Hosting a holiday party? We've gathered our favorite tips from the best hosts and entertainers we know (here's looking at you, Kat!) to create this guide to share with you. We hope you enjoy fun, easy festivities with the folks around your table this season!
Before Guests Arrive
Reflect on what Success Means to You (and your guests!)
At Muddy's, we teach and use a practice called "visioning" to prepare for success by telling the story of what "it" (whatever it is) looks and feels like once it's done well. This is a great way to understand your priorities... and what to de-prioritize. If your vision for a great family party is that everyone laughs a lot, enjoys tasty food and drink, reconnects with relatives from afar, and tells some stories that no one has heard yet, then part of your preparation for the party might actually focus on thinking up some good conversation questions to help unearth those stories. Conversely, if your vision for success is impressing someone with your housekeeping skills, then maybe the flowers and perfect guest soaps actually are important. Basically, know your own priorities, focus on those, and let the rest be.
Decide What to Make versus Buy
Don’t be afraid to get a little help on food prep! Decide what you enjoy making (or what you have time to make), and leave the rest to local food purveyors. This will save you from stress, and no one will care that you didn’t cook everything. We promise.
The Kat + Thomas typical MO for a buffet style open house party is:
-Smoked Salmon and Fixins from Elwood's Shack (they do a wonderful brisket, too!)
-Big Kale Salad with Cranberries from Whole Foods
-Homemade biscuits with either sweet or savory sides
-Another side like Bogie's pasta salad, roasted veggies from Miss Cordelia's, or gumbo from Second Line
-Booze from Joe’s in Midtown (shoutout to Sisco Larson, who can take one look at a menu and budget and make great recommendations every time!)
“Mise En Place” your table and ingredients
Taking the time a couple of days prior to your event to set the table takes so much of the stress out of entertaining! Put out the dishes, serving platters, napkins-- all the non-food essentials-- and use post-its to label what goes in each dish. This way, if you discover that you don't have a good serving dish for that giant salad, you have time to borrow one from a friend.
Gathering and prepping ingredients and dishes ahead of time, too, leads to a much calmer "day of" party experience; if you’re going to be making a lot at home, plan ahead and spread your prep tasks across multiple days so you don’t feel burned out when the party starts.
Light a Candle, Clean your Bathroom, and Relax about the Rest
When tidying up, prioritize your guests’ experience: fluff the couch cushions, light a few candles to make everyone look and feel their best, and make sure there’s a de-cluttered space where you can store guests’ coats and bags. Don’t stress too much about deep-cleaning anything except for one room – the bathroom! This is the only place in your house where guests will be alone, so make sure things are nice and fresh in there. And the greatest hosting tip ever? Save someone from embarrassment by making the plunger easily accessible.
During the Festivities
If Serving Food Buffet-style, Make it Work for You
This is a great tip from Splendid Table: stretch the splurge! Let's say you splurged on a dish for your party but don't have so much that everyone can go absolutely wild on it – place that item toward the end of the buffet line. We naturally serve ourselves based on how much empty space we see on our plate and will self-regulate as the plate begins to fill up. By serving your splurge item toward the end of the line, you can ensure that everyone gets a bit of it without breaking the bank.
Also -- save your guests from struggling to hold onto their accoutrements (and maybe even a glass of wine!) while they serve themselves and put items like napkins, silverware, and condiments at the end.
Make Introductions by starting with names
If you’re hosting people who don’t know one another, prioritize making introductions early so less-outgoing guests aren’t left feeling out of place. Instead of starting with the connection (i.e. “John, this is Mike’s girlfriend, Sarah”), try starting with the person’s name, his or her connection to the group, and a fact about the person that may interest the other person in the conversation (i.e. “John, this is Sarah, Mike’s girlfriend. She moved here from California six months ago and is looking for a place to take an art class.") Starting with the person’s name will make it more memorable to the people you’re speaking to, and the fact will give the group a conversational starting point.
Give tasks to guests
Most people like to help. If there are a lot of folks coming over, deputize a few "assistant hosts" to be on the lookout for people who don't seem to know many people, drinks running low, etc. By asking them to consciously be looking for others to include in conversation, greet, and serve, you can feel rest-assured that everyone feels welcome if you’re pulled into a longer conversation. Some great jobs for shyer people or people who are new are pouring drinks, taking coats, carving the bird, and passing trays of appetizers. These put them in a position to meet people, and it can be a game-changer.
And accept help when others want to give it. If someone is helping clear plates from the table, simply say "thank you so much!" and then welcome them back to the party.
At the end of the day, true hospitality is about how people feel about themselves when they leave your home, not how impressed they are with you. The parties and events we remember warmly are the ones where we felt welcomed, confident, beautiful, funny, etc., not the ones where we left feeling intimated, inadequate, or awkward. Do your best to prepare your party so that you can enjoy it yourself, but don't let the party derail you from enjoying the time spent with people you care about.
After Guests Depart
Take a Moment to Document, and then enjoy your home all to yourself!
At Muddy’s, we call this practice “Like Best, Next Time”. Taking a moment to write down what worked well (i.e. everyone loved the bourbon punch, the living room set-up was cozy but not restrictive) and what didn’t (i.e. next time, order twice the green beans and half the fish for a group of 20) will make planning your next gathering even easier, and guests will feel extra-special when you remember their preferences.
And if all else fails, rely on our Custom Studio Manager Caolinn's number one tip: "Wine." Happy entertaining!