The holidays are pure magic, and what makes them especially heart-warming is the time we spend with loved ones laughing, eating, toasting, and making new memories. Hosting means you’re playing a crucial role in the merry making, but as rewarding as it is, it can also be downright overwhelming — unless you’ve got a great plan.
“The biggest stressor of hosting an event at home is getting everything ready and timed correctly,” says Nora Sheils, professional event planner and founder of Bridal Bliss. “From a clean home, to décor, to making sure the food is all warm at the same time, to clean up at the end, it’s [a lot]! Hosts are also worried about making sure their guests feel comfortable, that everyone has someone to engage with, and that it is an overall good time.”
The best way to ensure your event goes off without a hitch? Plan everything in advance, delegate what you can, and try not to sweat the small stuff. We asked professionals for their best tips on how to do all of the above.
Create a Master “To-Do” List
First thing’s first: start by writing down everything you need to do. It might feel overwhelming, but it’ll give you a nice overview of what you need to tackle. “A list will give you a sense of control and alleviate the feeling of being frazzled,” notes Andrea Correale, celebrity entertaining expert and founder of Elegant Affairs.
Once you have your entire list written out, divide it into chunks. What can be done in advance, and what should be done the day-of? What tasks can you delegate to others or hire out? Which tasks are most important to you, and which can you safely get away with not completing?
Do Whatever You Can in Advance
Once you’ve got your master list created, you can start scratching things off, which will be exciting at first (and a huge relief as the day draws closer).
“Start the process early,” advises Correale. Earlier than you may think possible. “Make a beverage list and order it early (most beverage distributors deliver). Place your order early and store it in the garage or a storage area.” That’s one big piece out of the way.
Same goes with planning your décor — from table linens to centerpieces — and booking any services that can help alleviate your workload. Other things you can purchase (or rent) well in advance include silverware, plates, napkins, glasses and name cards.
A day or two before — or even the morning of — set everything up, including your table and areas where food and drink will be displayed. Really try to embrace this part of the process, insists Correale. She says, “Setting a beautiful table with all the bells and whistles is so much fun. It gives you the opportunity to be creative and create something special.”
Hire Some Help
If you can swing it, this can make all the difference. It gives you back some of your time so you can focus on the details that you personally enjoy.
“You cannot be everywhere at once,” says Jaclyn Watson, founder of Jaclyn Watson Events. “If you are the party’s host, you want the chance to mingle and be in the experience that you have created, instead of outside looking in. Hire the help you need to carry out a successful party.”
Sheils agrees. She says that even if it’s as simple as a one-time pre- or post-party cleaning crew — or as involved as a full-service caterer or bartenders — it’s worth the splurge. This allows you to enjoy your party wholly instead of stressing out about getting the food out, making sure everything is tidy, and that drinks are topped off.
There are so many ways to think outside the box — having a food truck in your driveway will spare you the cooking and make for an extra-memorable evening. Even for an intimate event, ordering in a few key pieces of the meal can make a world of difference in your sanity. Short on counter space? Let someone else chop your crudités. Want a baked main and dessert? Get one pre-made, so you just have to re-heat.
Rent Party Essentials & Décor (or Buy Them Inexpensively)
The experts we spoke to all agree: One of the more stressful aspects of planning an event is making sure you have enough of everything. That includes seating, flatware, glasses, plates, and décor. Buying everything adds up quickly, and the reality is that you probably don’t need to own all of it. The solution? Rent what you can and supplement with second-hand or budget-friendly finds (as a bonus, rented items can often be returned unwashed, which saves you days of dishes).
“If you want to have a touch of décor for your holiday event, but don’t have the time to shop for it, reach out to a local event or wedding planner, or event rental company, to rent what you need,” suggests Heather Odendaal, owner and principal at Bluebird Strategy. “Some planners even offer small services for decorating holiday parties.”
A number of online party rental companies — such as Social Studies and Freshly Set —box up and ship the whole decorating kit-and-kaboodle for you. Alternatively support a local thrift store, check second-hand websites like OfferUp or Craigslist, or hit up budget-friendly chains like Nordstrom Rack and Homegoods.
Clean & Organize Leading Up to the Event
If you can, try not to save all the housework for the day before or the day of your event. Instead, allocate chunks of time in the two weeks prior. You’ll feel more at ease knowing the house looks spectacular, without the stress of getting everything in order in a matter of hours (when there’s suddenly so much to do!).
“I know that some people will not enter my home again until the following year, so I put a good deal of pressure on making sure that my home and my family are presented in the best light,” says Laura Maddox, owner of Magnolia Celebrates.
Honestly, hosting an event is a great motivator for purging, organizing and deep cleaning — as long as you start early!
Extend the Party Outdoors
Make the most of your hosting space by extending the party outdoors. This is especially timely, as Covid-19 can make people feel tentative about participating in large gatherings in the first place.
Odendaal says, “This holiday season, consider having a component of your evening event outside. Even if you are in a colder part of the country, pop on the propane or wood-burning firepit and supply some warm beverages and s’mores kits so that those who feel more comfortable mingling outside feel welcome.”
You’ll gain more space, make some cozy memories, and give people the option for an outdoor experience so they feel more at ease.
More Quick Tips to Make Your Event Extra Special
- Foster new connections by expanding your invite list. “For me, one of the joys of hosting is creating new connections and fostering existing ones. Consider inviting friends that have something in common, but may not all know one another,” says Odendaal. “Being the magnet that brings new relationships together is an incredibly joyful experience!”
- “Before the party, make sure to walk around and turn on all of your lights; this brightens your home and makes it more inviting,” says Maddox.
- “On the day of, heat up all your side dishes early and keep them warm with wire racks and Sterno, which you can buy in any party store,” says Correale. “This will free up your oven for the mains.”
- Set out some easy games or conversational prompts. This is helpful in keeping guests entertained if you need some more time to put finishing touches on everything, and it’s also an easy way to make great memories.
- Try not to overthink it. Watson says, “Stop worrying about trying to be like everyone else. Instead, ask yourself the three most important things you want your guests to experience and walk away with.”