Family dinners, parties with friends, gift exchanges, potluck meals — the holidays are one celebration after another. It can be a lot of additional work on top of everything else you have going on, especially when you’re playing host or hostess. That’s why we’re here to help, with 10 of our favorite tips for stress free holiday entertaining.
After all, celebrating should be fun right? So let’s jump right into our favorite holiday party planning tips.
Tip 1. Plan the Party You Want.
The key to hosting a holiday party at home is to plan your party around the things you enjoy. We’re not all Ina Garden of the Barefoot Contessa or Joanna Gaines from Magnolia – and that’s okay!
Think of the kind of holiday party you’d like to attend. What seasonal appetizers, cocktails, or meals would you like to indulge in at a holiday party? Chances are, your guests have a similar preference in mind.
Ask yourself this same question when it comes to other party decisions like decorations and music: What would I enjoy at a party? Following this suggestion can help ease the stress of hosting a holiday party because you are planning the party around the things that you know excite you and your guests.
Tip 2. Plan The Menu: Find Easy Holiday Dishes For a Party
The best holiday party planning tip: write your menu down. Putting it on paper will help you as the day of the party approaches because it’s already planned and ready to go.
Start by considering some traditional holiday favorites — after all, they’re called “favorites” for a reason! Decide if you want to cook a full holiday entree, or if you’d rather compile a menu of appetizers or easy holiday side dishes that your guest can pick on throughout the night.
From there, factor in your guests’ eating preferences. Consider any allergies or dietary restrictions, and make sure to read the food labels carefully when shopping to ensure all of your guests have something available that they can enjoy.
If you’re feeling crunched for time and there’s room within your budget, don’t be afraid to look into pre-ordering some of your favorite dishes. Getting stuck in the kitchen the day of your party will take your attention away from enjoying yourself and your company.
Your menu won’t be complete without drinks! Plan your drink menu around the foods you will be serving. Do they pair best with coffee, tea, wine, or beer? If you’re not sure, there are plenty of food and wine or other beverage pairing guides available online.
Don’t forget to plan out how much food and beverage you will need. In general, if you’re serving an entree, you should plan to have 6 pieces of appetizers per guest. If you’re only serving appetizers, plan to have 4-6 pieces per guest per hour.
In terms of beverages, you should try to aim for the following:
- 1 bottle of wine per 2 guests
- 3 beers per each guest
- 3 servings of cocktail per guest
- 3 servings of non-alcoholic drink per guest
Every person has a different appetite, but these guidelines should help you determine how much to buy and prepare for your party.
Tip 3. Create a Loose Prep Schedule
A loose prep schedule can help you stay on top of your party planning. Start by working backward from the date of the party. For instance, ask yourself:
- What do I have to do on the day of the party?
- Can anything be done the night before?
- What should be done a week ahead, or two weeks ahead?
Asking these questions can help you break up your responsibilities into smaller, more manageable tasks that can be completed over time instead of a few hours right before you host.
Though it’s not necessary, it could be helpful to use some sort of party planning sheet. Many websites offer free templates that can be downloaded or printed to keep all of your planning ideas in an organized (and aesthetic) list.
Tip 4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
There is no shame in asking for a little help! Oftentimes, your guests want to help since you’re taking on the responsibility of hosting.
If one of your friends has a specific recipe that’s always a hit, don’t be afraid to ask if they’re willing to bring it. If you’re worried you won’t be able to clean your house in time, hire a cleaner. Delegating certain tasks or hiring help will allow you to focus on other party planning responsibilities that need your attention.
Another tip is to lean on the merchants at your local market. Ask them if they have any holiday party planning tips or tricks, especially when it comes to the menu. You could even consider buying some of their premade sides, sweet treats, or beverages to save time.
Tip 5. Create Self-Serve Stations
If you’re hosting a holiday party at home, self-serve stations can help make entertaining easier. If your menu includes an entree, consider serving it buffet style. This saves some energy and creates less food waste because guests can choose what and how much they want to eat.
If you opt for appetizers or side dishes instead of an entree, these can also be self-served. Designate an area where guests can move freely to help themselves to food as they like.
Creating a self-serve station for drinks could also help save some time and energy. If you’re serving beer and wine, have a station with cups and coolers – or decorative buckets for a cleaner look – of chilled drinks for guests to help themselves.
If you’re planning on fun seasonal cocktails, prep them ahead of time! Make a couple of batches and store them in the fridge. As one pitcher gets low, replace it with another. Yes, it can be that easy!
Note: If kids are attending the party, too, make sure that the alcohol is kept somewhere safe and out of reach.
Try turning a couple of bottles of wine into an easy Sangria with a few simple ingredients:
Red Wine Winter Sangria:
White Wine Winter Sangria:
Tip 6. Keep Decorations Simple
Don’t overcomplicate your party decor. Try to stick to 1-2 colors for your theme. This will give you some guidance when shopping, and hopefully save you from buying too much. If it doesn’t fit the color theme, it may not be necessary.
Keep in mind, you could also opt for decorations that you or one of your guests can make. Things like decorative candles or floral arrangements are classics and can easily be made to function as centerpieces. If making them isn’t of interest, they can be easily bought.
Explore some of the small businesses in your area. Maybe there is a merchant at your local market that sells unique bowls or serving trays that could add some flair to your table. Something like a unique bowl, pitcher, or serving tray is a good buy because it is just as practical as it is decorative.
Tip 7. Opt for Disposable
Often people shy away from disposable because of its appearance, but opting for disposable doesn’t have to look “cheap.” There are plenty of heavy-duty disposable plates, cloth-like disposable napkins, and high-end plastic cutlery that look and feel “real” that can be purchased online.
There are even options available for disposable flutes and glassware. These are great alternatives for those who don’t want real glass cups floating around the party, but also don’t want to compromise style for practicality.
Tip 8. Distract Guests with Appetizers
Keep your guests busy with something we all enjoy: food! In addition to basic foods like fruits and vegetables, there are plenty of easy holiday dishes you can have prepared that your guests are sure to love.
There are several appetizers that can be store-bought to save you the hassle of assembling. A charcuterie board, for example, could seem intimidating to make yourself. Looking into purchasing one that’s already made instead.
Some other things that might be easier to buy than to make are shrimp cocktail platters or stuffed mushrooms.
If you’d rather take on making your own appetizers, there are infinite ideas on the internet. Consider some of these easy, timeless holiday recipes:
- Cranberry Brie Bites: it’s just a few simple ingredients and it’s ready in 20 minutes.
- Ham & Cheese Pinwheels: made with deli meat and cheese – what could be easier?
- Slow Cooker Meatballs: a quick snack guests can pop in their mouths as they go. Plus, the only prep is throwing them in the crockpot in the morning!
- Caprese Bites: a lighter snack with all of the holiday colors.
- Crab Cake Poppers: for the seafood lovers in your circle.
- Bacon Brussel Sprout Skewers: 10-minute prep, 35 minutes in the oven. Plus bacon, it’s sure to please.
Tip 9. Set the Mood
As your guests start arriving, light some candles and throw on some music. These simple actions will welcome your guests, and hopefully get them in the holiday spirit if they’re not already.
Make a playlist of all of your holiday favorites before the day of the party. If you don’t have time, Spotify has pre-made playlists for almost every occasion. There’s sure to be one that fits the party that you are hosting!
Get your guests to interact with each other and have some fun party games planned. Whether it’s a card game or a non-tangible game like Two-Truths and a Lie, these activities are sure to get the conversation going.
Tip 10. Remember to Have Fun Too
Don’t get lost in the fear of throwing the perfect party that you forget to be present. There may be some hiccups along the way, and that’s okay!
Remind yourself that the goal is to create a space for your family or friends to connect. Your guests will look back on your party and remember enjoying the time spent with each other, not the mishaps that might have occurred.
Focus on spending time with the family and friends that you love. True stress free holiday entertaining happens when you as the host or hostess can enjoy it too!
This blog was originally published on December 4, 2018. It was updated on May 27, 2022.