Party Time: Four Steps To Easy Entertaining

planning tips for holiday parties

Shhh! Don't look now, but the holidays are right around the corner. Will you be ready to offer hospitality in your home?

Busy home managers have many reasons to dread entertaining, whether it's drop-in visitors or a large party. Entertaining can be costly, in time and in money. Our homes may not measure up to the standard touted in glossy furniture store ads.

Often, we're unsure of ourselves in the role of hostess. Many of us didn't learn the knack at Mother's knee-yet we still measure ourselves against her yardstick.

Take heart! Changing times have brought changing ideas and standards. Entertaining doesn't need to be stressful. With an attitude adjustment and some advance planning, even the busiest home manager can entertain with ease.

Step One: Change Your Mind

The biggest obstacle to easy entertaining? Us! Too often, we have strict notions about what constitutes hospitality. We think "dinner party" and fret about whether the towels match the shower curtain-and we miss the whole point of the effort.

What does "entertaining" mean to you? Take a moment, and think of what springs to mind. Do you worry about your lack of fine china and polished silver? Do you fret about the furniture? Do you thumb frantically through cookbooks and food magazines, looking for just the right recipes? Do you vow to bar the door to guests until you've cleaned the house from attic to cellar? Time for an attitude adjustment! All these concerns are irrelevant to true hospitality.

The first step to easy entertaining is to put the focus where it belongs: on the guests. It's helpful to redefine your terms. Do you "entertain" or do you offer hospitality?

Those who entertain take aim on material things: house, food, dishes, decorations. They view each dinner party as a production that must be scheduled, coordinated and directed to perfection. The event takes place in a stage set of polished furniture, cleaned carpet and precisely-set tables. Too often, the "entertainer" is so stressed and exhausted by all the preparation that she doesn't enjoy her own party! With this mindset, entertaining is a chore, to be done as infrequently as possible.

One who offers hospitality has a different focus: her guests. To her, hospitality is about sharing. Her hospitable home welcomes visitors and draws them into the warm family circle as treasured guests. Her values put people before floral centerpieces and ironed napkins. She may engage in as much preparation as the "entertainer," but she knows that when a guest feels truly welcome, the state of the floors is unimportant.

Start by changing your mind. Will you offer hospitality this holiday season? Or will you stage an entertainment? Resolve to put first things--your guests--first on your list. Armed with this mindset, you'll avoid the perfectionist traps that stand ready to snare the entertainer.

Step Two: Prepare For The Unexpected

Do-ahead preparations will take the stress out of drop-in visitors, and free you to enjoy visits from unexpected guests. Purchase or prepare hospitality supplies: crackers, some good cheese (the smellier the better to deter grazing children) frozen cookies or slices of cake. Child-proof the latter by wrapping aluminum foil and labeling as "liver and onions" before you freeze!

Keep a stock of good tea bags and coffee on hand, and assemble a teapot, sugar bowl and creamer, and several good teacups in one spot. Invite your guests to join you in the kitchen as you swish about efficiently, assembling a welcoming snack!

Step Three: Be A Smart Party Planner

When it comes to parties, nothing beats the power of planning. For holiday parties, that principle is twice true.

If you're going to throw a holiday party, begin early. The busy holiday season is the very last time you want to experience pre-party chaos.

Try this 10-point holiday party game plan:

  1. Set the date. Be creative! Holiday parties don't necessarily have to take place on the two Saturdays before Christmas, or even during the busy pre-holiday period. Our family celebrates Twelfth Night, holding our annual holiday bash the first weekend after January 1. Our friend Marianne has carved out the Tuesday evening between Christmas and New Years Day for her special dinner party. Mom throws an annual Texas New Year's party on New Year's Day. All have become institutions, parties that guests look forward to attending year after year. Schedule your party around a less-traditional date, and guests are much more likely to be able to attend.
  2. Make a Master Guest List. The single most important piece of paper for party planning is the guest list. List guests, and record acceptances and regrets. A party planner must know who and how many will be attending. Print Party Planning Forms from the Organized Christmas Forms Library, including a party budget, guest list and. party planner form.
  3. Get the word out early. The holiday season is a busy time. Make sure your guests know about your party in time to attend. Send invitations at least 4 weeks early for holiday parties.
  4. Plan food and drink. What refreshments will be offered at your party? Start a party menu list. One important bit of information is to plan serving sizes. How many of each appetizer should you include for each guest? In my's experience, this quantity will vary depending on where you live. Folks on the West Coast tend to take only a nibble of everything, but in the South, food is much more important. As a general rule? Plan for ten total appetizers per guest, but be prepared to ratchet that number up or down depending on where you live. Same principle applies to beverages.
  5. Rehearse your recipes! Would-be hostesses can be seduced by the power of print. Don't be caught trying new recipes from holiday cooking magazines on party day! If you're going to serve a recipe you've never made before, be sure you test it before the party. Better, keep things simple, using tried-and-true favorites. A holiday party is no time to debut fancy recipes. What's hum-drum to you will be new and interesting to your guests.
  6. Map the party. Decide where you'll set up beverages, food, and decorations. Try to space food and drink so that guests don't knot up around one table or in one room. Spread things out, and everyone will be more comfortable. If you need to rearrange or remove furniture, make a note now so you can delegate the job on Party Day.
  7. Make your house party-friendly. Too many times, party-givers succumb to a frenzy of cleaning and home improvements. Instead, clean only the public areas of the house, and forget about overkill like cleaning carpets and drapes. Only exception? Bathrooms. Make sure bathrooms are sparkling, as this is the area where guests will get a close look at your home. Have a coat closet or hanging rack available for outerwear and handbags. Store delicate bric-a-brac that could be broken if bumped or jostled. Provide lots of napkins and coasters. Make it easy for guests to have fun!
  8. Smooth the path to Party Night with a countdown plan. Counting back from the time of the party, plan how you'll get the work done. Think through everything you'll need to do to prepare for the party and schedule each chore. Set aside time for shopping, to prepare appetizers, do any final cleaning, and set up beverage centers. Look hard at your list, and DOUBLE the time allotted to each chore. On Party Day, you'll be glad you built in extra time for yourself.
  9. Enjoy your party! Once the doorbell rings, resolve to let go of logistics and enjoy your guests. Wherever you are in the preparation process, stop right there and let the party happen. Don't fuss around doing the last bits of this and that. Your guests would rather visit with you than eat that one last tray of baked hors d'oeuvres.
  10. Handle mishaps with grace. Every hostess in the world has had disasters, large or small, mar a party. How you respond to problems determines whether your guests are made comfortable or are embarrassed. Someone spills red wine on a white carpet? A hospitable hostess smiles as she quickly dumps salt on the stain, reassures her guest and moves on. Somebody who grabs towels and carpet cleaner and fusses and moans makes everyone uncomfortable.

Step Four: Practice Holiday Hospitality

This year, resolve to add the joys of hospitality to your holiday celebration. Practiced properly, hospitality is an art and a ministry-and it gives more to the giver than the recipient.

During the holidays, stretch a little. Reach out to the people around you, and move outside your comfort zone. Invite the new neighbors to a pick-up dinner with your family. After church, introduce yourself to the older couple you don't know well. Encourage your teens to bring their friends home for a cookie bake, and enjoy a noisy evening getting to know your children's friends.

Hospitality isn't about house, food or furniture. It's about heart. This holiday season, open the door to your heart, just a crack. You will be blessed, indeed!