Five Keys to a Hassle-Free Holiday Dinner Party

Even people who use their ovens as storage space and avoid all things domestic have a tendency to warm up to the idea of hosting a dinner party as the holidays approach. A beautifully decorated home brimming with delicious food and guests mingling with drinks in hand…what’s not to love?

The time. The expense. The mess.

You don’t have to have culinary school credentials or a bottomless bank account to pull off an unforgettable event. Put these five keys to work to create an easy, elegant soirée without blowing your budget or spending the entire evening surgically attached to the stove.

Don’t Dis the Dollar Store

These discount meccas may not be known for high-end décor, but you can unearth some surprising finds that prove thrifty doesn’t have to mean tacky. Ditch the dishwashing and opt for colorful paper or plastic plates in a variety of shapes and sizes, acrylic wine glasses and tumblers and silver-tone disposable cutlery. Pick up a few inexpensive tablecloths and table runners so you don’t have to sweat it if someone accidentally bathes them in cabernet.

Go for Effortless Edibles

To create a stress-free feast, do-ahead is the way ahead. Make one or two main dishes that can feed a crowd – like lasagna, maple- glazed ham, etc. – a few days prior, and round out the rest of the meal with store-bought sides like crudités, breads, cheeses and mini-cupcakes or cookies for dessert. Or opt for a finger-food-only menu to further reduce prep-time and cleanup.

Banish the Bartender

Go self-serve and you’ll spend less time mixing drinks, and more time mixing with your guests. Bottled beer, wine and soft drinks are staples, but consider offering pitcher cocktails such as sangria, margaritas or mojitos, as well.

Manage the Mood

Lighting and music are two of the easiest – and most effective – ways to alter the ambience of your gathering. Turn off bright overheads and use amber votive holders for a warm glow. Decorate with metallic accents to add a festive touch and bounce light around the room. To avoid holiday tune overload, mix in just a few seasonal favorites with a party playlist of your choice.

Wind it Down

When it’s time to signal that the party is over, do it subtly by lowering the music, blowing out a few candles and turning on one light. Pack up extra food in Chinese to-go boxes for guests to take home, along with a bottle of water for the road. After your revelers have gone, take out the trash and do a quick check for any furniture or carpet stains that need immediate treatment. Then hit the hay, and congratulate yourself on an evening well (and easily) done!

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