Walt and I love hosting! Whether it’s out at the lake, for a special occasion, or just to connect with family and friends – we love to welcome people into our home. I haven’t always been this way, it definitely came with some trial and error, and a few burnt dishes. If you were like me, and feel a little overwhelmed by all the things that go into hosting an amazing and memorable dinner party, I’ve got you covered!
Most of these tips are specific to hosting around the Christmas holidays, but can be adapted for hosting any time. I hope these hosting hacks save you a little bit of stress and bring your guests a lot of joy next time you host.
1) Curate your menu
You’re probably thinking this is a silly one. Its Christmas, you are going to cook a traditional Christmas meal. While you may have tons of yummy family traditions it’s always fun to add in a few new surprises to the menu like Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes or this Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon (you can check out other recipe ideas here). Regardless of what you chose to serve write it all down, along with a shopping list of ingredients to keep you on track and organized.
It’s also important to think about any appetizers or drinks you will serve before the meal. I always suggest a cocktail station with a pre-made pitcher of a signature drink and an assortment of garnishes for a make-your-own feel. Having a self-serve option is also a great way to relieve some of your hosting stress. Try a Mojito Pitcher with fruit toppings, or these Ceasars with meat, cheese, and pickle skewers. If you have kids or other guests that don’t drink, you can also try a hot chocolate station using Keurig pods with cute candies and marshmallows for garnish. Appetizers are important and create a place for your guests to congregate around before the main event. Pick something easy to eat and not too filling so the meal is not upstaged. I recommend this Baked Brie with Cranberry Sauce or Asparagus Puff Pastry Bundles.
2) Set the mood
Delight your guest’s sense of smell, sight, and sound the moment they walk in the front door. Think about the mood you are going for whether that’s classy, fun, or cozy and build out the mood around that. Create an amazing first impression with cinnamon sticks simmering on the stove, cookies in the oven, or as simple as a festive scented Glade Plugin (I always get compliments when I use these!). Next up is decor! You likely already decorated for Christmas, but I’m talking about small touches that will show you went the extra mile. I love lighting candles all around the house to create cozy vibes and incorporate festive elements like ornaments or mini-Christmas trees in areas people will congregate. It also makes a splash to have the table set beautifully when guests walk in. Charger plates and festive napkins are easy and low effort ways to look like a professional host. Finally ensure your favorite Christmas Album is playing in the background to complete the mood. I have created a free Spotify playlist filled with Christmas songs we all know and love. It is over five hours long so you do not need to worry about repeats throughout your party.
3) Make it memorable
I always like to have an activity or something unexpected when I’m hosting. This doesn’t have to be stressful and can be something as simple as a store-bought cookie decorating kit laid out with the appetizers to break the ice and get people engaged. Some other ideas are a white elephant gift exchange, ornament painting station, or an ugly Christmas sweater contest with prizes for the winner.
4) Plan ahead
Once you’ve made a decision on menu, decor, and activities, take a page from Santa Clause’s book – make a list and check it twice, then get shopping! I like to do all my shopping 2-3 days in advance so that when I inevitably forget something I have time to go back to the store without being stressed. I like to write a mega-list then divide it out by store or timeline. You might want to do all your non-perishable items the weekend before then specialty items closer to the day so they are fresh.
Create a timeline and get as much done as possible done well in advance of your guests arriving. If possible have all your decor and “extra” elements done and set up the day before. Reserve the morning of your event to prep all your food and make any dishes that can be reheated later. Make a game plan for your day and set timers so you know when each dish needs attention so you can execute quickly and spend more time with your guests.
I hope these tips help you to feel confident and excited to host. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and never sweat the small stuff!
For a complete list of holiday hosting finds check out this Amazon list.