6 Tips for Hosting Your First Holiday Party, According to Chef Who's Worked With Gwyneth Paltrow

Hosting your first holiday party together? These are the tips you need to know.
by Sophie Ross

If the biggest thing you’ve hosted in the past is a Super Bowl party featuring bowls of Chex Mix and store-bought onion dip, it’s understandable you might be stressing out about the holidays fast approaching. After all, there’s a good chance it’s time to put together your first real, grown-up soirée as a newlywed, or you could have just gotten engaged and are hosting both of your families during the holidays for the first time and may not know where to begin.

That’s why we’ve turned to Kathleen Schaffer, creative director and culinary chef at Schaffer as well as a celebrity caterer (her clients include Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and George Clooney) to calm our nerves. Good news: She makes hosting an elegant feast sound downright effortless. Find out how to wine and dine your guests with ease, below.

1. Don’t be overly ambitious.

With the menu, that is. When you’re hosting at your home, it’s smart to scale back and stick to what you know, according to Schaffer. In other words, this isn’t the time to attempt the fancy sous-vide or soufflé recipe you saw on Facebook. Set yourself up for success by playing to your strengths, and most importantly, planning and preparing in advance.

2. Consider your vessels, flatware and utensils.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your crystal champagne flutes and wine decanters are if they’re not polished and dusted before guests arrive. Essentially, you need to think of the entire event: This includes making sure you have enough plates, napkins and flatware for everything (and everyone) you’re serving. Consider every utensil and serving platter you’ll require, and make a list if need be. You won’t want to be scrambling through your cabinets when your guests arrive.

Pro tip: Keep in mind you can rent all of these things from companies. If you’re planning on having 30 people over, Schaffer suggests renting to make sure everything’s cohesive. You can always mix and match utensils from your own kitchen, but by renting everything, it will look extra chic and presentable.

3. Have appetizers at the ready.

You should always (and we mean always) have snacks out and ready by the time your guests arrive. “It’s always nice to have items on display for them when they enter your apartment so they immediately feel welcome,” Schaffer says.

Not sure what party foods you should greet your guests with? Schaffer suggests a plethora of easy appetizers that are guaranteed to be crowd-pleasers. Mezzes (plates of mediterranean cured meats and olives garnished with things like rosemary sprigs and orange peels), dips (like salsa, pistou or hummus) served with chips, and spiced flatbread broken into shards are bites that only look—and taste—fancy. In reality, they’ll only take a small amount of time to prepare.

4. Make sure everyone has a drink in their hand.

Appetizers aren’t the only thing you should have immediately accessible. A great thing to do is to make sure your guests have a drink in their hand as soon as they arrive, according to Schaffer. And it doesn’t have to include individually preparing cocktails for every single person (which is nice, but could get tedious).

Instead, Schaffer suggests setting up a self-service mixology bar with fun ingredients (and cute vessels and garnishes) that your guests can experiment with. You can also prepare pre-batch specialty drinks as a fantastic time saver. Have pitchers prepared (Schaffer recommends a crimson red Hibiscus ginger punch with tea, ginger juice and simple syrup for the holidays) and as your guests arrive, all they’ll have to do is pour the mixture over ice and add a shot of rum or vodka. It’s also important to think of the nondrinkers too, who will love this concoction just as much.

Of course, you should always have plenty of chilled wine and beer on hand as well. Make sure to put anything that needs to be cold in the fridge at least an hour before guests arrive so you’ll have plenty of time to chill them. Think of alternate places to store them if you run out of refrigerator room. “No one wants to drink warm beer,” Schaffer says.

5. Prepare in advance.

A classic mistake people make, according to Schaffer, is not thinking in advance. You definitely don’t want your guests showing up to your home while you’re frazzled, with a turkey still in the oven, an uncomfortably hot apartment and a messy kitchen. Don’t make your guests feel like they need to help you or pitch in anywhere.

To avoid this, make sure everything’s fully cooked before anyone arrives. (You still need to serve your food hot, so make sure your vessels and serving dishes are warm to keep the food at a comfortable temperature, and cover with foil to retain the heat.)

“Think about all your steps at once so you’re not scrambling when people arrive,” Schaffer says. That means making sure you and your salad are dressed, your hair and makeup is done (if that’s part of your routine) and you’re ready to join the party.

6. Relax and have fun.

Everyone will enjoy themselves if, well, you’re enjoying yourself—and not slaving away over the stove or fighting with your partner about how they forgot to pick up the seltzer from the grocery store (awkward).

Remember that you deserve to have a good time as much as your guests do. And if you’re relaxed and happy, everyone (including your mother-in-law) will have fun and, most importantly, be majorly impressed by your hosting skills.

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