saved and a lot of stress. Who hasn’t been one of the lost souls wandering aisles at complex grocery stores searching for that specific ingredient.” 

Sherry also suggests adding pre-cut items to the cart and accommodating dietary restrictions and allergies as much as possible. Try to add menu items that can be easily modified for people with different dietary needs. “Successful menus that easily accommodate this space are taco bars or salad and soup bars.”

Brian Theis, author of The Infinite Feast: How to Host the Ones You Love, also loves menu items like “taco bars, pasta with meat sauce and a vegetable pasta option, a chili or stew with rice or noodles, cheese and cornbread and a salad bar on steroids. Think of a chef’s salad meets an Italian antipasto. Aside from the usual salad items, include boiled eggs, cold cuts, cheeses, artichokes, roasted red peppers, pepperoncini, and a variety of dressings.”   

Food stations where guests can customize their own meals align perfectly with the food trend that Avital Unger sees happening with her company’s culinary tours. “This year, we’re seeing a trend toward hosting fun interactive and hands-on food experiences.” Adults can even participate in cookie decorating, customize their toppings and have their cookies for dessert. 

Set Up a Tasting Bar

Regarding beverages, Jeanna Crawford, professional holiday designer and event planner, believes tasting bars get people talking during the event. “Each of my parties will have at least one tasting bar. For family-friendly events, it could be a lineup of gourmet cocoas on tap, complete with toppings nearby. But for adults, think about offering a holiday-themed craft beer tasting or do whiskeys or wines.”

Hosting a Successful Holiday Party

You can organize and host a successful holiday party with less stress. Take the advice of these event planning and culinary experts, and your holiday party will be a hit.

Regardless of the type of food and decor, remember that your friends and family are grateful for your company and effort to make this gathering happen. This mindset will help keep your stress at bay and your holiday spirit soaring.