No matter how social you are — or how big your friend and family list is — dinner parties can be quite stressful.
For starters, you have lots of people crammed into your personal space. Home is usually the place you can go to decompress when you’re overwhelmed. When there are lots of people over, that’s no longer the case.
Then, there’s the stress of being the “host with the most” and putting on a memorable event everyone will enjoy.
Here is our list of things to consider and plan for to successfully host the best holiday dinner for your out of town guests.
When you agree to host a holiday gathering, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to make sure everything is perfect. If a guest casually mentions your house is dirty, or the food is dry, it’s going to ruin your evening.
How can you fend off the stresses of hosting such an event, while also making sure it’s the best experience for everyone? You do want to show those out-of-towners a great time, after all.
Plan ahead and leave room for error.
Look, we don’t need to point out that you’re an adult now — or adult-ish, anyway. You know it’s important to plan ahead, no matter what you’re doing. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. You have only yourself to blame if things go off the rails because you weren’t prepared.
Like Santa, make a list and check it twice.
Pore over the guest list and make sure you choose a good, well-natured group of folks. Do your best to ensure everyone you invite gets along with everyone else. If someone doesn’t fit, don’t invite them, no matter how guilty you feel.
A harmonious gathering is important. You don’t want everyone to remember your party for the wrong reasons.
Please don’t think we’re suggesting excluding people just to be petty or malicious, but if someone on the guest list is likely to be belligerent or start arguments, don’t invite them.
Maybe the two of you can make plans to get together at a later date.
Plan everything else to a ‘T’ as well.
Plan the meal, drinks, snacks, games and experiences, and even social time. Yes, you will likely have to deviate and go with the flow, but it’s still better to have a plan in place.
Stick with what you know.
If you’re ordering takeout food or snacks, this isn’t so much a concern. But if you’re preparing everything yourself, make a point to stick with the dishes and recipes you know. If you decide to try a new recipe, do a trial run before you have the dinner party.
This ensures you don’t run into any unforeseen obstacles, particularly when it comes to food and snacks.
You don’t want to be a half-hour away from serving dinner, only to realize that main-dish casserole you whipped up is going to taste horrid because you messed up the ingredients. We all make mistakes, even the best cooks out there, so do your best to mitigate their potential in advance.
Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday party? Why not set out some holiday-themed snacks, like assorted or candied nuts? At least someone will appreciate you sticking to the dinner party theme, and that’s the key.
Learn to be flexible.
Having a plan in place and being prepared is not the same as having your mind or schedule set in stone. The best type of plan or strategy is one that allows you to be flexible, and evolve with the evening.
Some guests may not RSVP and show up on the evening of. Others might cancel outright hours before. You may find some guests don’t like the punch you prepared or the sides you put together. That’s all OK — don’t let it get you wrapped up like a pretzel.
What are your thoughts on dessert parties? Do you like them? Did you know most people prefer lunch or brunch over dessert? God forbid you plan a dessert party and no one is enjoying themselves. Break out some snacks or a board game. Be ready to adapt on the fly!
Learn to be flexible, because really, you don’t have a choice when you’re dealing with such a large group of people. And remember, you cannot please everyone all the time.
Clean as you go.
You don’t want to be a stickler, hounding everyone to rinse their dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Then no one has fun, and anyway, being the host means you’re in charge of cleanup. On that same note, you don’t want to be stuck cleaning hours upon hours after the last guests leave.
If you wish to clean the same night, the best plan is to clean as you go, while still paying plenty of attention to your guests.
Before dessert, consider collecting all the dirty plates and dishes and move them to the kitchen. Leave your sink full of warm water and soap, and drop in dishes to soak while you spend time with everyone.
You may even be lucky enough to find someone willing to help you clean the dishes and tidy up before the night is through. If not, just do it gradually as the evening progresses – or, neatly stack the dishes to one side in the kitchen and go back to enjoying the company of your guests.
You can always do the dishes and kitchen cleanup the next day.
Yes, you may be the host, but you’re allowing everyone into your home.
That alone is quite warming and friendly.
You don’t have to bear the brunt of the entire dinner and evening on your shoulders. Why not delegate some of the supplies to friends and family?
Do you have an aunt who loves to show off her casserole?
Invite her to bring some for the dinner!
If your brother is a craft beer connoisseur, ask him to bring some of his favorite beverages along.
You don’t have to bear the work, time and financial burden of providing every element of the dinner alone. It’s OK to ask for help.
Music sets the mood.
Even if you absolutely love death metal, it’s probably not the best thing to play at a holiday family gathering. But light, ambient music is great. You can never go wrong with some Ella Fitzgerald, ‘80s classics or holiday-themed tunes.
Just remember, music has the potential to set the mood, so whatever you choose will help determine the temperament and happiness of your guests. Want a wild party? Play some great dance tunes! Want to keep things calm and quiet? Opt for a classical music playlist or something similar.
It’s your house, your rules — right? Except that’s not really the case when you’re entertaining a huge group of guests. Yes, they have a responsibility to respect your home and be polite, but not everyone will be, and that’s OK.
Before the event, take a nice, relaxing bath. Watch your favorite holiday movie or exercise your right to eat some junk food. Do what you can to calm your mind before the guests arrive.
Being the host can be especially tough if you suffer from OCD or anxiety, or have a take-charge personality.
It will be better for everyone — including you — if you learn to let go before everyone arrives.
You cannot dictate what everyone is going to do, how they’re going to act or even what they’re going to say. Just go along for the ride, and you’ll find it more enjoyable than ever before.