‘Tis the season for festive parties and family gatherings. Perhaps you are a hostess goddess or maybe the thought of feeding and entertaining more than your family gives you hives. Either way, here is a list of six tips to win at holiday party planning and leave your guests wanting more.
- Decide your vibe. This is the first and most important step. There are two options: a sit-down, plated meal or an open, grazing buffet concept. If you want a more formal approach where everyone is seated at a table at once, then you’ll want plated. If you are wanting people to mingle and socialize while eating at their own pace, then go for the buffet.
- But how much food? One of the most nerve-wracking parts of hosting is wondering whether or not you have enough food. Here’s the rule of thumb: 4 oz servings and 10% more. Let me break it down: if you’re serving mashed potatoes for 20 people, you’ll want 80 oz plus 10% more, so 88 oz (5.5 pounds). You can follow this guideline for most anything. If you’re serving an item that is “each” such as lobster tail, then plan for one per person plus a couple extra, just in case.
- Have a beverage station. Set up an area in your entertaining space where people can select and make their own drinks. Have beverages on ice or an ice bin. There should be a selection of liquors, beer, and wine (unless, of course, you’re only going for beer and wine). Recommend two liters and bottles for mixers and non-alcoholic drinks. They take up less space and are more cost-effective. Go for a good mix, cola, diet cola, Sprite, lemonade, cranberry juice, tonic, and orange juice. Make sure you have plenty of water for people. Want to kick it up a notch? Add a signature drink or two that you can serve in a punch bowl, beverage dispenser, or crock pot. Signature drinks make it easier on you and your guests because it adds a level of ease and comfort. Two of my go-tos for the holiday season are this salted caramel apple cocktail and jingle juice.
- Plan ahead. Know your menu and shopping needs at least two weeks before the party date. This will give you some time to think about what you need and write lists. Purchase non-perishables and decor at least a week before the big day. Save only fresh ingredients for your shopping trip two days before. Be sure to add a couple bags of ice to that list as it’s a commonly-forgotten item, leaving you rushing out the day of the party to find.
- Prep ahead! Do not wait until the day of the party to get ready for it. Two days before, after you finish shopping for perishables and last minute items, evaluate everything you have and start prepping. Cut vegetables, make desserts, and get things organized. Also, make sure if there is anything frozen you have it pulled to the refrigerator. The day before make any platters, such as veggie trays, peel and cut potatoes (keep them in water), dice onions…you get the idea. The day before is also ideal for setting things up. Set up tables, place settings, linens, decorations, etc. Do not leave this for the day of the party.
- The big day! All that’s left is the cooking and setting up the food and drink. Start by getting all of your cold items done first. If you run out of refrigerator space, and it’s cold outside (under 40), then you can cover and keep things on your back porch. Next, cook in order of perishable. Items like mashed potatoes and meatballs in sauce will hold for some time. Use crock pots or chafers to help keep things warm if you run out of space. If your timing ends up off or you run behind, don’t sweat it! People will enjoy themselves either way.
One big important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself! You’ve worked hard, and it’s your holiday, too. Enjoy the time with people you care about and all of the hard work you’ve put in. And don’t forget to eat!