Piggy Bank Parties received free product samples from Oriental Trading for purposes of this post, but the opinions are 100% all mine.
Do your palms start to sweat when you think about hosting holiday dinner at your house? Is your head spinning after searching Pinterest for festive tablescape ideas and how to cook the perfect turkey? Is the only room in your house large enough to seat everyone for dinner your unfinished basement?
Hosting holiday dinner for even a small group of guests can feel challenging. So, today I’m sharing a few simple tips to help you host a stress-free holiday dinner.
Each year our Georgia-based family gathers for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner since half the family heads out-of-state during Thanksgiving week. I offered to host the family potluck this year with one condition. We had to eat dinner in my sister-in-law’s basement. Why the basement? It gave me the opportunity to help you think outside the box.
Many of you have small dining rooms which is challenging when you’re hosting a dinner party for more than 6 guests. However, with a few simple tips and some versatile products from Oriental Trading, we’re going to master the art of hosting a stress-free holiday dinner!
1: CHOOSE A SINGLE DECORATING THEME
Instead of overloading your table with every holiday icon—turkeys, pumpkins, pilgrims, cornucopias, Santa, reindeer, elves, poinsettias, etc., narrow it down to a single theme. The decorations for our annual family potluck were inspired by autumn leaves. Even though I’m usually not drawn to shiny things, the idea of golden leaves kept showing up in my sketches so I added metallic accents to my rustic aesthetic.
For the dining table, I started with a plain denim tablecloth which I made from leftover fabric from another project. If you don’t have the sewing gene or extra fabric laying around, don’t fret! You can find my favorite entertaining must-haves here [link coming soon!].
Next, I added placemats that I created using burlap circles from Oriental Trading and felt leaves in shades of brown and metallic gold. This easy sew/no-sew project can be found here [link coming soon!].
Each placesetting was completed with a Mason jar, clear plate, cloth napkin, leaf napkin ring and Oriental Trading’s Premium Metallic Gold Cutlery. The cutlery is my new favorite thing! The quality is outstanding and we handwashed them after dinner to use again for another upcoming party.
Personalized leaves tied onto Mason jars did double duty as placecards and helped everyone keep track of their glass when they retired from the table after dinner.
The dining table centerpiece was created using tealights and Mercury Glass Mason Jars from Oriental Trading. Metallic gold dinner roll baskets lined with brown paper lunch bags flanked the shimmering gold jars.
HANK’S HINT: Incorporating food items into your dining table decór frees up space on the buffet. This extra space gives guests a place to fill their plates. It also creates a cozy, family-style atmosphere at the dining table since guests will need to pass the food to each other.
The buffet was covered with an inexpensive store-bought tablecloth which coordinated with the autumn leaves theme. The addition of a denim runner to the middle of the buffet tied the two tables together.
Next, I added the same decorating elements featured on the dining table to the buffet. A wooden flower box from Oriental Trading filled with additional mercury glass jars, tealights and felt leaves became the buffet’s focal point. It also helped disguise the wall-mounted gaming TV.
Whenever possible, I label all the food served on the buffet with simple food tents. This is extremely important when guests have food allergies or are vegetarians. If your gathering is a potluck, be sure to have blank cards available for your guests to write on.
At the end of the buffet I added a chalkboard easel from Oriental Trading. The easel was embellished with additional felt leaves and die cut white vinyl letters. However, use chalk if your menu isn’t set in stone because it’s easier to erase if the menu changes last minute.
2: KEEP THE MENU SIMPLE AND FAMILIAR
One of the hardest lessons to learn when entertaining is to keep the menu simple and familiar. Entertaining a large group of guests is not the time to try a new recipe. It’s a surefire way to heighten your stress level and keep you from enjoying time with your guests. If you want to serve something new, do a test run at least a week before the big day.
Since my sister-in-law graciously allowed us to take over her basement and it was a weeknight dinner, I provided the main dishes for our potluck. I kept the menu simple and familiar by including two family favorites—corn casserole and green bean casserole—along with a twist on the Thanksgiving turkey—turkey chili. With the help of a slow cooker, the three hot dishes took an hour and a half to make from start to finish and they were easy to transport.
3: BE OPEN TO ACCEPTING HELP
The second hardest lesson to learn when entertaining, is being open to accepting help. If someone offers to bring something or asks if you need anything, say yes without hesitation.
When I first started entertaining in my twenties, I wouldn’t accept help. I wanted everything to be “perfect” and that meant I had to do it all by myself. Eventually, I realized my guests wanted to feel included. Not allowing them to bring something was a bit selfish on my part. It’s still hard for the perfectionist in me to let go sometimes, but every time I do…it turns out better than I envisioned.
Make a list of “ask” items you need for your gathering that anyone could bring. My favorite “ask” items include ice, butter, rolls, whipped cream, ice cream and paper products. If you prefer a certain brand, flavor, style or color, be sure to share that with the volunteer. Responding with, “Whatever you want to bring!” is too broad of an answer for most people. It really is okay to be specific and alleviate the decision-making stress for your guests.
For our family dinner, my mother-in-law asked if she could help in any way. I happily requested an apple pie since I know that’s her son’s favorite. Over the next few days, we added vanilla ice cream, canned whipped cream and a pumpkin pie to her list. A happy accident occurred when she mistakenly picked up a sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin. It turned out to be the family favorite and accepting her help made dessert that much sweeter!
4: TURN NEGATIVES INTO POSITIVES
The night before the potluck two obstacles became apparent—unfinished stud walls and a wall-mounted gaming TV. Obstacles can seem overwhelming at first, but with a little ingenuity, you can turn negatives into positives.
We created “walls” with rolls of kraft paper and masking tape and the basement instantly felt cozy and welcoming. If you’re renovating or have an unfinished basement, this is an inexpensive way to hide the mess.
If you can’t hide it, feature it! The wall-mounted TV was harder to cover up since it was in the middle of our focal wall. My first idea was to hang a couple of tapestry banners to disguise it. While pondering the tapestry idea, I remembered the Yuletide fireplace we have in our DVD collection. The roaring fire worked perfectly behind the buffet, added warmth to the atmosphere, and turned a big negative into a huge positive!
Each of these tips has been invaluable to me over the years. I’m no longer fussing over last-minute details or stuck in the kitchen while everyone’s relaxing around the table. Holiday dinner is stress-free and special moments with my family and friends are abundant. I hope these simple tips will do the same for you!