The holidays are just around the corner and thankfully this year should be full of time spent with friends and family, and fun holiday parties. This year will be the first year many of us are getting back into hosting and attending holiday get-togethers now that we’re mostly back to ‘normal.’ Whether you’re a seasoned party host, just getting back into the swing of things, or you’re finally getting around to throwing that first holiday party you’ve always wanted but have never gotten around to, we have a few tips to help you nail hosting this holiday season.

Over the years, we’ve attended, planned, and hosted so many parties we’ve lost track. We’ve planned, and prepped, and scrutinized all the details. We’ve helped some people host small get togethers and others plan and put on 400-person weddings. Along the way we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes the difference between a good party and a magnificent event.

Set the Right Mood

We tend to remember our first and last impressions of an event. You should use this psychology to your advantage when planning for your event. When your guests arrive it’s important that your home feel warm and inviting. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your home is Insta-worthy. In fact, a super-bright, overly staged space might feel a bit sterile. The good news is that creating an environment that is warm and inviting is easier than you might think.

Engage your guest’s senses of sight, smell, and sound and set the mood by:

  • Dimming the lights. Meals are more enjoyable when the lighting doesn’t make it seem like you’re eating in a cafeteria and conversations are more fun when they feel intimate. If you don’t have dimmer switches in your home, you can turn off some select overhead lights and use floor lamps with amber bulbs. We like a color temperature (measured in kelvins or K) as the of 2100-2400 though some may find this a bit too “orange” for their tastes. If you want more white in your lighting you can use a higher temperature but we recommend not going above 2700 if you want to create a warm, intimate feel.
  • Lighting a few scented candles. The warm glow will brighten the room without garish lighting and your rooms will smell amazing. Just be sure that you don’t use scented candles in the dining room where the smell could affect the experience of the food (your meal should be center stage at the table).
  • Playing music in the background. We like instrumental music (lyrical music can be distracting to conversation) to set the mood—Jazz, soft house lounge music, or R&B are all great choices with which to start the evening. You’ll want the volume to complement the environment, not take it over. Remember too that you may need the volume softer as people arrive and louder as more people come and conversation fills the space. So, monitor your music throughout the event (don’t forget the end of the event too). (Here’s a pro tip: use an app like Shazam when you’re out at restaurants, shops, and events to find artists that might be good for background music.)
  • Finally, music should reflect your personality and tastes. In all you do, you’re creating an impression of an environment that is uniquely you. The food you serve, the fragrances you fill the space with and the music you play should all be ones you enjoy. They may not be to everyone’s taste but that’s okay. If the overall time is enjoyable, these impressions will remind them of the time they had with you in your space. Trust us.

The Flow

Thinking about the timeline or “flow” of your event, as well as your space and how people are going to flow through it is incredibly important. Again, most people won’t remember a ton of the individual details of the evening, but they will remember how they felt. Think through your space and timing to ensure that your guests don’t feel rushed, bored, crowded, or in the way.

Think through how long you want the evening to go and you and your family’s personal time constraints. If you want your party to go well into the evening but you tend to go to bed at a reasonable hour, you may start your event earlier. But if you have other obligations during the day you may want to start the event a little later in the evening to ensure that you have enough time to prepare. Think through the event as a set of time blocks and give ample time for each ‘block.’ While you don’t want everyone to have to wait in boredom for your perpetually late aunt Betty, you also don’t want aunt Betty to miss dinner.    

Stations are the perfect way to manage physical flow. Pre-batch your drinks (we love @withco for this) and place snacks in multiple areas where you want people to sit and mingle. This helps avoid bottlenecking and, in our family’s case, the literal “too many cooks in the kitchen.” If possible, create little pods of seating where a few guests can break away and enjoy a conversation. Don’t forget to consider your outdoor spaces as well. These can be great for people to get fresh air, reduce noise, and create entire environments around a fire pit or a gazebo with that cool lighting you’ve invested in.

Enjoy Yourself

This is probably the most important piece of advice: have fun! This isn’t true only of the event itself but of the planning and prep as well. There’s good psychology that tells us that our mood “transfers” to those around us. If you’re stressed throwing a party or hosting a meal, your guess will detect that and become stressed themselves. If your focus really is on spending time with people, then no single piece of decor or food item is worth getting into a state of mind where putting together your party ceases to be enjoyable.

We’ve all been to a party that feels overly planned and gives the impression that if you somehow break the rules, you’ll be kicked out—like an awkward middle school dance. The host has ice breakers, a strict schedule, and you spend the whole night trying to get comfortable in a room full mostly of strangers. To avoid this, go into the evening with a general plan, but allow the party to go where it goes.

Remember, no one but you will really know how the party was “supposed” to go so no one will notice if a few minor details are out of place. If something isn’t going well (you burned the turkey or forgot to get enough ice), improvise and move on. Everyone will remember the Thanksgiving you served boxed macaroni and cheese and will love it and tell the story for years—if you’re relaxed and make it fun. The details are important, but the purpose of hosting during the holiday season is to spend time enjoying the company of our friends and the ones we love.

We hope these tips help you get back into hosting for the holidays. We’d love to know: what are some of your favorite holiday hosting tips?