The holiday party season is upon us, one of my favorite times of the year.  I love to entertain friends and family from small dinners to parties for fifty.

I thought I’d pass along a few of my tips and tricks (in no particular order except for the first one) to make your hostess/host duties easier. 

1.  The KEY tip I can give you is make lists.  I have a list of those I invite so I can track the RSVP numbers to plan quantities of food and wine, as well as adequate serving areas and seating.  I have the menu listed, dishware and utensils required, how I will keep items hot/cold, and include serving forks, spoons, etc.  And I have an ingredient shopping list.
2.  Use sticky notes.  The day or two before the event, I pull out the serving platters and bowls and put a sticky note in each one, with the name of the menu item that will go there, and place the serving tool with it.
3.  Cook, bake and freeze as much as you can well in advance of the event.  If you are planning a party for a large number of people, do not serve anything that requires fussy last minute work.  You want to be partying too, not a galley slave.
4.  Set tables and place chairs in advance too.

I once threw a party for my sister’s 40th birthday.  About 12 people were going to be there for dinner at 6 p.m. on a Saturday evening.  I was gone to a conference for a week, not returning until 4 p.m. that same afternoon.  I set the table a week before and covered the whole table with a sheet to keep the dust (and cat) off it, and had my daughter stop by that morning to get the food out of the freezer to thaw.  An Italian theme, I popped the lasagne, ravioli and cannelloni in the oven when I got in, tossed a Caesar salad, and opened the wine. 

5.  If you are doing a buffet service (highly recommended for any and all events so guests can serve themselves what they want, when they want it), plan the traffic flow carefully.  It is irritating to have a back up of people in line for food, when pulling a table out to have people go down both sides for access would alleviate it.
6.  Have “stations”.  Put the wine on a counter in one room, the non-alcoholic drinks in a tub elsewhere.  Put the desserts on top of an low entertainment center for example and only the main dishes in the dining area.

Another 40th birthday party with 50 guests in a small area prompted me to put the Irish Coffee station in the bedroom.  People were amused and had no trouble finding it since word got out that there was partying going on in the bedroom!

7.  If possible do not have any food or drink service in the kitchen, so you can leave this space available for staging, refilling and cleaning up.  Open a drawer, hook an opened 30 gallon trash bag over the edge and then close the drawer to hold the bag in place.  This makes a nice big receptacle for discards.
8.  If using disposable plates and cutlery, buy heavy duty really nice ones.  For just a few more dollars you can create a good impression and have sturdy dishes that won’t collapse, break or leak.
9.  If you have really nice china – USE IT!  You can’t take it with you.  I have 16 place settings of Royal Albert Old Country Roses that are used regularly, even out on the patio.
10.  Make more food than you think you’ll need and have more wine and other drinks than strictly necessary.  It is tacky to run out of food or drink, and lovely to have leftovers so you don’t have to cook again for the rest of the week!

Happy Holidays!