This stress-free plan comes complete with do-ahead recipes (a few savories and a sweet) and delicious store-bought extras. Even better: The grab-and-go, finger-food-only menu requires no utensils, meaning less cleanup.
Turn off your bright overheads and use amber votive holders, which give off a warm glow. Decorate with metallic accents—they’re instantly festive and bounce light around. Tape light and dimmer switches in place so guests won’t lean on them and ruin the vibe.
To infuse the party with holiday cheer without subjecting folks to back-to-back tracks of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and “Feliz Navidad,” mix “traditional holiday songs with favorite party tunes in a ratio of 3 to 10,” says Kobrin. Try one of these festive playlists:
Rent a coatrack. It beats having guests pile jackets on your bed. Check party-rental sites. Coatracks cost about $20, and many times hangers are included. Put the rack in the entryway against a wall.
Soak dirty dishes. Fill a large plastic bin with warm, soapy water and keep it in the kitchen. Toss in used dishes during the party.
Clear the air. “Crack a window open to circulate fresh, cool air, then adjust as the party heats up,” says Kobrin.
Keep prepared food warm. “A 200-degree oven works as a warming drawer,” says Kelsey Nixon, the host of Kelsey’s Essentials, on the Cooking Channel. This also frees up counter space and provides insurance that your food won’t burn if you forget to take it out.
Signal that the party is over (subtly). Lower the music, blow out a few candles, turn on one light. If guests don’t get the hint, resort to plan B: Start cleaning up.
Dole out leftovers. “Buy Chinese to-go boxes for people to take extras home,” says Kobrin. “The more you get out and give away, the better.” (Takeout boxes, 50 for $19.50, save-on-crafts.com.)
Tidy up a tad (then hit the hay). After guests are gone, take out the trash and recycling so your house doesn’t smell like a bar when you wake up. “Check for furniture or carpet stains and treat those immediately, but otherwise leave the heavy cleaning and furniture moving until morning,” says Andalman.
Should a drink spill or chutney make its way onto your new sofa, at least you can take heat knowing that you sidestepped these more dramatic disasters. Read on for real-life holiday-party horror stories.