Helpful Tips for Hosting a Holiday Dinner Party


Hosting a successful dinner party is much harder than it looks. I’m a firm believer that it is something that takes a lot of practice and most importantly, a lot of thought and preparation. I most certainly don’t have all the answers as I constantly find more and more things to perfect as I go, but I will share a few tips that I have learned along the way.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is the single most important tip. An unorganized dinner party will impress no one and will make you a frazzled mess. This is usually my game plan…

A week in advance make sure you know how many people will be coming and decide on your dinner menu. Make sure you have chosen menu items that can be prepared ahead of time. (Tip: try to pick menu items that do not require you to cook while your guests are present…I’ve learned this is a big stress for me.)


First big girl dinner party as husband and wife – 2008 (Excuse the half dead plant in the corner…I manage to kill all plants.)
Make a timeline. What dishes can you prepare ahead of time? How long will each dish take to bake? What will the oven temperature be? You need to be sure you will have enough oven space.

I try to do all my chopping, peeling, and prepping ahead of time. The prep work is usually what makes a messy kitchen so I get that out of the way at least the day before the dinner party. It makes cooking so much faster and cleaner when it comes to the day of.

Be sure to know exactly when you need to put each item into the oven and when to take it out. I write a list out minute by minute if needed so I can keep up with what’s going on. I get very easily distracted once guests arrive so this is a must for me.


Set your table as far ahead as possible so you aren’t worrying with it the day of. This gives you time to wash the dust off your formalwear, iron your tablecloths and prepare any other small details like place settings. Obviously be mindful of fresh flowers and wait until the day of to do those so they are at their freshest. I also like to pick out my serving pieces ahead of time. I’ll lay them out on the table to make sure everything fits. Label them so you remember what is going in them and pair them with spoons, forks and trivets if needed.

A Few Thoughts on Setting the Table

I know it’s easy to overlook, but your table sets the tone for the evening. Whether you are having a formal or causal party, the table setting can really make your guests feel special.
Make sure to keep flowers and center pieces low so your guests can talk to each other with ease. No one wants to have to peak around a candle stick or massive table arrangement to see who is sitting opposite of them.


Christmas Tablescape – 2011
Will your guests seat themselves or will you have place settings? If you are in mixed company (as often families can be) you might want to go ahead and do place settings so everyone can skip that little awkward dance of who might get stuck sitting by whom. Here’s a tip: remember you and your husband sit at the head of the table since you are hosting (place yourself closest to the kitchen) and the rest goes boy, girl, boy, girl to keep the whole table talking (this is not the place to divide off into half the table talking about sports and the other half talking about bras). If you have just a few people don’t worry about place settings and let things happen naturally.

Make Your Guests Comfortable

A few hours before the guests arrive do a walk around the house. I’m usually in a mad scramble up until the end to make sure everything is clean, but at this point you can make sure the guest bathrooms have plenty of toilet paper, hand towels, etc. Check the coat closet to make sure there is enough space for your guests jackets and purses. Also, be sure to turn the thermostat a couple degrees cooler than usual. An increase in heat from the oven and additional people can really make you break a sweat in no time.

Have music playing before guests arrive. I find this helps with any awkward silences; just make sure the music appropriate and not too loud. When guests walk in the door make sure you greet them and put the hubby on drink duty. Everyone feels better with a  drink in their hand even if it isn’t alcoholic. Appetizers are great to offer to a hungry crowd and will keep people from badgering you on when they will get to eat. While everyone is mingling, have someone get the dinner drink orders so you can have those ready at the table.

Mother’s day 2010 – I gave the centerpiece to the guest of honor!
Once it is time to eat, get everyone into the kitchen (if they aren’t already in there) and tell them what the game plan is. Will you be serving them at the table? Let them know they have place cards so they don’t get confused on where to sit. Will you be doing a buffet? Tell them what you are serving and instruct someone to start the line (preferably someone who won’t do the awkward “no you go first” thing).
Once dinner is underway, make sure to pay attention to the flow of things and take up plates once everyone is done (don’t rush!). Tell everyone to stay where they are while you get the plates so the conversation flow isn’t interrupted. Don’t ask if anyone wants dessert, just bring it to them and they will take it. For some reason, I’ve found if you offer, people tend to feel the need to turn it down which is just outright annoying when you have slaved away at something fabulous.


Banana Split served for Ethan’s Baby Dedication party – 2011
After dessert is done and conversation has ebbed, get everyone to move into the living room and continue on! Your part is done, sit back relax and do the dishes tomorrow! Yay!

What are some of your tips for a low-stress and fun holiday dinner party?  We’d love to hear them!



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