Today’s guest post is from Allison of Creative Crops! If you’re throwing together a New Years Eve party, or planning more events for 2013, check out her awesome tips for throwing a fabulous (and stress free!) party!

I love hosting people – there is just something so fun about having people over and being able to create dishes they will enjoy, a fun and social atmosphere and have them leave with a smile because they had a fun time. I appreciate when people tell me that I’m a good hostess, since its something I enjoy doing!My mom was, and still is, a fabulous hostess. I don’t know how she does it but she truly makes hosting look effortless, dazzles her company AND has time to mingle and enjoy the event herself. I learned many hosting secrets by simply watching her and I’m so glad I did. There is another side of this coin though – folks that find hosting daunting. I understand that too – it’s not for everyone though I do believe every can host gatherings well. Hosting can become less daunting if you are prepared and organized.

event hosting
Organization is Key
5 weeks ahead of time assemble your guest list and send out those invites. In this day and age, and depending on the type of gathering you’re hosting evites will usually be acceptable. I personally love evites from – they have a great selection of styles, formats and its easy to send out reminders or updated notes about the event as it approaches.

At this point also start planning out your menu. What are you thinking of serving? Can any pieces of your menu be prepared, or partially prepared ahead of time and frozen until closer to the event? If so, tackle some of those tasks now and save yourself a headache the day of the event. Since your menu is planned out this far in advance also start scanning the local food-store ads for when these items go on sale. Since you have time to buy spread out the purchases as items are on sale and save yourself some money! Some easy things that can be made ahead of time and frozen:

  • Pie Dough – freeze 5 weeks ahead in pans or in parchment paper
  • Drop cookies – freeze mixed dough 3 weeks ahead
  • Roll-Out cookies – freeze mixed and rolled out dough 3 weeks ahead between parchment paper
  • Dinner Rolls – freeze 3 weeks ahead while dough is in the 2nd rise

Also start thinking about the details – not in any particular level of detail but think about things such as: what table-cloth and place settings will you be using? Will be hosting children and need to provide activities or goody-bags? How do you envision the evening going? All of those details will help you organize and make sure very little is overlooked that will leave you scrambling.
Deck the Halls
Before you go out on a decoration shopping binge assess what you have! Last year I went out and purchased everything I thought I ‘needed’ to decorate our home. When I got home and reviewed what was in our attic I saw that I wasted a lot of time on that shopping trip – I had brand new boxes of lights (both indoor and outdoor) and a new wreath. I’m a savvy shopper and must have purchases these items on a deep discount at the close of last year’s holiday season and had completely forgotten. If you take inventory ahead of your shopping you will save lots of time in knowing what you have and what you truly do need. At the end of each holiday season I do save seasonal plates, napkins, etc that I have around so that the next year I have less to purchase. Usually the smaller supplies of non-matching holiday paper-products are the perfect amount for a small gathering (cookie, swaps, etc).

Decorations do not have to be over the top unless you personally like them to be. Sometimes simple can alleviate stress and help guests focus on the gathering and conversations instead of lavish decor. If you are planning on hosting multiple events during any particular season opt for a centerpiece on your table that will last the entire season. This will prevent you from having to run out and grab multiple bouquets of fresh flowers and switch up your vases. Something, simple, and seasonal can go a long way in decorating your house and saving you time closer to your event(s). Don’t forget about items in your yard that may make spectacular, and cheap, centerpieces and decorations. Hosting a winter gathering? Think of pine cones spray-painted, or dusted with glitter, or pine branches for a pine scent indoors….

If you are hosting a sit-down dinner be sure that your chosen centerpiece does not interfere with your guests being able to view each other from across the table. Buffets can host taller centerpieces. If you are offering up a buffet try to vary the heights of your serving dishes and decorations to create a more visually interesting buffet table display.

And of course – clean in small pieces ahead of time to avoid an all-on cleaning frenzy hours before guests are due to arrive. I usually save vacuuming for the day of the event so that I am confident my floors are relatively spotless. Dusting occurs over a few evenings the week before. If you space out these chores they are much more manageable and help you remain as sane as possible leading up to your event.
Final Countdown & How to Enjoy your Shindig

To ensure I have time to actually enjoy my party and not stress the day of I do a few things the day ahead so that I’m ready however early my first guest arrives.

Day Before:
Set the table – I refer back to my organization list(s) I have made about a month ago and start gathering up my items. If it’s a sit-down dinner I set the table the day, or two, before so its done. My family knows better to go anywhere within a 5 foot radius of the table once it has been set. To ensure I know which serving platters to use for which food items I put post-it notes on them with what will be in that dish. It is really helpful as my food is ready so that if I have a helper they know what goes where and this becomes seamless. Also ensures that you know what you’re serving and that you have the appropriate platters for all of your food.

Prepare your outfit – I’m sure you have had this in mind from when you decided to host your party but get out your clothes for the party and lay them out. Do any ironing or steam cleaning a day or so before this way you can quickly throw on your party clothes and have a ball!

Day Of:
Do the dishes – Feel free to assign this task out but I always find it helpful to have an empty sink and empty dishwasher before my gatherings begin. As food is done and plates are cleared I now have dishwasher and sink space available to put them in and not have stacks on my counters. Stacks of dirty plates on my counters really raises my stress levels.

Empty the closet – If you’re hosting a winter or fall gathering your guests will likely arrive with coats so be sure you have secured a place to store them. My bedrooms are on a different level of my house than where most parties occur so I empty all of my family’s coats from the closet that morning or afternoon this way I have enough hangers and space to fit all of the coats that are coming in for the evening. If you have a bedroom nearby and prefer to lay the coats on that bed ensure that you’ve made that bed and room up since guests will be in and out of it.

Make sure to save time to relax the day of your party! You have a plan and you are organized so you know when to put the pigs in a blanket in the oven, when to remove then and when you expect folks to arrive. Kick back, and enjoy the company!
Attending a gathering? Don’t forget a small Hostess gift!

Hosts clearly put a lot of time and effort into having you at their home, while many wouldn’t mind if you showed up empty-handed always having something small is a nice way to show your appreciation. I tend to buy hostess gifts in semi-bulk so that I have them on-hand and don’t have to worry the evening before an event about finding something to bring. Small candles are lovely ideas, as are seasonal soaps. Are you a whiz in the kitchen? Prepare some extra loaves of your famous what-nots to have on hand as last-minute hostess gifts, or reverse hostess gifts if you have unannounced visitors drop by!

Unless I am absolutely certain about what they are serving and what types of wine they prefer I shy away from wine so as not to muddle up their dinner plan. If you are someone who enjoys bringing a bottle of wine as a gift spice up the presentation with a cute play on the tired wine bag. I found these cute wine bottle decorations at World Market and they are always a hit! If you find that you give wine often you may want to consider buying the wine by the case so that you save trips to the store and even enjoy a small discount.

Regardless of where you are heading or who you are hosting – have a wonderful season and Happy Holidays!!

Allison @ Creative Crops