You're hosting a holiday party and inviting your closest friends and family — so you should be able to spend time mingling and enjoying yourself, not wasting away the evening stuck in the kitchen. Some advance planning and prep work will ensure that you can bake a cake and eat it, too (with a glass of champagne in hand, to boot). Follow these tips and your next holiday party will be one you don't miss.
1) Make a master to-do list ahead of time. Having a schedule and a shopping list all in one place will keep you focused and organized—and eliminate the need for last-minute errands.
2) No need to turn your living room into a fully-stocked bar. Pick one cocktail that can be pre-mixed, like punch, and serve that for the evening. Stay away from do-it-yourself drinks to save tons of clean-up later.
3) Stick with the food you know. Cook the recipes you could make in your sleep and the days before the party will be as easy as your famous pumpkin pie. If you're itching to make something brand-new, give it a test run ahead of time so you're comfortable making it for a crowd.
4) Choose your menu wisely. Foods that have to be prepared at the last second can add unnecessary stressand keep you in the kitchen longer than you'd like. So while impressing 25 guests with your soufflé may seem like a great idea, consider saving it for a smaller dinner party.
5) Identify all the items on your menu that can be made ahead. Foods such as baked pasta dishes, soups and pie crusts can all be made a couple of weeks in advance and frozen, and side dishes can be made the day before. Simply reheat dishes just before guests' arrival to ensure you'll be able to enjoy the party alongside them, instead of calculating various baking and cook times moments before.
6) Skip individual plating. Let guests choose what and how much they want by serving your food buffet-style. The food can still be beautiful and artfully plated on large platters for impressive visual effect. If you have time, decorate the table for a festive feel.
7) It's okay to take shortcuts. If you're making a lot of homemade main dishes and desserts, purchase premade hors d'oeuvres and appetizers from the store. Cheeses, meats, olives and baguettes serve as perfect party-friendly snacks that add little extra time or effort on your part.
8) Most of your guests will ask if you need any help—say yes!Having guests do simpler tasks like setting out plates and glasses or refilling soda will save you from trying to be in three places at once.
9) Pace your serving times. Of course your guests are looking forward to party food, but they're also there to celebrate and socialize. No need to have one course run immediately into the next; give yourself some time in between to enjoy the party before preparing the next round of food.
10) Have fun! It's a party. Even if you run out of ice or end up serving dessert 30 minutes later than planned, everyone will still have a great time. As a relaxed host, you'll set the right tone for your party and your guests will follow suit.