Top 10 Tips to Make Throwing Your Next Party Easier by Suzanne Brown
My husband and I love to be hosts to friends and family. We host something regularly for holidays and our boys’ birthday parties for family. And we have friends over regularly for smaller dinners and brunches with a few other couples or families. Since moving into our house 7 years ago we have hosted an annual holiday open house every year, which can have 50+ people coming and going over the course of a few hours. OK, I confess we missed a year, but that was because we had a newborn.
The holiday season is fast approaching and many decide to host their family and friends, sometimes for the first time. No question that hosting a meal, party, or event can be stressful. We have 10 tips that we have figured out over the years to make it all a bit easier for us and more enjoyable for our friends. Take a look and incorporate what makes sense for you.
Choose a theme
It’s so much easier to make everything come together when you have a theme. A theme can help with food, decor, beverages, etc. And the theme can be anything…holiday themed, finger foods, cookie exchange, family barbecue, etc. Pick a theme you’re comfortable with, but don’t go crazy.
Brunch over lunch or dinner when possible
Hands down, we prefer to host brunch over any other time of the day. Breakfast food is easy to make, tasty, and prep and many things can be prepped the day before (e.g., muffins). Lots of stuff can be prepped and ready to bake (e.g., casseroles) and pop them in the oven when guests are about to arrive. It’s also easier to do things like vegetarian options or family-friendly options. And, if you choose to have your entrees be veggie friendly, you can always do bacon on the side. There are easy cocktails like mimosa or bloody mary, or even simple OJ.
If this is a family event, you generally don’t have a say with guest list. You might have a say in where people sit, though, whether at one table or in different rooms. If it’s not a family event, you do have a say in guest list. We very much consider guest list before even planning the rest of our event when it’s for friends. We think about who will get along and we change up the list with gatherings throughout the year or over time if we have events repeat (e.g., New Year’s celebration). We want our friends to also meet new people and genuinely enjoy the conversation. We take wives and husbands in mind. We don’t want husbands to dread our events, so we think about what husbands and wives do and are involved in so that might make conversation easier and more fun across the group.
Make sure you know what you’re cooking or baking – as in the whole menu. And check your ingredients. Don’t rely on memory that you have the ingredients on hand, make sure you have the right amounts for everything you’re going to make. You could run out of flour, sugar, or Parmesan cheese if you’re cooking more than one thing with those ingredients and you don’t want to have to go to the store the morning of or in the middle of prep. Check ahead of time before your grocery run so that you minimize your time at the store. Store time can take up so much more time than you think. Make sure you read each recipe completely because some things might have to happen 24 hours ahead or overnight.
Know what to make and what to buy
We love to bake and cook and everyone knows it. Our friends and family come hungry to our events and we love that. We know what doesn’t need to be made from scratch, though. We make all the muffins and unique dishes from scratch, but some dishes, especially desserts don’t need to be made completely from scratch. You can figure out what works with the recipes you want. Kraftrecipes.com has some good options on stuff that is partially home-made, especially in the area of desserts.
Bonus tip: People love my dump cake and ask for it by name. What’s a dump cake? Fresh fruit (e.g., raspberries, strawberries, peaches in the bottom of a casserole dish completely covered with cake mix from a box (I usually use yellow cake mix). Don’t do anything to the mix, just pour the dry mix on top and then slice up a stick up butter and try to cover as much of the dry mix as possible. The more you cover, the better it is. Bake according to the directions on the box. You will be shocked at how yummy this is. And it’s that easy.
Have the right dishes and utensils for serving and eating
Now that you know what you’re making, do you have the right kinds and amounts of dishes and utensils for baking and serving? Make sure you have enough, including for prep. Look at this a week in advance if you can. It doesn’t all have to be fancy, but it’s a nice touch for it to all match or be in the same color palette (e.g., everything has a touch of red or use all white). Running out of utensils and serving dishes the day of can be a huge stress or requires washing and that is no fun during your event, so think about what you’re making and get the right dishes ahead of time. At least some of these things can be found at a grocery store, Target, or TJ Maxx and they are great options. You don’t have to have a whole matching set from Williams-Sonoma.
If you’re going to use paper plates and cups, make sure you have the right kind, based on what you’re making. By this I mean, you won’t serve coffee in a plastic cup, so have something appropriate for whatever is on your menu. Do you make a killer soup? Make sure you have bowls or maybe serve in heat-proof cups like you would coffee. And, since you chose your theme, you can have fun napkins or plates that are part of the general theme. It doesn’t all have to match perfectly, but fun hints of a theme throughout make a different.
Bonus tip: We generally choose solid color plates, which you can buy in large quantity, and let our napkins be playful. Keeps the table looking for consistent, yet festive.
You need to be efficient with your time for all things. We make loads of stuff ahead of time, from baked goods (e.g., muffins, dessert) to quiche that can easily be heated up right before guests arrive to chopping everything that makes sense for the day of. Put out all the trivets, serving utensils, plates, glasses, etc. You want to do as minimal the day of as possible. If you think it will only take a few minutes, it doesn’t matter, do it ahead of time anyway. Figure out how long it will really take to make a recipe, both prep and cook time and work backwards. You know how long a turkey will cook, so think about when it needs to be put in the oven, but do all the ingredient prep ahead of time like chopping, measuring things out. And, kids can even help with this part, but it will take you longer. You will know where it makes sense for measuring out and kids’ help. Always add more time – a buffer – especially for new recipes or ones that are more complicated, especially when adding kids’ help. It always takes more time than you think.
Bonus tip: We tend to avoid recipes for dinner parties with ingredient lists that remind us of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The more ingredients, often the more complicated and time consuming a recipe. You have to know if you really have time for more complicated dishes. If you choose to, only have one or two, and not a whole menu.
Make sure you get a beverage into guests’ hands pronto, whether a cocktail or fun non-alcoholic drink. (You can come up with fun beverages that aren’t alcohol-based for grown-ups.) That means you have to be aware of the door as guests arrive. Even better is if you greet each guest and ask “what can I get you to drink” as you show them where to put down coat and/or handbag. We always have choices and offer up a few when someone arrives. Some of the options can be as easy as flavored water (e.g., slice an orange and put it in your water pitcher) or the flavored water in cans or bottles from the store, homemade punch or a signature cocktail (e.g., we do poinsettias for holiday brunch – cranberry and champagne).
If it’s a family-friendly event, like our holiday brunch, we have several options. You can have a beverage be adult and kid-friendly. For example, you can serve OJ for kids and mimosas for parents. Another good option is hot cocoa with whipping cream for kids and with a swig of something yummy like Godiva liqueur for adults. Make sure kids don’t pour their own since the hot cocoa is still usually warm or hot and keep the alcohol well out of reach of kids)
Bonus: Always have cups with lids for kids, even for older kids. Solo makes sets of cups with lids with straws. We have boxes of these always on hand for any time we have people over who have kids. If you choose to have juice for kids, I recommend boxes over pouches since they probably won’t get squeezed the same way pouches do and that generally leads to less mess.
Logistics for day of
Do you have toilet paper? What about hand towels for the bathroom guests will use? Who is getting the ice? Assume you’re buying ice from the corner or grocery store the morning or day of. You will need it. Who will make what? Who will keep an ear out for the door? When it comes to this aspect of being a host/hostess, play to your strengths. Don’t make one person figure something out if the other is a pro at it.
If people are wearing coats, where will they put them? Where can women put their purses if they ask? A bedroom that is not in use (e.g., where kids will play or nap), is fine for this.
A really important aspect is who is watching your kids. We have traditionally hired a babysitter for our events, whether to take the kids away from our house or get them to bed or to be a watchful eye during brunch. This is your babysitter and not the one for the all kids. If you want a person like that, ask the sitter upfront and find out her rate or hire more than one person. Have older kids coming to the party? Maybe one can be a mommy’s helper that you pay, but ask the older child’s parents ahead of time and make sure he/she is up for it.
Bonus tip: we always use disposable hand towels related to the theme or, if that doesn’t work, something that matches our decor. That way guests aren’t drying their hands with a wet towel and it’s one less thing for us to worry about. You can find these at the grocery store, Target, Party City, or all sorts of other places in a variety of colors and themes and it saves headache for you.
It’s your event and it can be stressful, but you must enjoy it or why bother! And honestly, if you’re not having fun, your guests probably will notice. You set the tone, so enjoy yourself too. Talk to everyone you invite, even if it’s for a few minutes. Everyone deserves your time or they shouldn’t be invited.
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