How to Host a Big Holiday Meal in Your Not-So-Big Home
Whether you’re entertaining 6 guests in a studio or 16 in a small house, here’s how to make your dinner party a success
Perhaps you’d love to have everyone over for Thanksgiving, Christmas or another holiday meal, but you’re not sure you have enough room. Don’t write off the idea too fast. With a little planning and creativity, you can host a holiday feast in your small or average-size home. Follow these seven steps to prepare for a holiday gathering that everyone, including you, can enjoy.
1. Declutter and Clean
Look at your home with fresh eyes. Imagine your living areas with your desired number of guests. Which furnishings and decor will make the gathering more comfortable, and which things will get in the way? Stash any unneeded objects in a closet or spare room for the party, file or recycle papers, and donate or sell anything you no longer need.
Give your home a good scrubbing. Wash windows and counters, vacuum or dust furniture and flooring, and wipe down bathroom surfaces.
Be merry and minimalist. Display only your best holiday pieces and favorite decorations everyone loves. You can save floor space by forgoing a large Christmas tree and decorating your mantel with greens instead. Create a festive and cozy atmosphere with twinkle lights, flameless candles and throw pillows in seasonal colors.
2. Arrange Your Space
Consider traffic flow. Give your guests an easy path through the party. When they arrive, they will want to stash jackets and purses, deliver the gifts they brought for the party and seek out a drink.
Plan your layout accordingly. Designate a place for people to put their outerwear and bags. Clear a table or an area under the tree for gifts. Set up a bar cart or drinks counter away from busy cooking areas and out of pathways. Open up space by pushing furniture against walls and removing knickknacks from tabletops.
3. Get Creative With Your Dining Area
Beg, borrow or buy. You may need more dining tables and chairs than you have on hand. You’ll want to allow at least 24 inches of elbow room for each guest. If you want to add to your furnishings permanently, you can buy extras. Or you can borrow what you need from neighbors, family and friends or rent from a party rental company.
Mix it up. Unless you’re hosting a formal meal, it’s perfectly fine to blend different kinds of tables, chairs and benches. Just be sure to have comfortable seating for anyone with physical limitations.
Use a different room. Maybe your guests won’t fit in your dining room or you don’t have one. If your living room is large enough, or if you live in a studio apartment, push aside furniture and put the dining table in there. If your dining room opens to another room, you can run the table or tables between them. You also can place multiple small tables around both rooms.
Improvise. If extra dining tables aren’t an option, put other seating areas to work. People can sit on the sofa or an armchair to eat, or even pile onto pillows on the floor. You can put slipcovers or inexpensive throw blankets over any upholstery you want to protect from spills.
Go with a buffet. You can free up dining space and seat more people at the table by serving a buffet-style meal. Utilize a kitchen counter or sideboard where your guests can serve themselves before they come to the table.
4. Organize Your Kitchen
Declutter here too. As you did in your living areas, clear your kitchen work areas of anything that doesn’t contribute to the party. Tuck away nonessentials in a cupboard or closet to give yourself room to prep food and cook. Clean out the fridge to make way for party foods.
Dish it up. If you plan to entertain large groups frequently, consider investing in sets of inexpensive dishware, utensils and glasses you can reuse. Organize the dishes, flatware, glasses and serveware ahead of time to have everything ready to go, and set the table well in advance of the party. Place a tub near a utility sink or on the patio for keeping drinks on ice.
5. Keep the Menu Simple
Stick to the basics. If space in your kitchen and dining area is limited, focus on making a few delicious dishes rather than many different things.
Accept help. Say yes to guests who offer to contribute a dish, as long as they prepare it before they arrive and bring it ready to serve. Are there any items, such as dessert, you can buy prepared that are just as good as those you would make?
Or choose a different meal. If having people over for dinner seems like more than you can handle, consider inviting people for brunch, lunch or dessert instead. You can get away with offering fewer dishes, and expectations are lower too.
6. Start Preparing Food Early
Cook in stages. Plan out your cooking schedule and make as many dishes as possible before the day of the party. If you don’t have room in your refrigerator to keep everything, ask a neighbor or friend if you can borrow some space. Chop and refrigerate vegetables early; get casseroles ready to heat; bake desserts and breads. And clean up as you go. On the day of the party, you’ll have more time to enjoy your guests.
7. Let Go of Perfection
Relax and enjoy. A perfect party setup doesn’t necessarily make for a perfect party. Sometimes the best parties are those held in snug spaces where guests can easily engage. If you approach your gathering with a light heart and a spirit of adventure, your guests will too. Friends someday may even look back nostalgically at the great time they had at your house that Thanksgiving when everyone ate dinner sitting cross-legged on the floor.