If it’s your very first time hosting a holiday party, you might be wondering how you’re actually going to pull it off. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered.
The most important thing is to be relaxed and not stress out about making everything perfect, advises Chandra Ram, editor of Plate magazine, a creative food magazine for professional chefs. As much as you might try to conceal it, your stress “will extend to (your) guests and make them uncomfortable,” she says.
To help you let it all go, we asked Ram for some helpful stress-busting hosting tips — so that the only energy you’re channeling on the big night is one of holiday cheer.
1. Plan What You Can Manage
First, let’s talk about what not to do. The most common mistake people make when hosting, Ram says, is being too ambitious with the food. “You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all night — the party is about being with your guests,” she says.
To streamline a dinner party, Ram likes a lasagna or roast, or braised meat, which can cook slowly all day and won’t require a lot of last-minute work.
If a cocktail party is more your speed, an appetizer buffet is a great way of handling things, Ram says. “Put an array of platters on one or two tables, and then have drinks in a separate area, so people move around and the party flows,” she suggests.
2. Prep Ahead of Time
Advance preparations can also go a long way to reducing your party stress. Lay out the platters, bowls, and serving utensils in advance, have an extra pitcher of water in the fridge, chop all your last-minute garnishes, and have your appetizers ready to go, suggests Ram. Typically, Ram likes to use an antipasto spread to start, with different dips and crackers already set up on a platter.
“When you are scrambling in the hour before guests arrive, it’s great to know that you are ready, even if they show up early,” she says.
You can even integrate the two, say the editors of Real Simple. Set those appetizers on the far end of your work zone, they suggest, so you can socialize with your early-bird guests as you make the inevitable last-minute preparations.
When it comes to preparing your home, though, Ram says you shouldn’t be afraid to cut yourself some slack (you’re hosting family and friends, after all). But if you clean only one room, she says, you should make it the bathroom. “It’s the only place your guests won’t be distracted talking to others.”
3. Set a Welcoming Vibe
Once guests arrive, though, your focus needs to shift from frantic party prep to welcoming party host.
Lighting is key, says Ram. “I like to lower the lights a bit, and light a fire in the fireplace.”
An activity for guests, like a build-your-own-beverage bar, can also make for a fun start, says Ram. “Buy a couple of flavored syrups, have a variety of mixers (ginger ale goes with just about everything), and print out a couple of different recipes,” she suggests. “Guests will have fun creating their own concoctions.”
Or, take a tip from Martha Stewart and have guests manage the music. Just load a DJ app onto your smartphone (in advance) and let your friends pick the evening’s tunes.
4. End on a High Note
A good party also has the timing right, so think about who you’re hosting and make sure the evening evolves accordingly (not serving dessert too late for sleepy kids or grandparents, for instance).
And know when it’s time to call it a night. If you’re ready for bed but a few guests are hanging on, try Martha Stewart’s suggestion and quietly turn up the lights. Or, raise your glass in a toast, suggests Ram. That way, you end your very first holiday gathering on a high note.
So, have at it, and start in on the planning. If you prepare early enough, keep things simple, and remember that you’re among family and friends, you can’t help but have a jolly good time.