How to make hosting easier on yourself

It can be incredibly fun to host events, whether it’s an intimate dinner party, a backyard BBQ or a family holiday. But entertaining can also be a lot of work. Is entertaining worth all that effort? Absolutely – but there are some ways to make it easier on yourself. Here’s how to make hosting easier.

How to make hosting easier

1. Plan ahead

One of the biggest challenges of hosting is keeping all the balls in the air. Did you remember to make more ice? Are there enough chairs? Is there going to be enough food? Are there fresh hand towels in the bathroom? And so on. No matter the nature of the event, there’s going to be a long list of “did I….?”.

So start by making three lists. Do this as soon as you pick a date and decide on the details for your event. You can make changes later as needed.

If you want a helpful template for this, pick up a copy of my Co-Host planner. You can use it as a printed or digital planning tool.

1: PREP AND CHORE LIST

Have a list dedicated to extra cleaning or special household chores you don’t want to forget. Go ahead and add your normal housekeeping tasks, too. Include any special errands or shopping trips you’ll need to make. Don’t forget about hitting the grocery store, liquor store, farmers market or any other food or drink shopping. Once you have a fairly good idea of everything you’d like to have done for your party, assign each item a day, or even a day and time.

That will make sure nothing is forgotten but it will also make sure you don’t end up leaving too many things for the last minute. It might seem like you can just pop out the morning of your party to pick up ice, flowers, extra cups and those chafing dishes you’re borrowing from your mom. Until you realize you’ve got five hours worth of running around to do and only three hours left to do it.

This is your ‘big picture’ look at everything that needs to happen so you can schedule it, rearrange it, delete it  or delegate it.

2: FOOD AND BEVERAGE LIST

Make another list of all the food and beverages you intend to serve. Do this even if you’re having the event catered, expecting guests to bring a few things or hosting a potluck. You need a rough idea of how many dishes there will be so you can plan tablespace for it all. Once this list is complete, jot down what you’ll be serving each food in or on and what serving utensils you’ll use. You can also use this list to make a note of anything additional you need to buy or borrow for serving.

Ideally, you’ll lay all the serving dishes out the morning of the party to make sure they’re clean and ready to go. I like to use my list to make a sticky note for each item. Then I use the sticky notes to label each dish. You can see how I used this tactic at a Christmas party. It’s a great way to double check there’s a dish for everything and to make sure they’ll all fit.

Bonus tip – you can do this sticky note dress rehearsal well before your party, if you don’t mind getting the dishes out twice. It can be a great way to visually plan and edit your menu.

Party preparation

3: COOKING AND FOOD PREP LIST

If you’re in charge of most or all of the food preparation….make a list of each recipe or food you need to handle, with a rough guess at how much time it will take. Then take a good, hard look at that list and your chore/prep list. Does it seem like you’ll have enough time to handle everything on those lists without making yourself crazy? If so, great! If it all looks really overwhelming, it’s time to reevaluate. Don’t be afraid to simplify the menu, cut a few guests, or ask for help from friends or family. Take advantage of conveniences like grocery delivery or carry out.

My mother-in-law makes a cooking schedule for the day. Each dish she’s preparing is listed, with the cooking and resting time required. From there, she works backwards to figure out what time each dish should go in the oven in order to be ready on time. It’s simple but incredibly effective at keeping things running smoothly in the kitchen.

Use those three lists to keep yourself on track leading up to the big day. This is the best way to make hosting easier, hands down.

I  use a google spreadsheet for planning events and parties. Each tab of the worksheet is a separate list. I include links to recipes, if they’re online. And I use the ‘insert checkbox’ feature to make it easy (and fun) to tick off completed tasks. The best part of having a party planning spreadsheet is that I can easily look back at previous events and see what I served or how I set up. For holidays, I can literally copy and paste the basic framework from year to year, then add or delete things that aren’t relevant. Since my basic household party planning chores don’t change much, I just copy and paste those, too.

And you can share the spreadsheet with your co-host to make planning even easier.

Work ahead to make hosting easier

2 – Get to work early

Remember all those lists from earlier? Use them to identify things you can do ahead of time – whether that means two days or two weeks or two hours. The more you can get out of the way before the day of the event, the less stressful the day itself will be.

Here’s a few of the party chores I always do in advance:

  • shopping for non-perishable foods and things like toilet paper – at the time I’m writing this, Thanksgiving is 2.5 weeks away. I’ve already purchased dry goods and shelf-stable food and I’ve stocked up on liquor, mixers, ice and toilet paper. By folding those into my normal grocery store trips, I spread the cost out and I don’t have to worry about them closer to the day
  • pull out and inspect all my serving dishes and utensils, as well as whatever china, silver or linens I plan to use. If the silver needs to be polished, I take care of that ahead of time. Likewise, I can make sure the linens are clean and pressed if need be and that there aren’t any surprises in the form of broken dishes or glassware.
  • pick up anything I’m borrowing. My wonderful mother-in-law always graciously shares her tableware with me – if I know I’m borrowing something, she and I conspire to make sure it’s in hand well before the day of the party.
  • deep cleaning – I’m talking things like washing windows, hand-scrubbing the floors, scouring grout. The sort of deep cleaning you don’t necessarily do every week. Take care of that stuff a week or two before the big day if it’s on your list. Then you only need to do  a light hospitality cleaning the day of (or before) the party.
  • prepare any dish that can be made a day or two ahead of time. No, you don’t want party food sitting around getting stale. But some dishes lend themselves nicely to being prepared in advance. Note those dishes on your menu and take advantage of that. I make a point of selecting desserts, for example, that can be made ahead of time because I don’t want to be fiddling around frosting a cake the morning of the event. This can include prep steps, like cutting up vegetables for crudite or pre-cooking ingredients.

Got a big shindig coming up? Whether you’re planning an intimate dinner party for six or a big fete, be sure to grab a copy of Co-Host, my party planning workbook.

Use this simple but very effective tool to keep track of every task, chore and dish. You can even use it to plan your cooking schedule.

Make hosting easier by looking to the end

3 – Start the party with a clean kitchen

By this, I mean aim to have an empty sink and at least one clean, clear counter or other surface. Ideally, your dishwasher, if you have one, will be either running the last batch of food prep dishes or empty and waiting for party dishes. I’m not saying this is necessarily easy to achieve. But if you can get most or all of the food preparation done and the cooking dishes cleaned, or at least contained, cleaning up afterward will be so much easier.

Sure, if you’re serving a dish that can only be prepared at the last minute, you’ll still have some kitchen activity going on. And of course the food itself will be hanging out in pots, pans or other dishes, waiting to be served. The point isn’t to have a sterile, empty kitchen. The point is to have room to easily handle the onslaught of dirty dishes and platters of food once the guests leave.

There is also a significant sanity-saving benefit to stepping out of a mostly-clean, fairly calm kitchen to greet your guests. I have quickly shut the kitchen door on a chaotic mess of dirty pots and pans, wayward linens and other assorted mess to go and greet my guests – and I may again, someday (just cause I write about doing things well doesn’t mean I don’t still flub things in my own life!) . But I’m always much readier to greet my guests and enjoy the party if I don’t feel like I’ve just left a howling vortex of mess waiting for me after the party.

Related: here’s my tips to Make Cleaning Up After Dinner Easier

A host with help is a happy host

4 – Ask for help

If you’ve read any of my other ‘tip’ posts, you might notice this particular items always shows up. And that’s because I think it’s a vitally important, but underrated, tactic for surviving life. And it’s one that isn’t always easy to utilize. So I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to accept offers of help from your guests or to let your co-hosts know you need a hand with something. It’s easy to feel like a ‘good host’ handles everything. But the truth is, hosting even simple gatherings is work and there’s nothing wrong with enlisting aid.

Having said that, it’s ok to (graciously) decline offers of help that won’t actually make the job easier for you. Sometimes a well-meaning offer to help clean up, for instance, can end up adding to your stresses.

It’s ok to make things easier by dialing back

5 – Know your limits

If you’re a seasoned host, you may already know where I’m going with this. Or maybe not. It’s really easy to make big plans for a party. But sometimes that leads to a massive t0-do list and a host (you) who’s spread too thin to enjoy the fruit of their labor. It can even lead to a party that falls short of your expectations, if you’re too overwhelmed to see each step through completely. Make hosting easier by curating your plans.

My advice to you, whether you’re a veteran or a novice, is to really scrutinize your party plans. Do you have previous experience with some or all of the things (ie, recipes, party crafts) on your planning list? If so, then you probably have a good idea of what you can handle and how long it will take. But if there’s more than a couple new entries on that list, consider swapping some of your plans for simpler or more familiar options. As hard as it can be to edit, it really is better to carefully select where you’re going to put your time and resources.

Very few party hosts ever regret not working harder once the party is over. But plenty of us have learned the hard way that trying to do too much is a short trip to stress town.

Making hosting easier

Remember that the point of having a party or event is to gather with people and have fun. It’s not to show off how much you can spend or how many dishes you can prepare. And it’s not to run yourself ragged in pursuit of a perfection. Yes, of course, you want your party to be the best. But it can be the best and also not leave you exhausted and overwhelmed.

Got some tips for making hosting easier? Let’s hear them in the comments!


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