10 Thankfully Simple Ways to Be a More Relaxed Host

updated Nov 20, 2023
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There’s a chill in the air and the holidays are almost upon us. The days of meeting in the park for a casual picnic or lounging al fresco with a cool drink are behind us until next spring, and the invites are rolling in for holiday parties, game nights, and all of the cozy gatherings that make the dark days of winter a little brighter. 

And it’s all fun and sequined outfits until you decide to take the plunge and host a little get-together yourself. All of a sudden, you’re worried about oven timelines, ounces of wine per guest calculations, and hoping the playlist you choose hits the right sophisticated soiree note. But don’t sweat it: Throwing a successful holiday party doesn’t have to be complicated.

Remember, the number one way to throw a relaxed gathering is just to relax yourself. “If you’re relaxed, your guests will be relaxed. Guests definitely can pick up on your vibe. So the less you have to do, the more relaxed your guests will feel,” says publicist Jordanna Stephen, who not only knows how to put on a successful event, but also loves entertaining at home. We’ll take her word for it — and the word of these other event experts.

Here are 10 ways to be a more relaxed host and actually enjoy your own holiday gathering.

1. Plan ahead.

The earlier you start working on the party, the less you’ll have to rush to get everything ready by the big day. “Make lists, set a schedule, and tackle tasks gradually to avoid last-minute stress,” says Susan Ashley Boykin, owner of North-Carolina-based party-planning company Social Conceptions. “Planning ensures you’re organized and have time for everything.”

2. Don’t be afraid to delegate.

Throwing a party is hard work, but the good news is you probably have at least a few guests who would love to help you — so don’t hesitate to ask. “Enlist friends or family members to assist with decorating, food preparation, and serving,” suggests Boykin. “Sharing responsibilities lightens your load.”

3. Don’t be tempted to grow the guest list.

Event planner Sofia Crokos knows how to throw a sophisticated celebration, paying attention to every detail. But when it comes to her own soirees, she has a simple tip to keep it stress-free. “I keep the guest list small and hyper-tailored to avoid becoming overwhelmed by food and beverage preparation, as well as the following clean-up efforts,” says Crokos. 

“Don’t try to host a lot of people, you’ll be too frazzled trying to entertain the masses. Keep your numbers small,” adds Stephen. “This way your budget, menu, and everything else is manageable.”

Plus, your guests will have more room to move, the space won’t get too loud, and you won’t have to stress about whether you bought enough wine or if your charcuterie board is going to run out. And, those friends that didn’t make the cut this time? It’s an excuse to throw another party!

4. Invest in a few reliably beautiful entertaining pieces.

When you know you have what you need on hand, entertaining becomes effortless. That doesn’t mean you need a different set of serving pieces for every holiday or event. Instead, invest in a few items that you can pull out again and again. 

First up, for all the board fans out there, Crokos says, “I recommend an olive wood block for either cheese, crostini, or bread display. I love working with natural elements to place food on.” 

Add in a white-glazed serving platter that is just as functional for a dinner party as it is a Friday night at home. “I love a beautiful white canvas background to display canapés or vegetables for dinner,” notes Crokos.

Lastly, choose beautiful glassware, whether it’s sparkling cut glass, handmade pottery, or, the practical choice, something unbreakable. You don’t need a different glass for every cocktail. Instead, choose a multipurpose drinking vessel (and don’t hesitate to use it for your morning OJ, too!). 

5. Pick out your outfit beforehand.

To keep things stress-free day-of and avoid tearing apart her closet thinking, “I have nothing to wear!” Stephen likes to choose her outfit ahead of time.

“It might not be your first day back at school, but give it the same energy. Choose an outfit that you’ll feel comfortable, chic, and confident in,” says Stephen. Don’t forget, you may be pulling things in and out of the oven or pouring drinks, so choose something that can take a spill or two and still look polished (it’s the old Lilly Pulitzer founded her line while trying to hide juice stains adage).

6. Decorate the day before.

Stephen says, “Try to set the table and decorate as much as you can the day before. You might think you’ll have time to do it before the guests arrive, but what could go wrong goes wrong.” 

She continues, “It’s good to have as much spare time saved up the day of for incidentals.” If you have to run out to the store to pick up last-minute ice or more cheese, you don’t want to be stressed about what’s at home waiting to be done. 

While cooking after guests arrive — or even giving them chopping and dicing tasks — can make them feel needed and at ease, still setting up while they walk in the door can make guests feed off your own anxiety.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

7. Just keep it simple.

“Keep your theme, decor, menu, and even your guests simple. Honestly, people just want to come together and have a good time,” says Stephen. Something as simple as crock pot chili for a Saturday afternoon get-together, wine and cheese for a Friday evening, or a cook-it-all-day pot roast will keep guests happy. All they want is to eat good food, have a drink or two, and laugh together. And you can provide that without breaking the budget or your stress level. 

“Set up a self-serve drink or food station so guests can help themselves,” says Boykin. “This reduces your role as a host and allows you to enjoy the party as well.” After all, you don’t want to be tethered to the kitchen or bar area all night.

8. Embrace the season.

If you find yourself starting to obsess about the most minor details, stop and recall why you’re having a party in the first place. “Remember that the holiday season is about joy, gratitude, and togetherness,” says Boykin. “Let the holiday spirit guide you, and focus on the positive aspects of hosting rather than stress-inducing details.”

9. Let the event flow.

“The key to being a relaxed host is to be prepared. Any event that is intentional and experiential will be enjoyed by your guests. Decide on how you want to appeal to your guests’ senses,” says Lyndsey Moore of The Lynden Lane Co. Light a few candles, opt for a seating arrangement that encourages conversation and flowing throughout the space (hint: putting everyone in one conversation circle typically doesn’t work!), and put on a playlist in the background. 

With the ambiance in place, you’ll feel like you’ve got it all under control — and so will your guests.

10. Let go of perfection.

Remember all the parties you’ve been to and see if you can even remember any mistakes. While no event goes off entirely according to plan, your guests are unlikely to notice a hitch in the road. When things do go wrong enough for people to actually pay attention, those same unexpected surpises are often later recalled with fondness (think about the blue soup incident in Bridget Jones’s Diary).

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that some things will almost certainly go wrong, and that’s okay. “Remember that the holidays are about spending time with loved ones,” says Boykin. “Your guests are likely to be more focused on enjoying the company and ambiance.”

With that in mind, focus on the big picture rather than obsessing over minor details. “Instead of stressing over perfection, prioritize creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere that encourages conversation and connection,” says Boykin. “Mistakes and unexpected issues will occur; laugh them off and reassure yourself that they won’t ruin the overall enjoyment of the event.”