For the past few years, I’ve hosted a holiday luncheon for about 40-50 people, kids included. It’s the one big party I have every year to invite the people that have included us in their family celebrations throughout the year and that we see on a regular basis.
The first year or two, the party planning was stressful, mainly because I wasn’t equipped with all of the plates, cutlery, serving dishes, chafing dishes, and coffee maker that I needed and I wasn’t sure about the timing of getting things done. Recently, though, I’ve figured out how to make it as stress-free as possible and I can say that this year’s party was the easiest. It only took 5 years, but that’s okay! If you’re considering hosting some form of holiday party, I hope some of these tips will help:
Tip 1: Give as much notice of the party as possible. I try to give the guests about 3-4 weeks’ notice. Because I hold the party at least 3 weeks before Christmas, most of the guests are still ‘free’ and not caught up in the holiday shopping or other parties. It’s also a fun way for you and the guests to ease into the holiday season.
Tip 2: Start cleaning out the freezer and fridge two weeks before the party. Go through the fridge and freezer and make a mental note of what you can use in the next week or two and toss what is expired. Start buying fewer perishable items like fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products, so that your fridge remains clean and empty. Cook meals that won’t have too many leftovers. And, consider ordering in or eating out for the last two days before the party… bonus for you and the husband and kids!
Tip 3: Bake ahead. Sounds easy enough, but this means that your freezer, from the tip one above, has been cleared out and can handle all of the desserts you are making ahead and freezing. It also means you have made a list of the desserts you are planning on making and that you have on hand storage containers, plastic wrap, waxed paper, and all of the required baking ingredients. Start baking two weeks ahead so the last week can be spent on prepping the house and buying fresh food for the party.
Tip 4: Stock up and shop early. In the days leading up to the party, make sure you have enough drinks, napkins, cutlery, plates, tablecloths, etc on hand. As you do your regular grocery shopping, you will come across these items and buying them as you go along means you won’t have to go out and do a huge shop the day or two before the party when you are preparing last minute dishes and cleaning up your home. It also means you can buy some items on your list on sale if you’re shopping ahead. One thing I did this year was shop for perishable items two days before the party so that I could spend the day before the party making salads and not running around buying food items. I found this really helped.
Tip 5: Set the table a few days in advance. Hands down, this is the biggest tip I can give you. Seriously. There are several reasons this is useful. First, it helps you clean up the area around which the party will be centered. Second, when you lay out the serving dishes and cutlery, you realize what is missing in terms of hard goods or grocery items that you need to purchase. Third, when you see the serving dishes laid out, you might remember that you wanted to add or subtract a dish that doesn’t really go with the menu – or, that you need to spruce up the menu!
Tip 6: Cater a portion of your party. Because my party is at lunch, there’s a lot to do in the mornings and it gets very rushed. By catering part of the meal, it takes some pressure off of you and it provides a nice mix between homemade and store-bought items. I do that with the mains as well as the desserts. For example, we order in smoked meat but I make a Cobb Salad as well as a few others. I buy a cheesecake, and friends bring a couple of desserts.
Tip 7: Get help. There’s no way you can host a party and clean up at the same time. Nor can you set up for a party for 50 people and have everything ready at the same time in terms of food. Hire someone to keep the kitchen clean and orderly. This same person can help you do some pre-party clean-up as well as some food prep. And, if you have a friend who loves to help with parties, ask her to come a bit early to help you plate the food so that all of the dishes are on the table and the guests can enjoy their food together. This year in particular, there was a lot going on during the weekend of the party, so my close friend (you know who you are!) saved me by coming early and plating so many of the dishes.
Finally, make sure you have your (simple) outfit planned for the day because you will have just a few minutes to get ready yourself – that’s just how it goes!! Whether you’re hosting a holiday party or one later in the year, I hope you find some of these tips helpful. Because we all have different ways of doing things successfully, I’d love to know what your secret tips are for hosting a party that works for you.