Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hosting Tips for Preparing a Holiday Dinner or Party

With a little planning and preparation, you'll feel ready to welcome your guests with open arms. Here's a sample to-do list that I used when hosting Christmas dinner.

Making one's guests feel comfortable and welcomed is the goal of every good host or hostess. If the host is feeling frazzled, disorganized, or even looks disheveled, guests can feel awkward and unwelcome, like they are intruding on your time. To help make everyone feel comfortable and ready for a good time, a host or hostess should be prepared. In my experience, most of the work for hosting a party or gathering is done in the days leading up to the actual event! Keep reading to see how I managed to cook for and host 18 people for Christmas dinner.

Christmas fell on a Friday this past year, so my planning really took off on Monday. I invited my guests to arrive at 3 p.m. Friday for drinks and appetizers, with dinner to follow at 4 p.m. (I expected this time to be a bit flexible-- by the time the food was set out and people made it through the lines and were finding their seats, it was really closer to 4:30 p.m.)

Monday (4 days before the event)

Finalize menu plan and locate recipes. 
I had been brainstorming different food and recipe ideas for a few days prior, but by this day, I had a completed menu. (You can read all about it on my last post!) Most of the menu items were things I knew how to make already, but there were a few new ones in there! Make sure you have the recipes handy and easily accessible-- I recommend printing them out and clipping them together so they're all in one place.

Tuesday (3 days before)

Create a shopping and grocery list using the recipes from your planned menu. 
Go through and take inventory of what ingredients you'll need, need more of, or already have on hand. Take note of the quantities, too. A lot of my recipes needed two crucial ingredients: butter and cheese (I know: yum!). Although I already had both of these in my kitchen, I would need a  lot more than what I had in stock! Doing this will save you from running out and will spare you any frantic trips to the store later.
Separate party ingredients and food from your normal food. 
Since it was still three days away from the party, I didn't want to accidentally eat any of the delicious goodies that I had bought for the party. I used an extra large Tupperware container to segregate my party food from the rest of the stuff in my refrigerator, and for the rest of the week I tried to meal plan dinners that were completely different from the stuff that I planned to serve so I wouldn't accidentally use anything that I would need later.

Wednesday (2 days before)

Set up your space for guests. 
This might mean a lot of extra work, or none at all, depending on your home arrangement and the number of guests. For me, it meant that I needed to bring the extra leaf out for the dining room table (and dust it off!). Maybe you need to ask yourself if you have enough chairs. Do you need to borrow any or bring in extra folding chairs from the garage? Do they need to be cleaned in advance? Set up your space the way you plan to have it for when your guests arrive. This gives you time in advance to acquire and/or clean any extra furniture or space needed.
Locate and organize your serving ware. 
Extra large salad bowls, serving spoons, platters, and serving dishes are usually stashed in remote cupboards, pantries, and buffet tables, away from everyday rotation. Go through your menu again to plan how and with what you plan to serve your menu items. What bowl will you use for the fruit salad? Is that already occupied by the mashed potatoes? Where is that nice cheese board that your sister-in-law got you? These are all questions that you want to have already figured out and answered before the actual party! I cleared off my dining room table (after adding the extra leaf!) and used that to lay out my serving ware. I even labeled which dishes I would use for which menu item. This helped me to realize that I would need a few extra bowls for some of my courses, so I knew in advance to keep some of my spare, non-fancy dishes clear.
Make pie crusts. 
My menu included two pumpkin pies that I would make from scratch, so I wanted to have the dough ready in advance. Dough takes me a lot of time to make, and I already had a bunch of things planned for the following day, so I needed to get this task done early. Maybe your recipes have some food items like this, that can be taken care of early!

Thursday (1 day before the main event!)

Begin making food in advance! 
Depending on what you're actually cooking, this can vary. If you follow my menu plan from my earlier post, here's what I needed to do for my dinner party, specifically.
  • Cut veggies for veggie tray. Wrap in baggie.
  • Make salad for dinner. Store in baggie or Tupperware.
  • Make cheese bread. Wrap in foil and save.
  • Make lasagna. Cover and save.
  • Cut up pineapple and refrigerate. (I used a fresh pineapple for my fruit salad, and those things are kind of intimidating to cut, so I did mine in advance!)
  • Make pies.
  • Bake cake.
Review your menu plan and recipes and begin a timeline of what you will need to do and when. 
Factor in what you've already accomplished or prepared in advance. Create your own to-do list for the big day. (Mine is shared below.) You might need to work backward chronologically: what time will dinner start? Then count backwards to see how long your main course will take to cook, and that will tell you when you should start cooking it. Do this for all of your recopies and adjust accordingly. It helps to even write reminders to yourself of what serving ware you plan to use for each menu item as it's ready to be set out. Leave yourself extra 15-minute blocks between groups of tasks to allow yourself to catch up in case things don't go according to plan. Attach all of your recopies (that you printed out 4 days ago, remember?) to this list and put it in a safe place for tomorrow.

Friday (the day of the party!)

Again, the rest of this section will follow my specific menu plan. Since I wasn't following a specific recipe for my roast, I typed up the recipe at the top of my to-do list-- and I did the same thing for the lasagna. They were my main course, and I wanted to make sure I had my instructions someplace where I could easily find them! 
Customize your list to suit your needs. 
You may notice a few odd instructions inserted into my list-- my husband hijacked my to-do list when I stepped away from my computer. I decided to leave his instructions in because I knew I would appreciate the reminders he left me to occasionally stop and make sure I was enjoying myself, too! It all goes back to the idea of making your guests feel welcome. If the host is slaving away and doesn't have a chance to stop and say hello from outside of the kitchen, then guests may feel guilty for intruding on your time. I made sure to take periodic breaks during my dinner preparation, thanks to the suggested reminders from my husband. (Thanks, Bear!) 
Get (mostly) ready before your guests arrive. 
My cooking time started at 9 a.m., although my guests weren't scheduled to arrive until 3 p.m. I knew some of my guests might be early, and I also knew that I would be too busy and preoccupied to stop what I was doing to change before they arrived. So, I made sure to shower and put my hair up before I even started cooking. I did not want to look like the frazzled, slovenly hostess of my own party, especially when I knew there would be family pictures! When I had my meat courses prepared (they're usually the messiest to make!) at around noon, I went back upstairs to change and put on some light makeup. Then, for the rest of the day, I simply simply wore an apron over my party dress as I prepared the rest of the food.

Prime Rib Roast Recipe
Roast—Prep from 9-10… (Season with salt & pepper. Heat oil and brown roast. Set aside. Saut√© 3 small onions, 1 head garlic, and carrots. Add 2 cups broth, 2 cups wine, 3 tables honey, & 6 sprigs fresh thyme.
Planning and preparation is the key to confident hosting. 
                Bake from 10-2:40… (35 minutes/pound at 350 degrees = 280 minutes = 4 hours 40 minutes)
                Rest from 2:40-3:40
Lasagna—Bake from 2:40-3:45 p.m.
Kiss Bear
9-10        Start making the roast. Put in oven from 10-2:40
10-11     Start and make French Onion Soup for appetizer.
11-12     Make Meatballs for appetizer, let simmer in pot on stove on low.
12-1       Peel and boil potatoes for dinner. Make and keep warm. Warm up, stir and fluff at 3:30
                Cut up and prepare fruit salad. Refrigerate.
1-2          Figure out the creamed spinach recipe for dinner. Warm up, stir and fluff at 3:45
2 p.m.   Prep asparagus for appetizer and set aside.
                Grate cheese for soup and refrigerate.
                Plate veggie tray and cheese tray for appetizers. Set out and serve.
                                Veggie tray = round wooden tray. Cheese tray = square white tray.
2:30        Preheat 2nd, small oven to 350. Bake cheese bread on 350 for 20 minutes. Take out at 2:50
2:40        Check on roast; take it out of the oven at 2:40 and let it rest.
2:40        Bump up oven to 425! Bake asparagus at 425 for 10 minutes. Take out at 2:50
2:50        Take out asparagus and cheese bread. Plate and serve.
Asparagus = serve on white, scalloped, oval tray. Cheese bread = cloth napkin on cutting board.
2:50        Drop oven to 375! Bake lasagna at 375 for an hour until 3:45
3 p.m.   Plate meatballs and serve.          Serve in big, round, pasta bowl.
                Set out cheese and bowls for French Onion Soup.
Hug Bear
3- 3:30 p.m.        Greet guests. Have hubby serve drinks. Have someone take coats. Socialize!
3:45        Check on lasagna. Remove from oven at 3:45 and let cool.
                Have hubby carve roast. Serve in pretty corning ware from Mom/sister.
                Have someone slice bread. Serve in a red bowl with a yellow napikin.
4 p.m.   Clear appetizers.
Veggie tray back in baggie. Cheeses in baggie in fridge. Crackers and bread in baggie. Soup off. Meatballs in Tupperware. Big plates and serving ware in dishwasher.
                Set out Dinner
4:15        Serve and set out salad. (From fridge. Put in big wooden bowl.) Put out ranch and balsamic dressings.
                Set out lasagna.
                Set out roast.
                Serve and set out mashed potatoes. Serve in big, square bowl.
                Serve and set out creamed spinach. Serve in round, fancy serving bowl.
                Set out bread basket.
5 p.m.   Clear dinner
                Start coffee and tea
5:30        Set out Desserts
                Pie and whipped cream, cake and cookies
                Fruit Salad. From fridge. Serve in big, round, pasta bowl.

At this point, my planning ends. Although many guests didn't leave for several hours after dessert was served, I really wanted to just enjoy everyone's company and let the evening unwind as it would. I didn't want to feel like I was shooing everyone out the door by hustling plates and dishes away and cleaning up frantically-- a sure sign to most people that it's time to go! Instead, we sat, nibbled, and enjoyed the remainder of the evening schedule-free.

Of course, food and beverages are one surefire way to welcome people into your home, but good friends and family are truly the key to having a memorable gathering! Don't be afraid to ask a trusted guest for help, too. You may have noticed one or two spots where I left an instruction for a helper or two. At every gathering, there is usually someone who offers to help, and it can be a great compliment to that person if you let them help! Knowing which chores or tasks can be delegated can be a great way to make a certain guest feel more included and to make your job(s) somewhat easier, too.

Hosting many people can seem intimidating, but it truly doesn't have to be. A little bit of planning and preparation can go a long way toward feeling confident and in control. Also, stay within your comfort zone! If the thought of cooking so many things intimidates you, do whatever you're comfortable with preparing (there's certainly nothing wrong with store-bought pie!) because it really is the thought that counts. Planning ahead is one way to figure out how and what works best for you.


  1. Quite an interesting tips for preparing holiday dinner and parties. I am planning to organize a success party for my brother at one of lavish LA event venues in coming month. Thinking of using amazing themes and return gifts to impress all guests.

    1. How nice of you for your brother! I'm sure your guests would enjoy the theme and gifts. Having a party at a venue can be a great option to alleviate some of the stress from hosting in your own home.

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