Hosting a holiday meal or party for the first time this year? It’s a rite of passage, and one you’re probably particularly excited about if this is your first year in your new home. Naturally, there may also be some fear tied up in all that excitement. After all, successful hosting is a skill that’s honed over many years.
Don’t fret. You can skip the rookie mistakes by paying attention to these top tips.
Don’t try to do everything yourself
The key to successful hosting is knowing when to say “when,” and accepting help when it’s offered. Remember this when you start to worry about delegating too much: just because you’re hosting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to have fun, too. Plus, if you spend the whole time in the kitchen, your guests won’t get to see you—and that defeats the purpose of them coming over in the first place.
Do what you can ahead of time
If everything you’re serving needs to be made at the last minute, you’ll likely be a stress ball standing over the stove and cursing the sauce that won’t thicken up while your guests are having fun in the other room. When you’re doing the menu planning, pay attention to items that allow you to do the cooking, or at least the prep, a day or two before. It’ll save you time—and save your sanity—on the day of the shindig.
Don’t try to be Martha Stewart
Nobody expects you to be the perfect hostess and chef and interior designer. Your friends and loved ones just want something to eat and drink among good company. If your lack of fancy dishes—or even matching dishes—is giving you a pre-party eye twitch, keep this in mind. “Use what you already have! Say you have a mixture of odd plates—scatter them and try to have a common thread,” said Domino. “For example, if the plates are all different, have the same matching napkins. If you have mismatched glassware, try alternating matching ones at each setting. Try to be mindful when you’re setting a table to find a balance visually for your guests, but things don’t have to be perfect.”
Don’t be overly ambitious
It’s natural that you’d want to show off your cooking skills or try something new to impress your guests. But that might not be the best tactic for your first time hosting.
“When you’re hosting at your home, it’s smart to scale back and stick to what you know,” Kathleen Schaffer, creative director and culinary chef at Schaffer as well as a celebrity caterer to clients including Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney, told The Knot. “In other words, this isn’t the time to attempt the fancy sous-vide or soufflé recipe you saw on Facebook. Set yourself up for success by playing to your strengths, and most importantly, planning and preparing in advance.”
But keep the food coming
You never want your guests to start getting grumpy because they arrived hungry and dinner is delayed. Having a spread of appetizers everyone can nosh on buys you time to get the main dishes together and keeps them satiated. This “cream-cheesy salsa of fresh cranberries, cilantro and a little jalapeno kick” is one of our favorite holiday apps, and not just because it’s incredibly easy to make. You can find more ideas here.
Remember that you can never have too much toilet paper
This is the kind of thing you might overlook while you’re shopping, and you definitely don’t want to have to run out in the middle of your gathering—or, even worse, bring in the dreaded roll of paper towels. While you’re buying plenty of TP, do the same with napkins, plastic cups and silverware, and bottled water.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Someone is going to spill something. Or drop all the crackers on the floor. Or break a chair. Or all of the above. Keep your sense of humor closeby and you’ll get through it with stories to tell later on. If that fails, consider downing another glass of wine.