Expert Holiday Entertaining Tips

Every year for the past few years, House Beautiful magazine has published a list of top holiday entertaining tips.  From the experts.  Self-proclaimed or otherwise.

Between now and New Year’s Day, there will be more parties thrown, more soirees hosted, and more families gathered with great expectations of being entertained than during any other 6-week period throughout the year.  Strap on those aprons and chill the champagne.  This, my friends, is the Season of Entertaining Champions.

For your convenience, from the magazine’s somewhat extensive list, I’ve culled some of my favorite tips and suggestions, with a few of my comments thrown in for good measure.

Happy Entertaining!

Create a Playlist

“Create a music playlist that’s ready to begin as soon as the doorbell rings and doesn’t end until the last guest departs.” – Colin Cowie, event planner


Stream Music

“If you don’t have time to create your own playlist, log on to” – Erin Olson,

Either way, background music is critical at a party.

Set the Mood

“The host’s mood sets the tone.” – Emily

Clearly Emily has enough street cred to warrant not having a last name.  But she knows how critical it is for the host to be in a good mood.

Make Room for More

“Do always include the single friend or extra surprise guest, even if it’s 13 at your table. You can always make room, slice the roast a little thinner.” – Kelli Ford & Kirsten Fitzgibbons, designers

Learn the Art of Conversation

“Don’t be a bore.  Don’t monopolize the conversation.” – Eric Cohler, designer

I think this should be advice for people in general.

Loosen Up

“Have a stiff drink before anyone arrives.  If you are having fun, everyone will have fun.” – Miles Redd, designer


Serve Food at Proper Temperatures

“Warm plates before serving hot food on them.” – Susan Spungen, cookbook author/food stylist

Remember to Iron

“Crispy ironed linens!  There is nothing so luxurious as to sit at a table with a lovely ironed tablecloth and spread an ironed napkin over your lap.” – Barbara Barry, Designer

Unless, of course, you’re going for a more casual get-together.

Don’t Recipe Search on Party Day

“Don’t try a new recipe at a party.” – Tricia Foley, designer/author

I completely understand why this is a good rule.  I just happen to break this rule on a pretty routine basis.

Use Your China

“Don’t use plastic.” – Jennifer Rubell, artist/writer

Guess Jennifer isn’t a fan of red solo cups.

Host an Intimate Dinner

“The perfect number for a dinner party is six to eight. You want festive conversation, but not so many people that the conversations are always split up.” – Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, The Kitchn by Apartment Therapy

Set Up a DIY Cocktail Bar

“Let guests make their own cocktails.  I have a few favorite recipes on cards, and all the ingredients on hand.  People mix and shake and think it’s super-fun.” – Paul Lowe, food/prop stylist

Set Up Your Bar Anywhere

Here are our tips for setting up the perfect bar at home.

Follow the One-Bite Rule

“Keep hors d’oeuvres to one bite.  No one wants to talk or kiss with a mouthful.” – Larry Laslo, designer

This is really good advice.

Add a Light

“We all look better with light on our faces.  Put lamps on your buffet or server.” – Jan Showers, designer

Don’t Serve Only White Liquors

“Don’t serve only white liquors because you’re afraid of spills. – Richard Mishaan, designer

Or, because having a choice is a nice thing.

Do Serve Only White Liquors

“My grandmother, who did an awful lot of entertaining, said: ‘Serve only white-colored liquors and wines so they don’t stain.’ ” – Robert Couturier, architect/designer

Make More Than Enough Ice

“Never, never, never run out of ice.” – Bryan Batt, actor/shop owner

Words to live by.

Set the Table Properly

Don’t face the knife blade out.  Rules are made to be broken, but that’s not one of them. – Eddie Ross,

Table Setting

Here’s our post on how to set a perfect table.

Dress Up Catered Food

“Serve takeout on your finest china.” – Kelly Wearstler, designer

Create Ambience

“I cannot tell you how many parties with great food have been ruined by operating-room lighting.  Atmosphere is half the battle. A low-lit atmosphere with candles can even give pizza old-movie glamour.” – Mary McDonald, designer

Make Clean-Up Simpler

“Always start with an empty dishwasher.” – Chesie Breen, founder,

Entertain on Any Budget

“Don’t be afraid to throw a party because you think it will cost too much.  You can have a good time for $10 with a bottle of wine and a bag of nuts.” – Thomas Jayne, designer

Keep Flowers Low

“Don’t create such impressive centerpieces that the guests can’t see each other across the table.” – Sue Fisher King, shop owner

This tip alone could put Pinterest out of business.  There are thousands of Pinterest boards showcasing elaborate centerpieces that would never actually work on most dinner tables.

Stick with Simple Food

“Make a home-cooked meal, even if it’s just a bowl of chili and a salad with garlic bread.  There’s nothing better than simple and delicious.” – Lisa Fine, textile designer

Use Place Cards

“Don’t expect guests to seat themselves — it’s your dining room, not Southwest Airlines.  Placement is key to great conversations and something you don’t leave to chance.” – Madeline Stuart, designer

Have Drinks Ready

“Have beverages visible from the moment guests step in the door.” – Matt and Ted Lee, chefs/cookbook authors

Use Crystal Dishes

“When I was in Italy one summer, our hosts served cashews and potato chips in crystal bowls while we sipped Prosecco.  It was a revelation: right-out-of-the-bag snacks become sophisticated when they’re served in a gorgeous dish.” – Stephanie Ballard,

If they do it in Italy, it’s good enough for me.

Stock Up on Essentials

“Have enough of everything on hand.  Nothing worse than running out of anything, whether Perrier or loo paper.” – Kathryn M. Ireland, designer

Balance Hors d’Oeuvres

“If you are having an elaborate dinner, then keep your hors d’oeuvres simple.  And if you are planning an easy dinner, make your hors d’oeuvres a little fancier.” – Madeline Weinrib, textile designer

The concept of appetizer is to wake up your appetite, not kill it before dinner is served.

Stock the Bar

“Don’t run low on the hooch!” – David Jimenez, Designer

This one gets included because he used the word hooch.

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