Holiday Party Tips!

By Kate Riley December 3, 2013

We’re getting ready to invite a ton of people to our home this month to celebrate the season at our annual Christmas Party and we’ve been doing it for over ten years. A few of you sent me some emails about how we do it, so I thought I’d share some tips.

We’ve come up with a few tricks for making it flow smoothly, and not come across as too fussy, just a lot of people having a lot of fun. We host our party every year the Saturday before Christmas and it’s a big party with 100 people invited and we usually get a big turnout so we prepare for a crowd.

In the past we’ve started with an icebreaker game, this was before everyone knew everyone like they do now, but it’s a great idea if you’re mixing a lot of people that don’t know each other, we call it the Guess Me Game and we stick the name of a character on people’s backs, they have to ask yes or no questions of other guests to figure it out and it always gets guests talking!

For more game ideas, Apartment Therapy published a list of great party games today.

guess me holiday party game


Sometimes we assign someone the role of greeter (my dad is so good at it) but I’ve also used a sign on the door inviting people to come in on their own since it gets loud and it’s hard to hear the doorbell! I set up a collapsible garment rack (like this one) in my office for coats and purses so they can enter on their own and join in the merriment.

sign on door

We learned the hard way to have kids remove shoes – we ended up with horribly muddy carpet one year so we ask just the kids not the grown ups to remove their shoes and magically it calms them down too. We play a movie for them and hand out candy canes, it keeps them happy while parents socialize.

I bought two chaffing dishes ten years ago and bring them out of storage every year. I hate being tethered to an oven during a party so I do all the semi-homemade food prep earlier in the day, put the food out, and then mix and mingle during the event.

On the topic of food service since we don’t hire help, I’m not a fan of washing a pile of 100 dishes, so during our holiday party I do use plastic, judge me, but it’s far more practical. (For smaller parties I’ll rent dishes but for a party this size, I don’t.)

paper plates and forks

I do own 60 wine glasses (I bought a these inexpensive sets from World Market that come with a storage box) and bring them out for the party. I find people really don’t mind a plastic plate, but it is nice to hold a real wine glass in your hand. Charms or labels are essential though.

wine glass charms

I line up all of the bowls and trays in the dining room in advance so I know where it all will go – bowls for rolls and crackers, platters for a vegetable crudité and layered meat & cheese plate. I keep the menu simple: stroganoff meatballs, alfredo penne, a ham, and some platters of food mentioned above. Some friends volunteer to bring their special hors d’oeuvres which I’ll add to the table as well.

position bowls

There is one thing we do spend money on, a piano player. We started this about five years ago, we hire a local pianist to play carols for a few hours – we even gather a crowd in the living room for a rousing rendition of ‘A Partridge in a Pear Tree’ which is always a crack up because if one group is weak the entire song starts over again!

Not everyone has a piano, but music makes the party, so a really great playlist is all you need! Mine is a few hours long – here’s a list of my favorite holiday tunes.

I always pull up the carpets and push back the chairs since we have such a large crowd, leaving room to sit if guests don’t feel like standing. It’s not the prettiest arrangement or where the furniture sits on a normal day but it does make for better crowd flow during the party.

push back furniture

That’s just a glimpse into our house the day of our holiday party last year – nothing too fancy, just a lot of fun with friends and family. For even more tips, read how to throw a less stressful holiday party from a few years ago.

We always have SO much fun each year and my feet and throat are sore the next day from dancing and laughing and talking but we wouldn’t have it any other way. For us it’s the definition of making spirits bright. :)



    • Oh Michaela, I wish I remembered, I want to say Crate + Barrel, it’s ancient, maybe 7 or 8 years old!

  1. What fun that sounds like! have always wanted to have a party like that…just can’t convince the hubby! Maybe next year?

  2. Would you mind sharing your recipes for penne and meatballs? Also, you said you found some meatballs that taste homemade, what brand is that? Thank you!

  3. I am such a big fan of the chafing dish! We have big summer parties (with about 100-150) and we used to do Hot Dogs and Hamburgers, but we were tied to the grill. Now, I do something that you can serve yourself in a chafing dish… and I get to enjoy our parties.

    I know I’m not alone when I am hoping you post the stroganoff meatball recipe and the alfredo noodle recipe!

  4. This sounds a great time to be had by all, have a lovely party and a very Merry Christmas from me to you. xx

  5. Hi Kate,

    I just wanted to say I love your blog. I think your house is adorable and I think you might be as nice as you sound on your blog. Always very generous to us readers and newbies at blogging. Have a wonderful Christmas and a super fun News Years!


  6. 100 people! WOW! I couldn’t fit that many people in my home. The biggest gathering I’ve had was last Christmas when I threw (what I thought was) a big dinner party for 10. Many people didn’t know each other and I played that very same name game you mentioned. Believe it or not, people STILL talk about that game – we had a load of fun. The other game we played which had us all laughing was Cranium but, I can’t see that working with 100 people.

    BTW – your hardwood floors are gorgeous! I think they look great without a carpet.

  7. I think asking children to remove shoes is brilliant. For me, the food and how it’s served is as important or maybe the most important part of entertaining. I was brought up with a mom who was very politically active in Washington DC which meant I was serving hors d’oeuvres and taking coats starting at a very early age. My sister and I have collected vintage chaffing dishes along with inexpensive silver plated flatware picked up through the years at thrift stores – it just looks so festive and slightly grand for such a bargain and I don’t mind the wash up at all , it’s one maybe two runs of the dishwasher. We do rent the small white plates and wine glasses that get placed back in their convenient racks to be picked up and cleaned next morning. I have a ton of cotton blend napkins bought for very little from discontinued lots from restaurant /linen supply stores and it only takes one laundry load for 50 . I’ve never entertained more than 50 or so at a time so maybe at 100 the plastic plates and silver might be more practical but I like to think I could swing the good stuff. Your house looks beautiful as usual.

  8. Thank you for posting the stroganoff recipe. Could I bother you for the alfredo penne recipe?

    Gatherings r us this holiday season and I would love to change it up with a new menu!

  9. Having just hosted my annual sit-down Thanksgiving Dinner for 28, I have recent experience with catering to crowds (in the past, I have hosted 60+ for casual buffet-style dinners).

    Years ago, I went to an outlet store and purchased 70 white dinner plates, 100 glass dessert plates and several dozen coffee cups. Costco supplied me with multiple sets of stainless flatware and inexpensive wine glasses by the dozens. This saves in terms of cost and waste.

    My tips for success with large numbers: Have a schedule written out for plugging in the coffee urn, thawing the shrimp, setting out condiments. Anything that can be done before guests arrive MUST be done before guests arrive (you can’t walk through the kitchen after that). Set up a large drink station on the back porch or deck, rain or shine. Have coolers and buckets filled with ice. Have loads and loads of plastic cups to supplement the wine glasses. Have a place for those kids to put those muddy shoes, and give out fuzzy socks from the Dollar Store (no running allowed).

    Music is key. It brings people together. Great idea hiring a pianist if nobody in your family plays well.

    Do NOT do the dishes while your guests are present. The hostess should not disappear during the party and the guests should not be put to work. Set ’em and Forget ’em. They’ll keep.

    Finally: Relax and enjoy your guests. They are not vandals, and your house will recover from the superficial damage. Spills happen, glasses get broken, so what? Laugh and have a good time.

    Just my two cents.

  10. We started doing our holiday party in January. Too many people are swamped with work and family parties during December – many of our friends celebrate with family before Christmas. We too have 36 wine glasses and 24 champagne glasses, and I probably should buy another set or two this year and I love the idea of charms – I would just leave them on all the time! I also use disposable plates – so great. We hired a caterer for my husband’s 40th birthday. I still shrimp, cheese & crackers, and crudites myself. The caterer brings 4 or 5 other heavy appetizers. If the party is really going to be huge, then I keep a few frozen pizzas at the ready that I can throw out for the late-night revelers. We also skip the kids and put our kids to bed as the party is getting started at 8. They can read in their beds and fall asleep when they want to. Works out great :)

  11. I’m doing a Christmas open house this year and these are some great tips! I too have no problem with disposable plates, but I got a great deal a couple of years ago on party forks.

  12. These are great tips. Thank you so much for sharing. I move my furniture around a bit for parties as well. Once the house fills up with people, you don’t even notice. I don’t blame you for using plastic. There are so many pretty options now. If anyone has a problem with it, they can offer to wash your dishes next year!

  13. Great tips! We are having our annual party on Friday. As it got bigger I decided to go with disposable plates too. We are having a guitarist/vocalist this year and we have to rearrange some furniture for that. I just have to let go that it won’t look all put together until all the guests come and then it will look perfect!

  14. I follow a lot of your tips – but my “big” parties are 25-40 people and I love to do a potluck dinner. (We’re Southern – it’s pretty standard.) As hostess, I usually provide hors d’oeuvre, beverages and the main course, plus dinnerware.

    It’s a win win all ’round when the hostess has fun because it means everyone will get invited again, right?


  15. THANK YOU a hundred times!!! for telling folks to pull up the carpeting at the same time as pushing back the chairs! How many people do one and not the other? Sheesh, and then you’re tripping and they get mad because everyone’s curling up the edges of their rugs. I notice all your pics are brightly lit, but depending on the time of day, you might want to offer some tips on holiday party lighting, like special accessories, stringing lights indoors, etc.

  16. fabulous! thanks for the tips. my problem is I never know how much to cook for such a big group. how many platters of meatballs and pasta do you normally make for that many people?

    • Hello J, that’s a tricky thing! I keep notes every year on the details, and how much food was consumed, keeping notes is important if you intend to repeat or entertain in a similar way. I think it’s better to err on the side of having too much food (hello leftovers!) than too little, and if we have a lot of extra servings or a lower turnout I’ll send people home with plates of nibbles, they love that!

  17. I am Canadian… The thought of visitors not removing shoes horrifies me:). Obviously in the winter, but in the summer also, Canadians never wear shoes in a hosts home. If I were going to a party and needed them for my outfit, I would make it visible that I had carried them in and ask if I may wear them. Weird hey? It’s a Canadian thing… Heads up if you are visiting a Canadian at Christmas time!!

  18. When I saw that people wear shoes in your home I almost fell over! I’m also Canadian, and I do the same a Sonya above. I’ve never worn shoes inside a home that I have just worn on the street. So funny, I’ve always seen people wear shoes inside houses in the movies, but I didn’t think it happened in real life. I’m blown away. Kate you are very brave!

  19. We Canadians grew up differently it would seem. Just came from my in-laws large family dinner. My mother-in-law shows everyone a basket of slippers to choose from they are kept for this purpose, not general wearing by her. This is a habit in most homes, our parents always had new slippers set aside for visitors and family. I do this as well but most people just say they are fine just with their own socks. It would be difficult for a party of that size to have enough on hand.

    We do not wear heels or dress shoes in our own home, hardwood floors are very easily marked with scratches and dents. If I ever wore shoes in someones house it would be a reflection on my mother of not teaching me respect for other peoples things. Plus she would probably turn over in her grave!!! As you can see it is shocking to us Canucks. Love your blog!

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