9 Grandparents Share Their Best Hosting Tips and Here’s What They Swear By
Few people know more about hosting big gatherings than grandparents. With decades of practice — from holidays as new parents to welcoming grandkids into the mix — they’ve had years to hone the details that make any party or gathering truly great. Grandparents have learned what to let go of and what to focus their time and attention on. Plus, they’ve navigated countless food trends and various palates, making them experts at planning the perfect meal.
We asked nine grandparents what makes an ideal party, especially around the holidays. Read on for their expert advice:
Food is the center of the party — so plan thoughtfully.
It’s no secret that food takes a gathering to the next level, so a few simple steps can ensure that no one leaves needing to hit the drive-thru on the way home.
1. Consider everyone’s needs.
“When cooking for our crew, I need to take different dietary needs into consideration so everyone feels comfortable. One of my kids is not a huge fan of meat, although not quite a vegetarian. I make two batches of stuffing — one with sausage and one without. After several years of doing this, I realized I was still using chicken stock in the ‘meatless’ stuffing! Oops! Thankfully, because they are not a strict vegetarian, they thought it was funny.” —Bernadette G., Pennsylvania; has been hosting parties for 30 years
2. Prep what you can ahead of time.
“I make the mashed potatoes in the slow cooker that morning to keep them warm until dinner. I also make things like coleslaw, broccoli casserole, and other side dishes the day before whenever I am hosting a party.” —Patty F., Pennsylvania; has been hosting parties for 39 years
3. There’s no shame in using premade sides.
“I just buy the stuffing mix from the grocery store already chopped. The time saved is worth the added cost.” —Laura M., Ohio; has been hosting parties for 15 years
4. Plan for the downtime.
“Have what I call an ‘interim’ course between the meal and dessert! This is so that slower eaters don’t feel rushed, and faster eaters don’t get impatient. [It’s] often a mix of sweet and savory food. I will put out fresh cheeses, chocolates, pastries, dips and veggies. I like to give the faster eaters something to do with their hands, so crudité or a charcuterie board is a great way to let the people who have finished their meal continue picking and munching while having conversation. It’s a lovely transitional time, and we often serve coffee and tea as well.” —Elisabeth D., New York; has been hosting parties for 28 years
5. A snack station is key.
“I place bowls and platters of chips, cheese and crackers, and other bites on a large lazy Susan wherever everyone will congregate. This way, all the food is easily accessible, and you don’t have to worry whether people are able to get the snacks they want.” —Mary Ann S., Illinois; has been hosting parties for 70 years
6. Organize your way to a successful potluck.
“Clear clutter from your counters to ensure there’s space for all the dishes everyone will bring. Then, stick Post-It notes along the counter so everyone knows exactly where to put their offering!” —Patti M., Ohio; has been hosting parties for 35 years
7. It is OK to outsource.
“I love to cook and bake, but sometimes I choose to support a local business instead. This takes pressure off me and supports someone’s business venture. This year I pre-ordered pies and pumpkin rolls from a local preschool fundraiser. It helps a good cause and allows me to spend more time with my guests.” —Karen S., Pennsylvania; has been hosting parties for 46 years
Take time to set the scene.
Pinterest and Instagram are full of beautiful tablescapes and lofty aspirations, but these grandparents say less is more.
8. One simple step makes course transitions easy.
“I like to put two tablecloths on my table, so that when dinner is finished, if there are any messy stains left behind, a festive tablecloth is waiting right underneath just in case of serious spills and grease stains from little hands or inebriated folks.” —Elisabeth D.
9. Decorate from the heart.
“I am an eclectic decorator — I choose what warms my heart and brings memories together. Start with the room your guests will spend the most time in. You’d be surprised by how many heartwarming conversations take place around the tree as they’re asking about certain items that I’ve strategically placed as conversation starters.” —Karen S.
10. Think about safety and aesthetics.
“I’m very careful of any small toys, decorations, or even hard edible items like nuts and shells that might be mixed in with tablescapes and decor. The holidays are time for bringing in foods that we don’t usually use at other times of the year, so we’re generally not prepared for the potential hazards. Don’t want to lose a tooth for the holidays.” —Elisabeth D.
11. Sometimes, less is more.
“I am not into decor for the holidays. Just a tree — with fabulous hand-blown glass ornaments made by me — stockings, and a nativity. Otherwise, I hate the clutter, finding a place to store it, then taking it back down … ‘ugh’ to all of it.” —Bernadette G.
12. But have fun with the decorations.
“I like to put fun activities on the table like a little diorama of the holidays, which people can explore and feel comfortable touching and talking about. Nothing so formal that people feel uncomfortable actually holding it and looking at it up close.” —Elisabeth D.
“I get inexpensive holiday tablecloths people can doodle on. It’s fun to take them out year after year and admire everyone’s handiwork and improved skills.” —Karen S.
“Embrace a themed party. From festive cups and decorated food labels to an over-the-top cake, have fun with it! I’ve even gone so far as to cover silverware holders just to add a little something extra to the buffet line.” —George Ann N., Ohio; has been hosting parties for 45 years
Be thoughtful about everyone’s space and needs.
Cramming a bunch of guests into a few rooms for a day or a weekend always means added stressors. Thinking ahead helps make things run more smoothly.
13. Don’t waste valuable visiting time on chores.
“I do all the prep work the day before, including getting the house ready — cleaning, getting beds ready, baking, setting up the serving table — so that the day everyone arrives is not so stressful.” —Lisa N., Florida
14. Some very creative solutions can make everyone feel welcome.
“We downsized to a house that doesn’t fit everyone, so we rented an RV and parked it outside so that everyone had an actual bed and some space. It’s just nice to have a real bed — everyone is back inside our house when they are not sleeping!” —Bernadette G.
15. Keep drinks simple.
“Either buy single-serving drinks like cans or bottles, or leave a Sharpie on the drink table so folks can label their cups. It’s simpler than fancy drink charms, but it does the trick.” —Karen S.
16. Don’t overdo it as a host.
“Don’t feel like you need to stay up to entertain. Most of the time, guests are tired and want some time to wind down, too.” —Laura M.
17. Always think ahead to next year.
“Shop the sales year to year, after that holiday is concluded. You’ll find things to make the next year even better.” —Karen S.
18. Lean into the nostalgia.
“Prior to my adult kids coming home, I always ask if there is a certain type of food they are really missing. They give me choices, and I make sure I have something special for them.” —Laura M.
Be thankful, no matter the occasion.
Find a moment in the midst of all the fun to show your thanks for friends and family.
19. Remember the most important part of the gathering — togetherness.
“And finally, we do love to say our gratitude, but I think it’s best kept until towards the end of the meal when people really are feeling grateful for family. Hopefully, the meal served is a wonderful reminder of the meaning of family and the magic of the holidays.” —Elisabeth D.