Updated 12/14/16 from an article originally published 11/25/2014.
Seasoned holiday entertainers make it look so easy: imagine Pinterest-worthy holiday parties that include festively-bedecked houseplants, custom 3-D placeholders at the dinner table, and tasteful bowls stocked with elegantly wrapped gifts.
The reality is we’ve probably invited more guests to a holiday celebration than our homes can easily handle. Your decorations will be lucky to stand up to the curiosity and wonder of little kids (or certain adults). Before you fret over the details, take some time to readjust your expectations. A little bit of organizing, planning, and creativity can make holiday entertaining a fun experience for your guests and less stressful for you.
1. Keep the chaos out of the kitchen during holiday entertaining.
Big or small, your kitchen will be the heart of your party. Here are some helpful pointers to keep the chaos to a minimum:
- Create flow in the kitchen. This is easier in kitchens with two entries. Essentially, you want people to flow in one direction to avoid congestion. Figure out a system for people to drop off food and get out of the way as soon as possible if you’re hosting a potluck. The last thing you want are guests milling about fussing over the dishes they brought. If you’re serving buffet style, ensure the food is set up in a logical progression so that people won’t need to double back (i.e. the gravy should be near the mashed potatoes and dressings near the salad). You may consider a portable kitchen island to create extra counter space.
- Get a crockpot. If you don’t have one, you need one. You can make everything from appetizers to desserts plus you can serve the dish straight out of the crockpot. Crockpots are designed to cook food slowly so you can free up your time by starting a dish well before guests arrive. They also work well when you just need to keep something warm like roast beef and gravy. Seriously-get one.
- Plan to keep drinks out of the fridge. You can free up a lot of space in the fridge by taking drinks out. Since people get drinks randomly, you score bonus points if you can keep drinks out of the kitchen or where it won’t create a logjam in the kitchen.
- Think outside the (ice)box. Space in the fridge will be at a premium. Don’t forget the coolers that you may have hanging around in storage. You can also use totes or plastic storage bins filled with ice as a makeshift ice boxes. The great outdoors makes a great fridge if you’re “blessed” with colder temperatures on the day of your party.
2. Acquire, borrow, and create seats.
After you’ve scrounged all the folding chairs you can, you still might not have a seat for every guest. Here are some creative ways to create seating:
- Ottomans can be the perfect multifunctional furniture piece to add seating for your holiday entertaining, while acting as hidden storage
- Add cushions to elevated surfaces. You might be able to add extra seating by putting some cushions on flat elevated surfaces like fireplaces or deeper window sills. Be sure the surface is stable!
- Create seats out of plastic milk cartons. You can create your own or flip a milk carton upside down and plop a pillow down.
- BYOS. Bring your own seat. If you’re really desperate for extra seating, ask your guests to bring their own chair. They dodged a bullet by not hosting so why not?
- Stagger eating times. It’s nice for everyone to eat at the same time together, but it might not be possible. You can have a “serving hour” for people to get food at their leisure. Not everyone will need a seat at the same time this way.
3. Free up the guest room during holiday entertaining.
Your guest room may normally be used as your office or temporary storage for your clothes, shoes, boxes, and decorations. Whether you plan it or not, out-of-town visitors may need a place to crash, so keep these tips in mind:
- Use furniture to add storage space. Looking for someplace to toss jackets, purses and bulky layers that quickly become uncomfortable in a packed house? Not the guest room bed! Benches, stools, and side tables can work as storage surfaces, and benches can decoratively be placed at the foot of the bed.
- Get a blow up mattress. If you use you guest bedroom as an office, you may need an easy solution for guests. Blow up mattresses are cheap alternatives to a guest bed that can be set up in minutes and take up very little space when deflated. You aren’t even forced to set it up in your guest bedroom since they can be set up anywhere in your home.
4. Set up a spacious entryway
Your entryway can become a minefield of boots and shoes. Don’t let that first impression of your home be a slushy dangerous mess.
- Avoid shoe slush. Bristled mats or pebble boot trays can keep your entryway from becoming a slippery mess.
- No-shoe policy? No problem. Encourage guests to bring slippers. You can even make it a game with an “ugly slipper contest.”
- Peg your coats. Your closet may not offer enough room for the countless number of heavy jackets. Use pegs to make entryway organization easy. By utilizing stylish pegs and glass knobs on the entryway wall – and even staggering them – you can stay organized and maximize your already-existing space.
Once you figure out some creative ways to maximize space and utilize your storage space wisely, you’ll be free to enjoy the company of your guests. When in doubt stick to the KISS principle (Keep it Simple Smarty). Look for the best possible use of storage space in your home and you’ll be well on your way to a great time entertaining during the holidays.