‘Hostess with the Mostess’ – ten tips for hosting a successful (and relaxing) party

As I was prepping for our fifth annual Christmas party; with an expected 35 guests,  I found myself thinking about the little tricks I have learned that help me to relax and enjoy myself for the evening. I thought it would be fun to share them with you.

Here are my top 10 tips for hosting a successful holiday party:

1. Plan your menu – A little pre-planning can go a long way. Write out your menu a couple of weeks in advance and think about how the food all fits together. Do many of the dishes require the oven? Maybe you need to rethink that; slow cookers and barbecues are great options to keep the oven line up down. Also, consider making half of your menu cold. Many cold options are easy to pre-make in the fridge and are still really delicious.

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Watermelon, mint, and feta skewers are a nice fresh cold appetizer.

2. Vary your options – In our gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan world it can be tough to plan appetizers for a large group. Not to mention other specific allergies, pregnancies and whatever else may cause you to make special considerations for your guests. Make it easy on yourself without having to go totally out of your way for dietary needs. Look over your menu and identify at least one dish that covers each of the dietary restrictions you have. Many guests don’t expect you to make any exceptions – and you don’t have to – but I’ve always found that it is acknowledged and appreciated.

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Vermicelli or rice paper appetizers, like these shrimp salad rolls, cover off both gluten free and dairy free options.

3. Start fresh – clean kitchen towels, an empty dishwasher, nothing in your recycle bins or garbage – make your house ready to, well, get messy again! You don’t want to be taking out the garbage or figuring out where to put bottles in the middle of the evening. Think about each detail and make it easy for your guests to keep the place clean.

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Bottle caps are easy to recycle – put into tin cans and squish the tops once they are about 3/4 full. I put a bottle opener near some decorated cans, and people automatically throw the caps in there – easy clean up!

4. Check your supplies – it may sound obvious but if you’re having a lot of people over you need to make sure you have enough of everything from cutlery, glasses and plates to toilet paper! I always ensure I have a few backup hand towels to replace the ones in the bathroom when they get damp too – your guests will appreciate being able to properly dry their hands. If you have to buy plastic cups and cutlery, be environmentally friendly, instead of throwing it all out after one use, put out a bin of soapy water to collect them then wash and re-use or recycle.

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Wine glasses all ready for my guests!

5. Get Organized – I make menu cards in advance and place each in the dish in which I am planning to serve in. That way I can make a call to a friend if I realize I don’t have the right amount of serving dishes and am not left having to improvise. The same applies to the menu; what elements can you prep in advance? What needs last minute preparation? Do you have an order in which you are planning to serve things? Are some guests arriving late? Considering all these things can help you have a more relaxing time as host of your event.

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Call me crazy, but this system has always served me well.

6. Prep your ingredients – This is the most important part of stress-free catering. I love being able to pop in tray after tray of already made and laid out appetizers into the oven without skipping a beat. If you don’t have enough trays to do this, have someone lend you extra – trust me it makes hosting a breeze. I also chop, shred portion or cook anything I can in advance, up to a day before and have it ready to assemble in the hours before my guests arrive.

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This DIY mashed potato station went over a treat and was prepared the night before apart from the potatoes that I cooked the day of and kept in a slow cooker, replenishing my chaffing dish as needed.

7. Consider the flow –  People naturally gravitate to the kitchen; a phenomenon I do not fully understand. It never fails, though, and while I enjoy the company, especially the helpful kind, it can be disruptive and stressful to have people leaning on your counter as you try to prepare. Place food and drink away from the kitchen as much as possible to encourage people to mingle around somewhere other than the oven!

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I find cookies to be an excellent lure away from the kitchen.

8. Don’t be proud – There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, or accepting it when offered. Nobody expects you to do everything. In fact, sometimes it can be way more fun to have a big prep day with friends!

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Many hands make light work!

9. Ensure safe rides home – Make sure everyone knows where the nearest transit is if they’ve had a little too much egg nog. Especially during the holiday season, do what you can to suggest a cab, check who the designated drivers are and ensure all your guests arrive home safely. Speaking of designated drivers, have some nice non-alcoholic beverage options for them.

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Water and punch for the designated drivers – and anyone else of course.

10. Put your feet up –  There comes a point in every evening I host when I realize that there is nothing more I can do when my house is full of guests. Though I try to keep things tidy, I would much rather spend time with my friends than scurry around clearing tables. Once my dishwasher is full and doing its first run and I’ve finished cooking – I’m out (and I think I deserve a cookie!)

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