10 Tips to Simplify Holiday Entertaining

posted by Andrea | 11/19/2014

tips to simplify holiday entertaining

Dave and I are hosting Nora’s birthday party this weekend, then we’re celebrating Thanksgiving, 5 other immediate family member birthdays, lots of Christmas parties, a New Years party, hosting out of town guest, and more… all in the next 6 weeks.

Because of all these celebrations, I felt a post on how to simplify holiday entertaining was timely during this very busy season in my own life. I hope it will be helpful for many of you as well!

Although today’s post is a repost from 2 years ago — I’ve made many updates, added helpful links, removed out-dated information, and included additional information as necessary!


Now that we have finished most of our home renovations, Dave and I often end up hosting many family functions. While it does take a decent amount of extra effort to host a gathering (at least for me) we generally enjoy having others over to our house — especially during the holiday season.

If you’re also entertaining this holiday season, here are 10 simple tips that should help things go a bit smoother — and allow you to actually enjoy your time with family and friends!

1. Only clean what the guests see.

No, I’m not encouraging you to stuff things in your back closet or under your bed, but I AM telling you not to waste time cleaning every nook and cranny of your home before your guests arrive.

Not only will they NOT notice if your upstairs hall closet is perfectly organized or if the baseboard behind your couch is dust-free; they also won’t care (or at least they shouldn’t). Your house should be clean enough for you and your guests to feel comfortable… but not to the point where you have to spend days cleaning your home before hand.

I like to make sure the bathrooms and kitchen are clean, the living room is decluttered, and the floors are vacuumed/swept. This is good enough for me… and I can do it all in under an hour (yes, I’ve timed myself!)

2. Designate a spot for coats, shoes, bags, etc.

When I originally wrote this post two years ago, we didn’t have a mudroom (or even an entryway closet). However now, thanks to our glorious new mudroom addition from this past summer, we have the perfect spot for everyone to dump their gear.  It’s completely out of the way (and mostly out of site) but still very easily accessible if anyone needs to head out to their car, get something from our garage, or wants to hang out in our outbuilding.

I honestly can’t even explain how much of a game-changer the mudroom has been for our entertaining purposes (especially during the winter when it’s cold and everyone has 10 layers plus snow-filled boots). It’s SO nice not to have all of that tramped through my house anymore!

However, if you don’t have a mudroom (and you don’t want everyone dropping their shoes and bags directly in front of your door) I’d suggest taking people’s coats and bags when they arrive and laying them on your bed. Then have extra rugs available for shoes. Make sure these rugs are close enough to your door to be easily accessible, but not too close that they hinder traffic flow when guests arrive.

3. Spread out the food and drinks.

I would not consider our house small — it’s a great size for our family. However it starts to feel pretty crowded when 25 people are all huddled around the food on the kitchen table or island. Since I don’t like feeling crowded, I usually try to spread the food throughout the main living areas of the house.

For example, I set up a drinks station next to the refrigerator with cups, ice, water, pop, and anything else we’re offering. Then I set up an appetizer station on the kitchen island with plates, napkins, and all the savory foods. I often put the desserts and coffee in the office (which is open to the living room) and provide more plates, napkins, cups, etc.

It doesn’t take much additional work on my part, and it forces my guests to spread out and mingle instead of hovering over the tiny food table in the kitchen.

4. Use paper and plastic.

I know it’s not exactly “green” but it makes things SO much simpler. Unless you’re having a formal sit-down dinner, I would highly encourage you to use paper and plastic plates, napkins, cups, and maybe even utensils.

I usually set out Sharpie markers so everyone can label their cups (especially if kids are involved). I also set out several trash/recycling bags so it’s obvious where the trash needs to go… and so I (hopefully) don’t get piles and piles of cups and plates on my counter!

If you’re not comfortable using paper and plastic, I’d suggest scouring local thrift stores for light-weight, stackable, white plates (I like the Corelle brand as they don’t break easily) and extra sets of cutlery so you have plenty of dishes to go around.

5. Triple-line ALL trash cans.

Speaking of trash and recycling…

It’s a really really good idea to put two or three trash bags in every trash can. Not only will this help protect against a ripped bag that leaks gross stuff all over your trash can, it will also make it really easy to take out the trash when it gets full. You don’t have to mess with putting another bag in… just remove the old bag and you’re ready to go.

6. Always have extra food.

There are times when I host a party and make all the food (like for Nora’s birthday party)… but there are plenty of other times when I ask everyone to bring a dish to pass. I usually give some helpful suggestions as to the recipes or types of food I’m looking for (appetizers, desserts, vegetable, salad, etc.).

However, I’ve never hosted a party where every single person showed up and brought what they said they were going to bring. This used to bug me (a lot) but now, instead of getting annoyed, I just plan ahead and make a few extra items that can go in the freezer if we don’t end up eating them.

For example, I’ll always have quick appetizers on hand and I’ll usually make a few extra desserts or snacks just in case. If we don’t need them, I’ll put them in the freezer for later — but if we run out of food, I can quickly grab a tray of bars, sweet breads, a variety of crackers and cheese, or even something store-bought!

Even just chips and salsa, veggies and hummus, or a store-bought pound cake would work.

7. Have your recipes ready.

I know that whenever I go to someone else’s home, I’m always interested in the recipes they make. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to email someone one of my recipes, only to forget once I get home.

So now, I’ll often print off a few copies of each recipe I make so I’m ready when anyone asks (or I just direct them to my blog if the recipes are posted here).

This is also helpful if anyone at your party has allergies or dietary restrictions. Just show them your recipe card and they’ll know if they can or can not eat your dish.

8. Provide disposable containers for leftovers.

I don’t always do this, but depending on the situation, I’ll set out a big pile of yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and Cool-Whip containers for everyone’s leftovers. That way, we can wash all the dishes and send everyone home with clean plates and bowls.

This is definitely not necessary (and I realize my choice of containers aren’t super fancy) but I find that people really appreciate it — especially if it’s an all-day event when unwashed dishes can get smelly and baked food gets crusted on.

9. Have a cleaning kit ready.

It’s almost inevitable that someone will spill something over the course of your party. And if your house is furnished in mostly white (like ours is) it’s probably a good idea to have some cleaning supplies easily accessible.

I usually just keep a basket in our laundry room (which is right off the kitchen) filled with several rags, carpet cleaner, and upholstery spot treatment. When the situation arises, I calmly pull out a rag and cleaner and clean up the spill — no frantically looking for my cleaning supplies!

10. Don’t be a helicopter host.

While I think it’s totally acceptable to quickly clean up a large spill or potential stain, I DO NOT think it’s appropriate to “hover” around (like a helicopter) picking up trash, wiping down counters, fluffing pillows, and being “busy” all night long.

Once everyone has their food and drink, make sure you also get your food and then sit and relax. Don’t worry if the kitchen looks like a disaster or there’s trash everywhere. I’ve found that guests often feel uneasy when the host is a busy-body all night long.

Wait until everyone is gone and then race against the clock to see how quickly you can pick everything up (Dave and I do this and it’s crazy how fast cleanup actually goes!)

If you’re hosting any type of event this holiday season, I’m confident these 10 tips will help you to simplify the whole process — and hopefully even enjoy your party that much more!

What are your best tips to simplify holiday entertaining?

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18 comments

  1. Deb

    12/08/2012

    The only thing I do different is I do use REAL glasses, silverware and dishes. The other stuff gets pricey over time as compared to buying plates and glasses once for $1 each. (Dollar store or WM), I got extra silverware at a garage sale…………oh and Sharpies work on real glasses to, just have to wipe it off with a rag before the dishwasher. My husband hates plastic anything….

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    Hilda Reply:

    I also dislike using plastic or paper. I purchase dishes at the local Thrift Store, use and clean them, then return them.

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  2. Michelle De Rooy

    12/08/2012

    It depends on the party type. I generally go for casual.
    My tips are pretty similar.
    Declutter;
    Plan, shop bake & freeze early – buy prepared food if desired or time poor – people want your Company more than homemade food;
    Offer canapes (less mess & plates needed);
    Accept people’s offer to help;
    Have designated rubbish bins sign posted. I also have a tray out for dirty utensils
    Descreet signs pointing to the powder room are posted esp if including new visitors
    Give yourself permission to clean up tomorrow where possible
    Most of all, relax & mingle – enjoy your party & your guests

    I like your idea re having recipes ready… All my recipes are on my computer if not on my blog! I will hand out my name card & direct them to contact me after the party when I have more time!
    Michelle
    http://www.robbiebago.blogspot.com

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  3. Pagan

    12/08/2012

    To add to your cleaning kit I would pit some shout wipes in there in case someone gets coffee or cranberry sauce on their white blouse. Quick to pull out and offer!

    Also, for those who are worried about using paper plates, they make some from 100% recycled materials (and they’re pretty nice looking!) and there are some they are completely biodegradable. The few times I’ve not been able to bring real tableware I have used these with success.

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  4. Kristen

    12/09/2012

    Great tips, Andrea! I like the reminder to only clean what guests see. My best tip is bake ahead of time. I’m cooking a lot this weekend and during the week so I’ll be prepared for all our upcoming parties. I hope all your Christmas hosting goes well!

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  5. Rebecca

    12/09/2012

    Oh I am SO guilty of being a helicopter host. I’m better when we have large parties but if we just have a couple people over I’m so bad about doing the dishes before they leave because I just don’t like thinking about having to clean it after they leave. Need to work on that…

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  6. Emily

    12/09/2012

    Enjoy your information so much, like a trip back in time, my family was from Marshall. Here is a tip from my grandmother used. Set out a medium size puzzle with the edges in place on a small table or chest in any main room. Watch people stop to take time to put a few pieces in place and start a conversation with someone they may not usually talk with. A good ice beaker that continues on and off throughout the gathering. Good for all ages.

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  7. angela

    12/19/2013

    Great tips! My friend recently mentioned that she always sets out a puzzle. Great for people that need a break from people, feel a bit awkward, or who ate just more hands on.

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    Andrea Reply:

    That’s an awesome idea Angela. The only issue for me is I don’t have a great place to set out a puzzle table without things feeling pretty crowded. I’ll have to think about that one!

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  8. Heidi

    11/19/2014

    I love that you say “pop”! We are originally from the north and grew up saying “pop”. We’ve moved quite a bit and every region is different, soda, cola, coke (even if it’s not coke that you’re after) and some friends from over seas even say “cold drinks”. Where we live now when we say we’d like a pop, they look at us like they are supposed to pop us one!

    Good tips too!

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    Viv Reply:

    Heidi, you made me smile. I also use the word “pop”. I’m originally from the UK, near Manchester and it’s what I grew up saying it too. My husband teases me about it but it’s something that’s so ingrained from my childhood I find it hard not to say. I don’t know anyone else who has used this phrase in all the different countries we have lived so it’s nice to hear that other people do actually say it too!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I guess I never thought about using the term “pop” in a blog post. I’ve alway grown up saying that so it’s just second nature :)

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  9. Trudy

    11/19/2014

    I’ll be having Thanksgiving and, even though I’ve done it many times, I find myself forgeting to get everything I need from the store in advance.

    A few weeks before, I print or gather all my recipes and then write on a piece of paper all the ingredients and how much I need of each. Then, I can go to my cupboards to see what I have on hand and cross it off the list. What’s left, I then determine if I can get it in advance. For example, I need bread stuffing cubes….I have them already in the house, as I do the butter and nuts I need. All is left is the produce and dairy I wanted to wait on and I will get that early.

    The other thing I do is purchase the foil pans. I can get six pans in my oven at once rather than my own, which are different sizes. I was able to get 30 foil pans at Costco for $6….crazy bargan. So, I can put one batch of everything in the oven at once.

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    Andrea Reply:

    love these tips Trudy! and yes, 30 foil pans for $6 is amazing!

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  10. Tara

    11/19/2014

    Thanks for these tips! I don’t usually worry too much about entertaining, but we’re going to have nearly 30 people in our not so large single-story house for Thanksgiving. Many of these things will make life easier.

    Any tips on how to make our recently scrubbed out garage into a fun space for the kids to play?
    :-)

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  11. Jenny

    11/20/2014

    Love, Love, Love this list! This is so helpful, especially the trash can bag idea! Thanks for sharing!!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Jenny — glad to help!

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  12. Kristen @ Joyfully Thriving

    11/20/2014

    I use disposable paper products, too. Love the idea of having recipes at the ready! My best tip to simplify entertaining is to start baking well ahead of time! It’s amazing how many things can be frozen. Even if you bake just your desserts ahead of time, it simplifies so much when it comes to food prep on the day of the party. Enjoy all your festivities! My family arrives next week so we will have 15 people staying in our house for 5 days. I’m doing lots of simplifying and prepping right now, too!

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