No doubt about it, holiday entertaining can be a mixed blessing. As much as you want to open your home to family and friends, the planning, prep and cleanup can be daunting and exhausting. The joy of a successful evening full of love and laughter is worth it — you just need a few simple plan-ahead tips and helpful styling short-cuts to make holiday entertaining a snap. The key is to plan ahead and simplify.
Read on for 10 fabulously simple tips that will make your holiday get-together a breeze, and be sure to use Altogether Home’s exclusive 25% off discount code for HellaWella readers: HELLAREADER25. Also, download an easy how-to guide on Stress-Free Entertaining.
1. Plan your menu at least one week ahead. A clever friend of mine keeps her holiday recipes in a separate binder, so that the “crowd favorites” are right at her fingertips each year. Make notes directly on each recipe, indicating how you might change or improve the recipe each year. Place new recipes in the binder’s pockets that you tear out of magazines in anticipation of the season. And be sure to think like a chef and simplify the number of sides and desserts this year — I promise no one will complain if what you serve is delicious.
2. Be realistic about your entertaining style. If you are a casual person, feel free to host a casual event. A warm and welcoming buffet, with guests eating throughout your home on trays, can be a liberating decision and allow you to invite more guests than your formal dining room allows. If multi-course meals stress you out, why not host a potluck or simple brunch? The point is to have some fun with family and friends. Know your limits and embrace them.
3. Always set the table the day before. If you’re hosting any type of holiday celebration, it is a gift to yourself to set the table and/or buffet area the day before. It is actually a pleasure to enjoy placing your best dishes, the ironed napkins, the flowers and the candles when you feel no pressure to finish the job before the doorbell rings. No one should ever find themselves ironing a table runner an hour before guests arrive. I even knew an accomplished hostess who poured the iced tea into glasses the day before, sealed each of them in plastic wrap, and put them on a silver tray in the refrigerator. I’ve always thought she was one classy (and prepared) dame.
4. Set up a drink station so guests can serve themselves. Away from the kitchen, and ideally where guests can mingle, stage a do-it-yourself bar area. Assign someone to keep an eye on the ice, glasses, empty bottle removal and any other items that will need to be refreshed during the event. Rather than a full bar, offer sparkling water, wine and one specialty cocktail with a holiday theme, such as Martha Stewart’s Cranberry Old-Fashioned.
5. Keep your flower arrangements monochromatic. Skip the multi-colored market bouquets, and buy an abundance of one variety in a single color. Arrange them tightly in low glass containers on the table so guests can see each other, in a variety of heights if you have it. On the buffet, flowers can be taller for more impact. Consider elevating your vases on cake stands if the floral variety is inherently shorter. Quick tip: White flowers ALWAYS look great, and at Thanksgiving look great when mixed with white gourds, squash or mini pumpkins. During December holiday parties, I mix white flowers in low containers with clear votives, a few green pears, and silver or gold ribbon placed loosely on the table. Simple and sublime.
6. Choose your outfit the day before. If you have your clothing laid out and ready for a “quick change” about an hour before the event, this is also a stress reducer. Same goes for the kids — plan their outfits the day before, and start the process an hour before company comes. If they get their clothes a little dirty, let go a little and practice your best shoulder shrug — they’re kids after all. When I am cooking for a group, I always answer the door in my apron, even over my best clothes. I believe it sets a relaxed and welcoming tone for the party.
7. Send your husband (or other close friend who is not cooking for the party) out for the wine, beer and liquor the day before the event. I believe that people actually mean it when they say, “What can I do to help?” Jot down a list of what you are looking for, including your budget guidelines, and enjoy the surprise of what they purchase. Encourage them to shop from a merchant who knows a great deal about the wine and spirits they sell, and tell him to enjoy the conversation (and tasting) that ensues. This is my trick for a quiet kitchen on my “prep” day.
8. Great cooks prepare, prepare, prepare. Study your menu. If there are any steps that you can accomplish the day before or even earlier, do it. For example, if you are making your famous stuffing that requires chopped carrots, celery, mushrooms, sausage and fresh herbs, chop all of the ingredients the day before, and store them in the refrigerator in glass containers. Another early-bird trick: If you are making turkey gravy for a holiday meal, roast smaller turkey parts (wings, neck, etc.) the day before so you can make tons of gravy before the real turkey even goes into the oven.
9. Organize your kitchen for easy cleanup. Rachael Ray is right about a “garbage bowl” while you are cooking to minimize the mess. I use a huge stainless steel bowl with a non-slip rubber bottom from an online restaurant supplier. Also, place two old-school dish pans full of hot, sudsy water on the counter to prevent a pileup of hard-to-clean pans, etc. If someone offers to help, by all means say yes.
10. Candlelight is your secret weapon for entertaining drama. Be sure to dim the lights so your home takes on a warm and festive glow, and put unscented candles sprinkled throughout the buffet and holiday table. If you have a fireplace, light it, and assign a guest to refresh the logs during the evening. Place a scented candle in the guest bath and a stack of fresh guest towels. Your home will instantly look more pulled together, and your guests will relax in the glow of a relaxed and stress-free holiday celebration.
For more entertaining tips, visit havenaltogetherhome.com. And when shopping at AltogetherHome.com, use an exclusive 25% off discount code for HellaWella readers HELLAREADER25.