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Couple to Host 1st Dinner Party-a.k.a Christmas Dinner--any tips or suggestions?

My husband and I are going to host our 1st ever dinner party which happens to be Christmas dinner and I'm a little nervous. This going to be an affair of about 10 people, mostly neighbors, and one couple is coming who usually does the hosting in our building. Any tips or suggestions on how to be good hosts?

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  1. Some people do a rib roast for Christmas rather than turkey. What are you planning? I also read your post as more looking for "good hosts" tips rather than menu? Is that right? The Not About Food discussions below are going to answer alot :)

    1. Plan ahead, make lists. Do as much cooking in advance as you can, so you can have fun, too. A relaxed host is a good host. It's about your friends, not just the food. Enjoy!

      1. Keep your plans to foods/recipes you've made before, with maybe 1 item at most that is a new one for you. Having confidence that you can execute is a HUGE help to me whenever I've hosted, even though I'm tempted to pull out a new recipe to impress everyone. This should also help keep you out of the kitchen so you can enjoy your party, as LJBTampa noted. I'm also a big fan of soup as a first course for dinner parties because of the make-ahead advantage. I am doing a sweet potato and roasted apple soup for Christmas eve dinner this year that will be in the fridge ready to go a day or so in advance. Finally, keep the music buzzing to build the atmosphere and accept help when it is offered! If someone wants to set the table or pour drinks, let them have at it!

        3 Replies
        1. re: jboeke

          I've set the table even the day before but certainly early in the day of the party. I have a vintage, kitschy ice bucket and we set that up on part of the kitchen counter that I don't need to use with the standard liquors, mixers, limes, cutting board and knife, etc. I have all the bowls and platters that I will need out and in a stack, along with serving spoons and the like.

          And I STRONGLY agree with you to only serve those thing that you've mastered. Whether it's your first dinner party or not, if you're going to be nervous, don't try new things.

          Have a glass of wine just before your guests arrive :)

          1. re: c oliver

            "Have a glass of wine just before your guests arrive :)"

            Oye Vey! I did that once....maybe it was 2 - but it was my first time hosting dinner for DH's family.
            Well everything was fine and dandy and dinner was lovely and so were the 3 bottles of wine we enjoyed with the meal.....
            Everything was fine until I finished my last bight, put myfork down and excused myself to the loo.
            Well - my guests never saw me again because I threw up and passed out upstairs!
            Needless to say I have never lived that down - AND I watcgh what I drink before guests arrive!!

            Anyway When I was first married (the first DH) many years ago - I remember how stressful dinner parties were for me, but I have becaome really organized over the years...it just takes practice...
            My best advice is "Don't sweat the small stuff!!"
            Everything will fall into place!
            And def agree with the above advice of making as much as you can in advance - AND not trying anything new!!

            Good Luck and Enjoy yourself!

            1. re: NellyNel

              lol...many, many years ago when we were first married my husband invited over his new boss (they were friends as well, fortunately). We had a lovely meal, but apparently my husband had a little too much to drink. As we were finishing desert, he scooped up our two year old (who was behaving just fine, btw) and said "Edward and I are going to bed!" And he disappeared into the bedroom, never to be heard from again (well at least for that evening...)....It was left to me to play hostess to our guests, serve them coffee, and make after-dinner conversation.....

              Fortunately they WERE friends, and hubby's work status was not affected...

        2. Less is better, try to come up with foods that can be done in advance so you can enjoy yourself once company comes. I keep a timeline on dishes/things that need to be done, when each part can be prepped, bought, etc. Overall, it'll go well so don't stress. Even when things don't go as planned, as long as you have the right attitude, it'll be fun and that's what counts.

          1. It's always good to have no hassle nibbles and drinks out and set in the living room for your guests to help themselves. The key is to have the wine opened with the glasses ready and a bowl of nuts, cheese and crackers or any other finger food layed out. Without that, there's kind of an anxious buzz about when dinner will start. You should be ok with not doing kitchen stuff the first 20 minutes of your gathering because you will need to greet guests. Once there's a critical mass you chattering, you can get to the kitchen to do prep.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Dcfoodblog

              I totally agree with this. Have something enticing already out with music already on. When people nosh they relax.

            2. It's funny you should post this today. After a hiatus from entertaining and having had to downsize I am feeling like a newbie myself. Answering your question is a lot like answering my own. How can I be a good host? Keep my expectations realistic and be myself. I've learned to accept that everything I make or do for my guests is not going be an A plus, instead there are going to be few B pluses, A minuses and even a nice solid C. You are not going to be Ina Gartner or Martha Stewart on steroids. Instead you are going to be you and your guests want to be with you because they accepted your invitation.

              1. there was a really good thread in response to someone who was doing their first thanksgiving. as usual when looking for something, i can't find it, i'm sure someone else knows exactly where it is and can reference it for you.

                relax, enjoy, and remember... if all else fails, you can always order pizza and laugh about it for decades (having a decent selection of adult beverages handy helps as well)

                1. You asked how to be a good host – these are more my wife’s suggestions since she is in charge of the party while I am the cook.

                  First and foremost set up areas of your house where you want people to congregate, this my involve rearranging furniture. Think about chairs for all of your guests, snacks and simple appetizers should be available in this room, my wife would never host an event unless there were seasonal fresh flowers in the room so a little decorating is a must.

                  Greet each person at the door, offer to take coats, umbrellas etc then introduce everyone as they come in. Her trick is to note special items about people to others. “Fred is learning to fly an airplane, Sandy just returned from a medical trip to China, etc.” This breaks the ice and starts people talking with each other.

                  Libations (both alcoholic and non) are a must have, be ready with a simple bartending book, ice, blender, drink mixes and the ability to make good non-alcoholic beverages. You don’t need to buy every booze out there but have a couple of the standards and a few unique items and a drink repertoire to make with those. Also coffee, do you have some stellar coffee that you can offer your guests later and make sure you have cream and ½ n ½ for the coffee.

                  Don’t forget that you set the mood, dress yourself up, primp (her word), wear nice clothes and then most importantly you are part of the party mingle, chat, keep drinks filled but don’t push people to get drunk, etc.

                  Most of all have fun – too many people get stressed when entertaining, remember the people are coming over to enjoy a good time not to judge or be critical and if they are that type don’t invite them back, everybody will thank you for that.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: RetiredChef

                    I think with only 10 people, there is no need to bust out the mixed drinks. This is not a cocktail party, after all. For a first party, I think it's totally fine to stick with a few nice bottles of wine and possibly beer if some people are not beer drinkers. I don't think people will be that picky about the coffee creamer either. Again it's only 10 people so there's no need to stock up on several milk varieties.

                    1. re: queencru


                      Thank you for your insights, this is where the poster should realize that we are all different and have different expectations. I have noticed that different regions have very different customs so what I think or what you think may be wrong for this poster. For example I live close to the city in the US that boasts the most amount of Coffee outlets per capita, and no it’s not Seattle. I personally don’t drink coffee but here people take it seriously and it would be a major faux pas to not have at a least milk, ½ N ½ and cream. You also should have several different types of coffee available as most people around here are accustomed to a choice.

                      Sticking to what is customary around us a pre-dinner cocktail or some form of non-alcoholic beverage is normal, some people opt for a lighter wine or aperitif while serious wines are reserved for the dinner. We do not have a very well stocked bar at all (about 12 bottles), but it’s nice to know that we can bang out a martini, blackberry daiquiri, hot buttered rum, white Russian, mango smoothie, etc. if the guest would like it. Beer is not usually served at dinner parties unless you are having a beer theme; people who want beer know this and usually end up bringing their own.

                      I think the OP should note that everyone’s perceptions and expectations are different, perhaps the best advice is to be yourself and make it your own unique get-together.

                  2. Make something like short ribs, which can cook in the oven for hours, freeing up your time, and are yummy and hearty to boot. Serve it with crusty bread, salad, and some side dishes.

                    If you want to make something that you haven't cooked before, do a trial run sometime before Christmas day.

                    There is no shame in serving up apps that were previously frozen. Over the years, those types of apps have received the most compliments in our house, and the selections are pretty good out there.

                    I go easy with the libations and stick to wine, soda, and seltzer.

                    Basically, the more dishes you can prepare at least a day in advance (like bolognese sauce for pasta, if you're serving that) that you can just heat up and serve the day of, the less stress you'll be.

                    As others have noted, greet your guests at the door, take their coats, pour them some wine and steer them toward the apps, which should ideally be out by this time (or split these chores with your husband).

                    And finally, after hosting Christmas dinner for the past 5 years, the most memorable part has always been simply being with people whose company you enjoy. So enjoy!

                    1. As one who is allergic to wine - it is always nice to have the basic liquor for mixed drinks. That said - the most important thing is to be available to your guests. I have a friend who hosts every year and we never see her except in the kitchen and there are too many people to go in there. This year she changed things so she could mingle.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Linda VH

                        LOL, yes. One of the people I know loves to throw new year's eve parties... or so he claims. they are always potluck (virtually ALL holiday parties in Hawaii are, its part of local culture) and he still manages to spend all his time in the kitchen, warming up portions, looking for serving utensils or dishes, or washing wine glasses... or just finding one reason or another to stay in the kitchen. It has become kind of a game to see who can find some reason to lure him out of the kitchen. Even better to get past the dining room. which is basically one big buffet.