Hosting an open house party during the holiday season is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of work, organization, and decent chunk of change to make it all come together. But the feeling of festive togetherness you’ll get from seeing all your loved ones together so close to the holidays. Now, that’s priceless!
The beauty of the open house format is that people come and go throughout the party, so you can be generous when it comes to forming your guest list. But let’s be real: you won’t have time to wash silverware or scrub plates between visitors while you’re mingling with your guests. Solution: contact your local party planning company and order more glasses, plates, and utensils than you think you’ll need. As a bonus, most only require that you rinse the rentals; they take care of the actual washing.
Consider what other rentals you might need to make your party run smoothly. Chances are good you don’t have enough serving platters and dishes to accommodate your menu, and it’s always a good idea to rent a few extra tables and chairs so that your guests can relax. For an extra touch, consider renting linens in festive colors.
The key to food at an open house is easy: service it buffet style and keep it easy to nibble consider that many of your guests will be eating standing up. Open houses often take place outside of regular meal times, so while you should have plenty of appetizers on hand, you don’t necessarily have to provide a feast. Quantity-wise, assume that guests will eat four to six appetizers for each hour they’re there.
When planning your menu, choose as many dishes that can be made ahead of time as possible, which will save you some sanity on the day of your party. Consider how food will be kept before and while it is served—do you have enough space in your fridge for all the cold food? How will hot food be kept toasty while it is being served? Setting out smaller quantities and continuously replenishing the serving dishes will help keep things more manageable, but it will require more labor (more on that later).
Remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Caterers exist for a reason, even if they only provide part of the food. If a friend offers to bring his or her infamous dish, accept graciously. And store bought hors d’oeuvres are usually just as tasty as the homemade version.
Keep costs down by keeping the menu short. Offer beer, wine, a signature cocktail or two (eggnog and rum, anybody?) and plenty of non-alcoholic options to keep your guests’ thirst quenched. As a general guide, assume that each guest will have two drinks in the first hour and one per hour afterwards (adjust according to your own circle’s habits). Set up a bar area where guests can serve themselves, or hire a bartender to assist if your budget allows it.
Décor and ambiance
If you love the holidays enough to host an open house, chances are good you already have plenty of seasonal décor on hand. A thoughtfully decorated tree, plenty of tea candles, and strings of fairy lights provide the perfect foundation for decorations. You don’t need to go overboard on the entire house—focus on the rooms your guests will be in, like the living and dining areas, the kitchen, the bathroom, and the front entrance.
As for ambiance, create an epic playlist of holiday tunes to provide the perfect background music. Consider an all-instrumental playlist or jazzy interpretations of old favorites for a more subdued affair, or go all out with the classics to increase the odds of a dance-off or a sing-along.
Hiring some helping hands might be the most valuable expense on this list. Having the help of other people will allow you to spend more time with your guests and less time cleaning, serving, and running around. Consider hiring local high school or college students to help with tasks like decorating, serving and replenishing platters, clearing empty dishes, and doing light cleanup at the end of the party.
Another stress reducer: hire professional cleaners to give your house a once-over before the party begins and a deep clean the day after the party. The price of this will vary depending on the size of your home and where you live. If you can’t afford helpers on the night and cleaning, spring for the post-party cleaning; chances are good that you’ll be too tired to want to tackle it yourself.
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