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8 Pro Tips For Throwing the Ultimate Holiday Party — Even if You’re on a Budget

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The holidays are fast approaching. Can you believe there’s just a little over a week until Christmas? If you’re hosting this season, you’ve probably got some plans laid out already, but there are a few things that can make a huge difference when it comes to thoroughly entertaining your guests and making sure things run smoothly — and hey, we want you to be the star host. 

With that in mind, we spoke to Frances Schultz, professional tastemaker and author of California Cooking & Southern Style ($23.15, Amazon) and asked for her top tips on throwing the ultimate holiday party. The best part? You can do it all on a budget. Check out her tips below and be prepared to wow your guests!

Don’t stress.

Schultz emphasizes the importance of being a stress-free host. “A relaxed and confident host, who is also slightly bossy, is by far the most important element of any party,” she explains. “She knows what she’s doing and therefore allows the guests to relax. That means being as organized as you can be and leaving as little to the last minute as possible. That means making introductions among your guests, and steering this one to that one, and inspiring (or discouraging) threads of conversation.” 

Keeping yourself relaxed will help your guests stay calm and your party flow better.

Acclimate the newbies.

When having people over who have never been to your home, it can be nerve wracking for them — and for you. “If you are having new people who might be unfamiliar with your ‘absolutely-no-cell-phones-at-the-table policy’ (and of course, you do have such a policy…), you may gently inform them in advance by saying ‘when we’re at the table, we really want to be with you and with one another so we ask to keep the phones, photos, videos, and Googling temptations at bay until we are finished, thank you so much.’ That is part of the bossy hostess bit, but it is in consideration of all your guests,” Schultz says.

Having a game plan for familiarizing new folks with the environment early on can minimize any awkwardness!

Don’t over-decorate.

When it comes to decorating for the holidays, it can be easy to overthink things and get carried away. But planning a party is a lot of work, so Schultz says don’t overdo it! “In decorating, especially if you’re on a budget or short of time, just do lots of one or two things, be they balloons, candles, paper lanterns, etc,” says Schultz. For a Christmas party, for example, a tree with some table wreaths and perhaps some festive candles should do.

And if you’re looking for some more DIY options that can make a big difference, Schultz advises using spray paint! “Another thing that always works is metallic spray paint, gold, silver, or bronze. For just a few dollars you can spray paint your entire room and everything in it, and it will blow them away. Be sure you have good ventilation. No, but seriously, glittering, gleaming leaves and branches among the greens, or on their own, are fabulous.” What a cute idea!

Minimize noise, but avoid silence.

Should you play music at your holiday party? Absolutely! But if you’re tired of Christmas carols from all the shopping and TV specials, you might not be the only one. Music is great to keep your room from going stark silent, but you want to make sure it isn’t overwhelming.

As for music, Schultz says “Music [should be] low enough to talk over, and no music during dinner. Life is noisy enough.”  We’d have to agree.

Prepare a self-serve bar.

It’s important for your guests to not have to wait for drinks. To avoid this, set up a self-serve bar area where they can help themselves. 

Schultz’ advice: “Have a tray of wine and sparkling water ready so guests can help themselves, or you or your bartender-buddy can hand it to them. If they want a mixed drink, prepare it or direct them to the self-serve bar where you’ve set out glasses, ice, limes, soda, tonic, and whatever else your crowd drinks. Have a six-pack of beer ready (just in case) and non-alcoholic beer (just in case). Good to have a few sodas on hand, too. Someone always wants a Diet Coke.”

Be smart about alcohol.

Do all of the guests at your party drink alcohol? If not, or you’re unsure, it’s safe to offer a variety of drink options. “Alcohol is a definite plus, unless it isn’t. In which case, it is thoughtful to have a special non-alcoholic ‘cocktail,’ which I’ve noticed the alcohol drinkers liking, too. And it sort of normalizes either preference, and that’s good. In case I forgot to mention it, manners = kindness,” says Schultz. 

And if you’re on a budget, don’t feel pressured to spend a ton of money on alcohol, either. “You definitely do not need expensive wines or spirits. People who work in wine stores, especially when you are a regular, are happy to recommend wine and spirits within your budget. Honestly, there is no need to spend more than $20 for a bottle of wine. We are also all for screw tops. So much easier to deal with (than corks) and there are some perfectly decent ones.” We’re sure your guests won’t know the difference. 

Simplify the dinner menu.

Two things are important when it comes to your dinner menu: ease of preparation and variety. Balancing the two might seem difficult, but Schultz has some helpful tips.

“Great, fresh, simple food, and enough variety so that the person who does not eat X, does not go hungry. If someone has a life-threatening allergy, you will know about it. Otherwise, you are not a restaurant or a short-order cook. If you learn of a food sensitivity late in the day, compensate as best you can — or not — without stressing about it and carry on,” she suggests.

And if you’re preparing your own dishes, Schultz has this advice: “If you are serving food, keep it simple and plentiful. A big pot of chile verde, jambalaya, or lamb stew with a simple green salad and great bread is both delicious and elegant. If your kitchen is big enough, let your guests serve themselves from the pot on the stove and place the salad and bread on the kitchen counter or on the table with a pretty tablecloth. Stack the plates, bowls, napkins, and silverware alongside. Or you can serve it all at once — family-style — on the dining table.”

Choose easy dessert options.

A sweet treat at the end of the night is also a prized part of your holiday party. You can always ask folks to bring a dessert option like a pie or cake or a cookie tray. Otherwise, don’t go crazy! If you’re on a budget, Schultz thinks that a little goes a long way. “For dessert, you can have small bowls of chocolate, toffee, sweets, and nuts already on the table and leave it at that. Or you can bring a cake or pie and dessert plates to the table to serve. If you want to cut down on the washing up, simply pass around a tray of brownies, tarts, or yummy ice cream bars,” she suggests. 

With these helpful tips, we’re confident that you’re going to be the ultimate party host. Here’s to the most successful and blissful holiday party the season has ever seen!

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