One of the true joys of the holiday season is the opportunity to share some cheer with family and friends, some of whom we haven’t seen since last year’s party (where does the time go?). Come December, everyone’s schedules get packed—so how do you plan a party that everyone from your nieces and nephews to your neighbors and your nanny can attend, without making yourself crazy? An open house!
Planning a casual open-house party that spans a weekend afternoon and evening creates ample opportunity for everyone on your guest list to stop by. The gradual flow of visitors throughout the day means you get to spend more quality time with each and every one. Expect a few families to swing by at the beginning of the party to nibble on cookies before they head off to pick out their Christmas trees, while some couples may join you for a drink on their way to another dinner—and others will stay for the long haul (and maybe for cleanup too)!
Unwrap our tips for a successful, stress-free open house, and get ready to start a new holiday tradition!
The Low-Maintenance Menu
When deciding what to serve, the key is to choose dishes that 1) you can make ahead of time and 2) can sit on a buffet table for hours and still be delicious.
For appetizers and nibbles, think charcuterie platters, relish trays, cheese balls, snack mixes, and seasoned nuts, like Blue Diamond Gourmet Crafted Almonds. For a main-course offering, consider a baked ham, which remains irresistibly snackable whether hot or cold. Serve it with hearty salads of roasted vegetables, grains, and sturdy greens (which can double as entrées for the non-meat eaters in the crowd). The perfect open-house desserts are handheld crowd-pleasers like cookies and brownies.
If you know at least one of your guests will be staying for the duration of the party, deputize them to keep an eye on the tables and help you restock food and ice if needed.
Raise the Bar
Offering everyone a drink as they arrive is the perfect holiday welcome. You can pour the first one if you like but set up the beverage table so it’s easy for guests to serve themselves. No need to stock a full bar—beer, wine, and one cocktail (like the Spanish Negroni shown above) or punch is just right. And don’t forget about the kids and other nondrinkers: a slow cooker full of hot mulled cider will keep everyone happy.
Go with the Flow
Control crowd flow with strategic placement of the food and drinks. Avoid bottlenecks by keeping the tables near the center of the room rather than in a corner and, if possible, position the buffet and the bar so that people can approach from both sides.
Place small bowls of snacks and cookies near other gathering spots, such as next to the couch, on the bar, and on the coffee table.
Don’t forget about trash! Place a few cans around the room so that dirty napkins, plates, cups, and skewers don't pile up on tables. Put a recycling can next to the bar so that empty wine bottles can be tossed immediately. If you’re using nondisposables, make sure your dishwasher is empty at the beginning of the party so that dirties can be shuttled directly to the racks.