There’s nothing like the spirit of the holidays to bring friends and family together over a common table. Hosting can be one of the greatest joys of all — but it also takes a little know-how to successfully manage the cooking, hospitality and other elements of a great holiday dinner party. So, whether you’re having a friendsgiving or hosting the in-laws, feast your eyes on these crucial tips for hosting a successful holiday dinner! They’ll help you get organized, plan a great menu and minimize stress so you can enjoy the good times and create some treasured memories.
1. Get your supplies together ahead of time.
Last-minute grocery runs and frantic hunts for cookware are the kind of things that add major hassle to holiday cooking. So, before you even get started, make sure you’ve got all of your ingredients, spices, grilling accessories and other essentials lined up. It’s even a good idea to start your shopping list a few days before you go to the store and allow yourself to add things as they pop into your head — with a larger meal, you might not realize everything you need right away.
2. Check your guests’ dietary restrictions before you plan the menu.
Try to have a list of all your guests’ dietary restrictions before you finalize a menu for your holiday dinner. This will help you avoid realizing you need gluten-free or vegetarian options for some of your guests after you’ve already bought all the groceries! If you do need foods to meet special dietary needs, look up some gluten-free or vegetarian/vegan recipes that all of your guests can enjoy.
3. Make some seasonal batch cocktails for easy beverage service.
Don’t fancy playing bartender and cooking dinner all at once? We don’t blame you — so fix up some simple and seasonally appropriate cocktails that your guests can help themselves to. Gin- and whiskey-based cocktails are both popular for the winter months, but there are lots of options depending on your guests’ tastes. Other easy-to-serve beverages include mulled wine, hot cider, and various types of winter-friendly beer.
4. Keep track of how much oven space you’ll need and when you’ll need it.
Oven space can quickly become scarce when lots of things need to be cooked at once, so be sure to account for that when planning your meal. If you’ve got a massive turkey going into the oven, for example, remember that it might mean you’ll have to wait to roast your veggies until after the turkey’s done (or do it ahead of time). If you happen to have a pellet grill, remember that you can use it to cook holiday favorites like turkey and lamb, leaving the oven open for other dishes. (Just make sure you’ve got a good supply of wood pellets!)
5. Enlist a helper if you can.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the numerous tasks involved in cooking a holiday meal, so consider asking someone if they can help. A helper who can cook is obviously ideal, but simply having another set of hands available can often make a big difference. This is a great job for a kid who’s old enough to handle the kitchen, as well as for older family members who can bring their years of expertise — and, in fact, it can be an awesome intergenerational bonding experience!
6. Consider asking guests to bring a dish.
If you’re having lots of people over, there’s always the option to make the whole event a holiday potluck! It’s a much more efficient way to feed a large crowd than trying to do everything yourself, and you might be surprised by which of your friends makes a mean sweet potato casserole. However, try to establish a basic idea of who’s bringing what so that you’re not stuck with five different sweet potato casseroles!
7. Have snacks and appetizers available while guests wait.
Since you’ll probably have guests arriving at least an hour before dinner, we strongly recommend putting out some appetizers and snacks to nibble on. Even if it’s just something simple, a couple of tasty apps can keep everybody in a good mood, especially if your guests are enjoying alcoholic beverages. Prepared options like cocktail shrimp or veggie platters are great time-saver options when you want to concentrate on your main courses.
8. Establish a basic timeline.
Timing is one of the secret difficulties of cooking a big meal. There are so many tasks that it can make your head spin trying to remember and coordinate them all, which is why it’s a great idea to have a basic timeline laid out. A simple itinerary will help you remember to keep track of time-sensitive tasks like thawing frozen foods and getting the turkey in the oven. Try to build in some flexibility, too, so one hiccup doesn’t derail your whole plan.
9. Make more food than you expect to need.
You never know when an unexpected guest might show up! It’s far better to have too much food than too little, so consider building at least one guest’s worth of food into your shopping list (possibly more, if you’re having a lot of guests). If you end up with excess food, you can always send it home with your guests or enjoy it as leftovers.
10. Place the food and beverages where you want people to gather.
Party guests tend to hang out where the food and drinks are — witness any house party where tons of people are hanging out in the kitchen! Since you probably don’t want everyone in the kitchen while you’re cooking, be mindful of where you set up service, especially for appetizers and beverages. It doesn’t have to be in just one place, either; splitting things up between the dining room and living room, for example, can encourage your guests to move back and forth and socialize.