Being an event planner, I love these posts and highly recommend them. Admittedly when I go to other events (not ones I’m hosting/working) it’s a BAD habit to ‘want to help’… lol. But I truly think it’s because it’s just second nature for me (and my family) – in fact, what do you all think of the name: Southern Cinderella??
For now – on to the repost from Domino magazine: 15 holiday hosting shortcuts
Avoid over-stressing, last minute chaos, and awkward party pitfalls with these 15 no-fail holiday hosting shortcuts.
- Start with a plan (and keep guests in the loop)
Holiday parties can be tricky – especially when guests are left guessing about the details. For example, this is the one time of year when the dress code can range from tacky sweaters to cocktail-formal, so be informative. Before you begin inviting guests, know what you want, have a plan, and be prepared to let your guest list in on complete details up front. Answer key FAQ’s within the invite, like how formal the event will be, if kids or plus 1’s are welcome, and whether guests should bring a side. This will seriously cut down on back-and-forths, speed up RSVP’s, and prevent any awkward moments come party time. (I SO agree with this – although you will still have people asking questions!)
2. Greet guests with stations
To instantly welcome guests to party scene, greet them with stations that are easily visible once they enter (a place for stashing coats, a serve-yourself bar). This will relieve the host from giving each arriving guest a tour of the party layout, and also lets guests know they’re welcome to help themselves to the festivities. (If you have a family/friend who can be near the door to greet, that also helps keep YOU free for hosting duties at the beginning).
3. Forego complicated decorations
Here’s a tip for any glam party, no matter the occasion – all you need are string lights. Period. Nothing provides a celebratory feeling of warmth and love like the sparkling glow of string lights, especially around the holidays. Hang them from your walls, string them from the ceiling, or bunch them together in glass bottles for an inexpensive holiday-inspired lighting alternative. (I have to admit that I always over-do my decorating – ha – but, for impromptu get togethers, simple is best, even having pre-thank you for coming gifts to hand out afterwards is such a delight).
4. Master one signature large-batch cocktail
Unless you’re hosting a cocktail party, there’s no need to set up a full bar (or even a mini-bar, for that matter). Master a single cocktail that can be mixed in advance large-batch style, and set out so that guests may serve themselves, freeing you up to enjoy the fun! We’re loving this Holiday Milk Punch, which calls for few ingredients, and delights with a deliciously sweet bourbon-infused kick. To prep, simply mix 2 cups of milk, 2 cups of half-and-half, 1 cup of bourbon, ½ cup of powdered sugar, and 1 ½ tsp of vanilla extract. Serve over ice and top with grated nutmeg. (Even adding garnishes of fruit to a champagne or mixed drink, even a curl of orange to red wine and a curl of lime to white wine looks good and adds a little extra something.)
5. Skip the old-school playlist
Music is a must, but who has time to assemble a playlist? Let Spotify do the work for you with prepared playlists complete with holiday music favorites to suit any taste. That’s a brilliant time-saver!
6. Swap flowers for DIY evergreens
There’s no rule that a holiday party needs a centerpiece, but if you generally decorate with flowers, try swapping them with simple winter-inspired greenery or even bare twigs decorated with string lights. Since materials can be sourced outside, this tip not only saves a trip to the flower shop, but it keeps your party budget in check too. (I use this tip as often as I can – even snipping a little bit of rosemary or juniper (if you have any – or the neighbor does) and add to even old wine bottles for color – to tuck them into a bowl with fruit.)
7. Set the stage for conversation
To keep conversation humming and your guests mingling, a little strategy is in order. Set up different stations within the party area (say dinner in the dining room, drinks at the bar, dessert in the living room) to ensure constant movement. Guests will feel comfortable serving themselves, moving about, and mixing with different party-goers. This approach relieves the host of awkward ushering and the constant fear that guests aren’t comfortable or (oh, no!) having fun. (Always look at the arrangement of your room/furniture and see where you can add small trays or where you think people will feel too congested. Sometimes removing clutter gives you more room and once you add even ‘stacked’ tabletops you will have better flow.)
8. Allow guests to serve themselves
Serving meals family style is the single biggest relief on a host, and (bonus!) it injects a feeling of ‘make yourself at home’ into the dinner scene. Whether your guest list numbers 4 or 40, this is a major do. For smaller parties where guests will be seated, serve dishes in large platters on the table, so that guests can help themselves. For larger guest lists, set up a buffet. Guests will feel welcomed, and you will be free to enjoy the festivities, free from serving and topping up drinks.
9. Glam up store-bought eats
Guests won’t have more fun at your holiday party just because everything was homemade. Learn the art of glamming up store-bought goodies with a little extra attention to presentation and detail, like hummus. By simply replating, creating presentation with the swirl of a spoon, and topping with olive oil and paprika, this store bought app looks delicious and scratch-made. (Adding grapes, berries, etc. to cheese platters – and even add sprigs of mint – this also makes things look better then store bought.)
10. Consider a one-pot meal
Everyone knows chili. Think outside the one-pot-meal box with a dish that will surprise and delight, like a Low Country Boil. If you’ve ever been to Savannah or Charleston, you may be familiar with this southern ‘delicacy’, which is nothing more than shrimp, potatoes, corn, and smoked sausage cooked in crab boil (think Old Bay) until tender and delicious. It’s zesty, spicy, and definitely an upgrade on chili night. Bonus points for serving the traditional way – piled up center stage over newspaper (easy cleanup)! (The Mexican equivalent is Menudo and another Southern version is cast iron cooking – if you have a great fire pit or large BBQ, stew is so yummy and one-pot wonders.)
11. Rethink potluck
If ‘potluck’ makes you cringe, rethink your strategy. Forget those old-school potluck parties full of identical, nondescript casseroles (that no one really wants to eat anyway). Select a simple theme (like ‘Desserts Only’) and allow guests to bring what they like. We’re loving a ‘Wine and Cheese’ theme because all of the accompaniments are no-cook (cheese, olives, grapes, crusty bread), and guests will love that you’ve taken most of the guesswork out of potluck planning. Still not convinced? Another useful tip for modernizing your potluck is using an online signup sheet, like Signup Genius or Bring It, which allow you to create live signup sheets that update in real time – and they’re free! (I LOVE this one and have done it – it’s kind of like hosting a cookie exchange – or what I like to say a cookie/candy exchange.)
12. Make friends with your local bakery
This is obvious, but it bears repeating. A top-notch local bakery is indispensable during the holidays. Not only can they do all of the heavy lifting when it comes to party sweet treats, but you can make a serious dent in your holiday shopping list by browsing the bakery case. (So is a caterer – if you use catering for/at work – ask about pricing AND tips – it’s a compliment to a good caterer. And even if they have ‘slow’ times, you’ll be surprised they can offer you a deal).
13. Keep it rustic
Skip the white tablecloths and go with a rustic winter theme for your holiday soiree. Guests will love the relaxed, nostalgic feel and you’ll love the easy prep and cleanup. Simple greenery and votives set the scene, and you won’t be stuck soaking wine stains out of your good linens.
14. Gratefully accept help (and hostess gifts)
Resist the urge to do it all. Holiday parties are supposed to be fun, and when friends or family ask to help, chances are they genuinely want in on the planning prep. Maybe your sister loves to bake or your BFF is skilled at flower arrangements. If they’re enthusiastic about lending a hand, take them up on their offers. It will relieve some of the hosting burden, and make for a more well rounded event where guests can let their skill sets shine. (This is so true – don’t feel that you are bothering them, if they genuinely like to help – let them! I say that because so many people feel reluctant or feel that they need to do it all alone. Don’t wear yourself out, enjoy your party too.)
15. Prep ahead for kids
If holiday festivities will include little ones, a bit of advance prep is the shortcut to party success. Designate a special area for kiddos to congregate and set up some age appropriate activities, which can include anything from movies to a Christmas cookie decorating station. Parents will LOVE you for including their little ones in the fun, and for allowing them a little kid-free party time. You’ll love a stress-free party scene with less kid-induced chaos. (Hire a sitter (or two) as well. If you have limited space (or want to keep the kids a bit away from the party – I’ve had ‘stations/activity areas’ for the kids even in the garage – removing your cars. And I’ve had hostesses dual party with a neighbor/friend where the party is at one house and the baby-sitting service is at the other).
Above all – ENJOY YOURSELVES – and if someone starts to whine (Debbie and Dan Downer) – hand them another cocktail, smile and politely say, “I’m glad you came, we all need this fun evening!” (sometimes just neutralizing helps). Mentally be aware of your own smiles/happiness – it’s contagious!! And if YOU start to whine, then also grab another cocktail!