Hosting during the holidays can stress out even the most seasoned entertainer. Just thinking about all of the preparation and details that need to be in order before that first guest walks through the door is enough to tempt us to hand the hosting duties to some other unlucky family member. But believe it or not, there's actually a way to have the whole family over without losing your sanity. To learn how to entertain like a pro and actually have a good time doing it, we talked with Cheryl Najafi, founder of lifestyle company CherylStyle and New York Times best-selling author of You’re So Invited, a book about how to entertain with less stress and more enjoyment.
"I think the biggest stress that everyone has is thinking that everything has to be perfect," Najafi says. "But it doesn't." The key, she says, is to remember who is visiting your home. They're friends and family -- people who love you and are coming over because they want to spend time with you. "Your guests are your biggest fans," Najafi adds. So as long as you keep that in mind, you'll take entertaining less seriously and be able to alleviate some stress.
Along with adopting the right mindset, Najafi shares these seven other tips and tricks that will stop you from stressing and help you sit back and enjoy your company:
1. Borrow place settings to mix and match and make your table more inviting. What happens when you only have enough dishware for eight place settings, but you're expecting 10 guests? Najafi suggests asking one of your guests who you feel comfortable enough with to bring over her dishes and plates so you can mix and match. To pull all the settings together, pull something through that is consistent. Something Najafi has done was tie old photos to each place setting. Not only does it establish some cohesion, but it can also be made into a game where all the guests have to make up stories about their photos. "Especially if you're entertaining and not everyone knows each other, it's a great way to break the ice." This eclectic mix of different pieces and extra fun element will make your guests feel more comfortable and in turn, put you at ease as well.
2. Create a simple, seasonal centerpiece. Instead of worrying about finding the perfect bouquet for your table, turn the focus to the actual vase. "Use organic elements of the season," Najafi says. For the upcoming holidays she suggests peppermint candy, cranberries, slices of citrus or chestnuts. You can even find things outside, such as pinecones or leaves. Then, place these around the glass and decorate with loose flowers from grocery store. Your beautiful centerpiece will be a good conversation starter, and no one will have to know how simple it was to make.
3. Focus on presentation to repurpose and reuse leftovers. It happens to the best of us -- you had a big dinner party, overestimated how much to cook and ended up with a fridge full of leftovers after. To reuse them at your next gathering (without anyone knowing), Najafi suggests placing small portions into votives or shot glasses and arranging them on cake plates. That way, guests can have small portions of whatever they like, and you don't need to worry about having enough full portions for everyone. It's also a great way to encourage people to eat dessert, since a bite-sized portion of pumpkin pie looks much more manageable than a huge piece. This way, you won't be left with tons of desserts when everyone is too stuffed to eat full helpings. You can also leave larger platters in the fridge and keep refilling the smaller display so you don't have to worry about keeping food hot and fresh.
4. Use inexpensive and reusable materials to match packages to your tree. "Pick a paper that is solid that goes with the color scheme of your tree and have the packages match the motif so that beauty can extend all the way down underneath the tree," Najafi says. She uses kraft paper and then decorated it with a sponge and paint. She also likes to use ornaments as toppers, and embellish each gift with things such as burlap, tulle, ribbon and feather boas. When the holiday is over, simply roll up all the pieces and save them for next year. Kraft paper is very inexpensive and comes in large rolls, so you'll save a ton of money and will be able to reuse most of your materials.
5. Organize ornaments in three separate boxes. Why is it that ornaments seem to stress everyone out? "Most of the time, the fragile heirloom ornaments are mixed in with the kids' ornaments," Najafi says. "So we have to sit with the box on our lap and triage what the kids can and cannot touch." Instead, as you're unpacking ornaments this year, place all of the fragile and expensive ones at top of the tree so they're safe. Let the kids decorate the bottom. Then, use the center of the tree to experiment with new colors and adornments. When you remove all the ornaments after the holidays are over, repack them in three different boxes so you can simply hand the kids theirs and not have to worry about sifting through before they break something important.
6. Add layers to style and define your tree. Layering is one of the easiest ways to add dimension and make things look more elevated, Najafi says. "One way you can layer a tree is to nestle things in that aren't really the focal point of the tree but that add interest and intrigue," she adds. Large picture frames or a flameless candles are two examples. This will really make your tree stand out with minimal effort. Plus, it's another great conversation starter for you and your guests.
7. "Embrace what you do best, then outsource the rest." Najafi's mantra means simply that you must choose your battles. Don't feel like you need to do it all. "When and where you can, grab something and then just adorn it a little better and add it to something to look spectacular," Najafi suggests. If you don't like to bake, there's no shame in buying store-bought desserts -- it can be your little secret if you present them the right way.
8. Delegate ahead of time. When a guest volunteers to bring a dish, decide beforehand how you will ask them to help once they arrive. Najafi lists on a chalkboard what everyone is bringing and the specific way each person will help upon arrival. We all know what it's like trying to cook and time the meal correctly when everyone is huddled around asking how they can help -- stressful. If you plan ahead, each person will know exactly what to do, which will make things run smoothly.
Throughout all of your entertaining, if something does go wrong, relax. It's not the end of the world. "Worst case scenario, you call Dominos," Najafi says. Crying in the bathroom because you burnt the main dish will only make it worse. But if you can laugh about it, so will everyone else. "It's not about the food, it's not about the fuss, it's not about your outfit," Najafi reminds us. "It''s about getting together and having a good time." And as long as you keep that in mind and don't take things too seriously, you'll have nothing to worry or stress about.
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