Expert Hosts Share Their Advice for Holiday Entertaining
Holiday entertaining can conjure two distinct images: one, a gaggle of friends gathered by a roaring fire, enjoying fine red wine and nibbles from a picture-perfect charcuterie platter—and another disturbing picture of a haggard host, desperately trying to set out food, drinks, and stylish décor in time for the first of many guests to arrive. But holiday entertaining doesn’t have to be difficult; with these tips from America’s top hosts and hostesses, you’ll be able to throw a flawless—and absolutely delicious—holiday celebration stress-free.
Take it from Camille Styles, author of Camille Styles Entertaining and Target style expert. “While there are lots of practical challenges attached to holiday entertaining, I think the biggest challenge is mindset,” she says. “Holiday entertaining isn’t about ‘impressing your guests.’ It is about creating a welcoming environment that enables guests—and you—to relax and savor good food, fun drinks, and most importantly, conversation that strengthens lasting connections. When that’s the focus, suddenly things don’t feel so stressful anymore.”
1. Serve wine family-style. When throwing a holiday party, don’t be host and bartender, advises Samantha Wasser, a near-pro at home entertaining and cofounder of DEZ and By Chloe. By serving wine family style, you will “minimize people getting up and down during dinner” Wasser points out. “You want your guests’ glasses to stay full, but these shortcuts will save on time and running around once you’re all seated for dinner.” Bonus tip: “If you know your family and friends are partial to a particular wine, pre-open a few bottles and leave them in the kitchen to grab if you need to restock the table at any point,” she says.
2. Or make a festive punch. “Everyone loves a festive spiked punch at the holidays, and I keep mine super simple with pomegranate juice, citrus-infused vodka, and bubbles,” says Styles. “I dress it by adding fruit and herb garnishes and a cinnamon stick-filled ice-ring to my punch bowl. Place stackable tumbler glasses by its side so guests can help themselves.”
3. Choose snacks and appetizers that can be made hours—or days—ahead of time. “For quick snacks and appetizers, anything that can be done ahead of time is a life saver,” says Brian Riggenbach, Chopped champion and The Mockingbird’s executive chef. Think: olives marinated in rosemary, confit garlic, and citrus zest, or a bowl of spiced nuts. Or, “a really nice dip—hummus or whipped herbed goat cheese—is something that you can prep in advance, set out with bread or crackers, and call it a day,” says Riggenbach. “A trio of olives, nuts, and dip works great, and is impressive without being overly fussy. Plus, the nuts and olives hold at room temperature and are easy to put out while preparing the bird.”
4. That confit garlic? You can make it too. Riggenbach says this simple recipe is all you’ll need to make any holiday dish really shine: “Take a handful of pre-peeled garlic, throw it in a small casserole or baking dish, toss in whatever herbs you have and a few peppercorns, cover in olive oil, and throw in the oven at 300-degrees Fahrenheit for an hour and a half,” he instructs. “Once you take it out of the oven and let it cool, strain out the garlic, leaving the herbs behind to continue flavoring the oil. And voila! Now you have a super flavorful oil to baste your turkey—or tofurky—or you can also use it in a simple vinaigrette for a salad.”
5. Don’t do it all yourself. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help where you need it most,” Wasser says. “Maybe that’s picking up some already-made appetizers or asking a family member or friend to bring dessert. Just be kind to yourself. Getting even just a little support will relieve so much pressure and ensure you actually get to enjoy the holiday season while hosting.”