Seven Last-Minute Items to Check Before Holiday Guests Arrive

These small details will ensure your loved ones are happy and comfortable at your gathering—and will get you through the evening sans stress.

We always anticipate the slew of parties that come with the holiday season—it's a wonderful time to connect and celebrate with loved ones, especially after spending so much time apart. However, if you have volunteered to host a holiday party (instead of simply attending one), this exciting event can quickly turn into a source of stress. From curating the perfect menu and decorating the entire house to making sure bathrooms and bedrooms are stocked with necessary supplies, there's a lot that goes into making guests feel welcome during this festive period. To reduce your anxiety, we recommend making a checklist. This will ensure that you don't get lost in the big tasks and forget the little details that bring the whole shindig together—like lighting candles, making a playlist, and chilling the Champagne, for example. Understanding exactly what to add to your list is a great place to start, which is why we tapped several experts; ahead, they note the easily-overlooked details that make any holiday soirée a success.

Monitor your lighting.

It may seem like a minor change, but adjusting the lighting in your home will set the tone for your holiday event. "For ambience, for those iconic holiday smells, or for a little powder room pick-me-up, we love a good collection of candles," says Kristine Cooke, an event designer with Simply Charming Socials. "A few pretty tapers will add something extra to your buffet. Votives can be popped onto bookshelves or mantles for a little glow. And save your signature scent for the entryway, guest rooms, and bathrooms." After you light your candles, dim your lamps and overhead lighting, recommends Anthony Navarro, the creative director at Liven It Up Events. He explains that adjusting these elements makes your space feel party-ready and creates the right mood. "If you have holiday décor items—a tree, ceramic figurines, pre-lit garlands, outdoor fixtures—make sure those are all turned on, too," he adds.

Adjust the thermostat.

Though it will likely be chilly outside during your get-together, don't push the internal heat—in fact, it's best to drop the thermostat ahead of guests' arrival. If you're hosting a crowd, your residence will get hot fast; a cooler setting will keep loved ones more comfortable throughout the evening, Navarro explains. "This is something you would want to start earlier in the day, so by the time the party starts your home is cool. Keeping it at 68 degrees is where I normally start."

Turn on some music.

You don't need to hire a DJ or invest in expensive stereo equipment for your soirée, but you also shouldn't forget about music altogether. And whether you're playing seasonal hits from a built-in sound system or streaming via a bluetooth speaker, make sure the volume is appropriate. Navarro recommends starting at a low level and increasing it as more guests show up to account for extra conversation. Joe Moller, the owner of Joe Moller Events, notes that music is an element that is often overlooked, but having a few playlists or channels ready on your favorite device can help keep the energy flowing all night. "With a strategic change of genre or volume, it can also let people know it's time to dance or say goodbye," he says.

greeting holiday guests at front door
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Double check the beverage station.

Setting up your bar before guests ring your doorbell will make serving drinks more seamless after they walk in. Avoid a major host faux pas—warm Champagne or beer—by chilling your beverages ahead of time; add an ice bucket for cocktails and present glassware, bar napkins, and fruit garnishes if your station is self-serve. Moller also suggests leaving a small trash can next to the bar for any waste.

Add extra linens and tissue paper to restrooms.

Give your restrooms a once-over to make sure they are stocked with the necessary supplies before guests arrive. Moller recommends keeping extra soap, linens, tissue paper, and trash can liners in each space; this way, you don't have to carry them through the party when it's time for a refill. For a thoughtful touch, place holiday scented candles in your restrooms to keep them smelling fresh, says Navarro.

Organize your platters.

Your menu will be finalized well before the day of the party, but have you planned your dishes' presentation yet? Cooke recommends taking stock of your holiday kitchenware, including bowls, boards, platters, and utensils, a few hours ahead of go-time. "Set them out on a table with a sticky note to assign each dish a vessel," she says. "This will make for easy plating come meal-time and will prevent any helpers from having to deep-dive into your cabinets for extra pieces." She also suggests having to-go containers at the ready so guests can take home leftovers without needing to return items from your personal collection.

Set out some snacks.

Have something for your attendees to nibble on before the main fête begins—you can always add more items as the night progresses. Navarro likes to place a station of hors d'oeuvres in a home's main gathering area, like the dining room table or kitchen counter. To make celebrants more comfortable, especially as we continue to navigate the pandemic, he recommends offering individually plated items, instead of serve-yourself stations. Another food-centric tip? "For menu planning, room temperature and cold items are the way to go. Adding more hot items to your menu or grazing table after the first hour or when two-thirds of the guests arrive is best," he explains.

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