A table setting with a christmas tree and decorations.

4 Tips for Easy and Elevated Gatherings – For the Holidays and Beyond

Mainstays remove the guess work and make entertaining enjoyable and magical

By Laura Carson Miller

Does the thought of hosting people overwhelm you with anxiety? To the point you just never initiate the invitation? Or do you entertain at home but feel the whole thing never goes smoothly and the fun and enjoyment of hosting somehow eludes you?

I’ve been there and done that. But now I have hosting down to a science! Much like a romance novel or a holiday movie on the Hallmark channel, the most successful hosting involves a tried and true formula. Imagine that.

Today I’m sharing four ways to make hosting a breeze. Once you implement these tips you will be empowered to be the hostess with the most-est each and every time. 

Let’s do this.

Have a Signature thing, or Three

Did you know that one of the reasons people love coming your house is because they know what to expect? Creating a beautiful casual chic atmosphere and serving delicious food and drinks is easy when you just be your fabulous self. 

I have a signature marinade I use on all main dish proteins. I’m told people expect and look forward to it if we’re serving dinner. It’s a pineapple, green onion, teriyaki concoction that basically just makes everything taste like it came from a restaurant. It’s also fantastic to marinate winter veggies before roasting. 

Fresh flowers, in petite vases, are a signature for me as well. I always have alstroemeria as it is lasts forever. I sometimes mix it with other flower varieties in the same shade. I often use stemless wine glasses or candle vessels in ivory, black or tortoise look for petite bouquets.  They bring a modern touch I love to our cottage style mix.

Candles create a beautiful and relaxing atmosphere, and are definitely a signature for me – but it’s all in how you use them in your spaces. Go with flameless if at all possible or use unscented if using real candles. You don’t know who may be allergic to what or dislike certain scents, plus you don’t want anything interfering with the aromas of what’s to come for lunch or dinner. Even if it’s the piping hot pizza just left at your front door by Uber Eats passing by on the way to the kitchen! 

(Side note: pizza dinner parties are THE BEST! Make a beautiful salad and serve something light for dessert with coffee. Voila!!)

When using real candles use taller vessels with shorter candles so the flame stays very low.  I like a small votive or two in the bathroom well protected in a vessel placed up and away from everything. The fireplace mantle is a great place for a trio of candles. The dining or buffet table is perfect for low profile candles that look pretty and in no way interfere with guests making eye contact and connecting during conversation.

Communicate About Details

If new people are coming over do take the time to inquire if they have any food allergies or have complete disdain for certain foods. I’m not suggesting you plan your menu around any one guest but by inquiring you know you’ll always have several dishes each person can enjoy. Most everyone enjoys a simple and delicious salad and sides like potatoes or rice complement an array of main courses.

If you are a hosting and don’t want people showing up in leggings, a sweatshirt and sneakers, do send an invite stating your dress code preferences. If you want tuxes and ballgowns say so. If it is a pajama party, say that. If you declare ‘casual chic attire’ you’ll likely see guests in everything from Mother jeans and a silk blouse to some runway Max Mara. Which might include a wool and cashmere sweatshirt. I’m just sayin’.

This is a big one: it’s completely acceptable and if I may say so, polite, to set both a start and end time for your gathering on your invitation. This is done with kids parties for a reason and we all get why, don’t we? Because the hosts have a life and some people quite frankly don’t know when to leave. Again, everything goes more smoothly when people know what to expect. Your new friends might be the type that like to party until 2am. Just for the record, I am not. If you are not and want everyone to scadaddle by 11, spell that out! Say something like, we can’t wait to see you Friday,  7 – 10 at our place, blah blah blah address.  State 10 as the end time and get folks moving toward the front door. You may need to use phrases like, ‘Hasn’t this just been a wonderful evening?’ to get the exit strategy rolling.

Procure ‘Guest’ Tableware

As we are a two person household I learned early on to buy sets of what I call ‘guest flatware’ and I also have guest serving sets and dinner plates. These items remain completely separated from our daily use flatware and dishes and ensure there is never a shortage of forks or big spoons for serving or eating yummy things when there are a lot of people present! 

Watch for sales on tableware – you can get great deals and that’s exactly what I did with my West Elm flatware and sets of white dinner and salad plates. I’ve also gotten wonderful buys at Ballard Designs, Williams Sonoma and Crate & Barrel on everything from placemats, napkins and napkin rings to a gorgeous cake stand and various serving dishes. 

Knowing your support staff of plates, glasses and flatware are clean and ready to go at all times gives you freedom to host on the fly whenever the mood strikes you!

Let People Help

Don’t overthink the food. If you don’t cook, so what. As I suggested above a pizza dinner party is easy and everyone loves it and will praise you. If weather permits and you have a grill it’s fun to hang outside and grill up something. My advice is come up with a menu that is a main thing and two or three sides and dessert.

Now that you have your menu set it’s important if invitees ask if they can bring something, LET THEM. When an offer is made, feel free to confirm they really want to bring something. Say, ‘that’s so very kind.. I don’t want you to feel obligated..’  This gives them an out if they choose to take it, but if they still want to contribute assign them a side dish or the dessert. You can handle this at your own discretion but my friend Joe, who is so dear and like our brother, says he much prefers to be told exactly what to bring, as in: please bring your world famous coconut pie rather than ‘bring dessert.’ 

Also feel free to tell anyone who offers to bring something that store bought is fine. If it’s good enough for Ina Garten it’s good enough for everyone. My friend Marguerite brings the Rising Roll potato salad to all our gatherings and there is never any left over! When Eatzi’s was still in business around the corner from us I would take their sun dried tomato pasta salad on camping trips, long weekend trips to a mountain cabin with friends or serve it when friends came over for lunch. Not everyone is a big cook from scratch person and that is just fine by me. I do not judge. My husband loves mashed potatoes and for years now I heat up the Bob

Evans individual servings for him and he adores me. I was not at all surprised when last Thanksgiving Ina suggested a few ingredients to elevate store bought mashed potatoes and guess which brand came out on top? Enough said.

Why Not Live Beautifully Each Day?