It is officially the holiday season and if planning or hosting a holiday party is on your list of to dos, we have some tips to help you. Although I absolutely LOVE to plan and host a party, I realize many people find this a daunting task. It is understandable. There is a menu to pull together, shopping to do, a table to set, food to be prepped and cooked, and you have to do all this while maintaining your composure when your guests arrive. However, it does not have to be stressful. Instead, the planning and lead up to the party should be exciting and filled with anticipation of a great night with friends. How do you make this happen? Like we love to say at The Dinner Daily, you just need a well thought out plan. And like anything, the more you practice, the easier it gets.
Here are some of our favorite tips for pulling off a great dinner party with minimal stress, at any time of year:
1. Set the Table Early
Really. Don’t leave it to the day of the party to start. It will just be much more stressful than it needs to be and who needs more stress during the holidays? My rule when I am planning a dinner party is to set the table the night before. It not only gets me in that “dinner party mood” but it also allows you to just focus on the food the day of the dinner. I also find I enjoy making the table look special rather just trying to get it all set before people arrive. So much easier.
2. Make the Dessert the Night Before:
Since desserts require different tools and cooking techniques than the main meal, I find it is a big stress buster to just get the dessert out of the way in advance. This way you are not mixing up all your baking supplies with all your other cooking equipment. It is much easier to just focus on the main meal on the day of the party, without having to deal with baking times, cooling racks, the mixer on the counter etc. It just makes things go much smoother.
Or, you could also ask a guest to bring the dessert. Either way, the point here is to not be messing around with making a dessert on the day of your party.
3. Buy Appetizers or Ask Guests to Bring Them:
Most people will always ask “What can I bring” when you invite them to dinner. I will almost always suggest an appetizer. I like to be in control of the main meal to ensure that all the flavors are in balance and there is no duplication of ingredients. Also, appetizers can be time consuming to prepare and to get organized in the final moments before your guests arrive so it really is helpful to delegate this to others. If you do not want to ask your guests to bring any food, then you can easily buy some great frozen appetizers at your local grocery store or Costco (fully cooked and just heat and serve) and set out a simple cheese tray.
4. Set up a Self Serve Bar Station:
I always devote a small space in my kitchen for a make shift bar for a party. No one minds pouring their own drink and it gives you one less thing to do while people arrive, leaving you free to mingle and chat. I have a few beverage containers that I fill with ice and then use one for white wine and beer and another for non -alcoholic drinks. If you do not have beverage containers, you can pick up very affordable ones at Target or Amazon. I use these over and over throughout the year and it is well worth the cost.
If you want to offer another drink, either make a pitcher of it in advance or just lay out the ingredients, the recipe for the cocktail, and guests can make their own. Be sure to have a space for wine glasses, drink glasses, a bottle opener, some basic mixers and lemons/limes. Personally, I enjoy making a batch of Sangria before a party as it looks beautiful and festive on the counter.
5. Create a “False” Start Time:
If your party starts at 7 pm, give yourself a deadline to be done with all the prep a few hours in advance, so 5 pm. Leave the kitchen and spend the last hour or so before people arrive getting yourself ready. Whether that is your time to have your shower or bath, do your makeup, have a short walk or run…whatever relaxes you. If you have done some of the steps above, you should easily be able to step away from the party planning and maybe leave some last minute tasks to other family members. This way, you can have some down time before people arrive and greet people at the door feeling refreshed and ready to enjoy your evening.
6. Forget Perfection
Most importantly, don’t worry about having everything be perfect. Your gathering is about enjoying the company of people you care about, not about a Pinterest or Instagram worthy moment. I used to have a hard time with this tip, and I would become obsessed before a party with making sure everything was just right. But I have learned it really does not matter if you forgot to get the flowers arranged just so, or the food does not come out how you imagined. I guarantee you no one will notice or care. Once your guests arrive, you are at the party too and you want to make sure you enjoy it!
If you are looking for some other helpful tips related to planning and cooking dinner, check out our Meal Planner Guide below: