My Mother has a Holiday Open House every year for her clients so I decided to write her a "How To" Blog to help her have a stress free Open House this year (Stress-Free is the Key Word here). Even though she has been doing it for years it still becomes the most stressful time for her (I usually like to avoid her house around this time).
A Holiday Open House is by design a very relaxed and informal party and a great way to entertain a large group during the holidays. The best thing about it is that friends and neighbors can arrive at their convenience betweeen a very wide timeframe and during these busy times it really is such a wonderful gesture. What I love the most about this type of party is that you usually have a lot of time to get to really catch-up with friends and family since you can are able to do it during staggered times in the day verses that 2-3 hour window you have at most parties.
So here is a candy cane-to-nuts schedule for a stress-free open house that leaves you plenty of time to enjoy your guests.
When you send your invitations let people know that it's ok to bring children (or not). Be sure to include a definitive ending time—1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Otherwise, you may have guests arriving late into the night.
Keet your menu simple. Serve foods that can be prepared ahead of time. Limiting beverages to egg nog, sparkling water, juices, and wine should work; also, make sure you put them in self-serving dishes or containers. Create a schedule of when each dish can be made, as well as a shopping list.
If you need additional chairs, serveware or dinnerware be sure and reserve any needed rental items. The rule of thumb is two plates, forks, and glasses per guest. (Rental glasses—tumblers are more worry-free than stemware—are a time-saver, since you just rinse and return them.) Another good idea and cost-effective one is to borrow any additional items needed.
Hire a cleaning service or serving assistant to help you throughout the day; it's always nice to have a second set of hands. If you can't afford a professional hire a neighborhood teen to help out. This will definiltey free you up if you’re expecting a big crowd. (It’s also okay to ask guests to help pass drinks and nibbles, which encourages them to mingle.)
Decorate with lots of candles and greenery. For greenery and florals ask that they be delivered about five days before the party. .Buy any other needed decorations, or order them online. Order any specialty foods, locally or online, as well.
Decide whether you’ll be giving a parting gift and what it will be. It’s nice to send people home with something like your own cookies (preferably freezable so you can make them way ahead) or paperwhite narcissus bulbs.
Don't forget to clean any crystal, china, and silverware since you probably haven't used it since last year.
On your big shopping run buy all the nonperishable ingredients you’ll need for your menu, and all beverages. Generally, calculate three bottles of wine for every four people (or, if you are serving cocktails, three to four drinks per guest for a two- to three-hour party).
Prepare any freezable dishes on the menu.
Buy the perishable food items. Pick up the breads, produce, dairy products, and ice (one pound per person). .Start setting up the party area. Set up the buffet table—preferably one accessible from all sides—with flatware, plates, platters, serving utensils, and napkins. Make a bar station away from the table and a coffee-and-dessert station if needed. Tuck away anything that will be in the way, precious items that might get broken (or even be taken), and any clutter.
Decorate. Arrange greenery, candles, etc. Need some inspiration? Find holiday decorating ideas on our site, Social Couture.
Designate a place for coats. Make space in a closet and fill it with hangers. You could also choose a bed for coats (make sure the room is especially tidy and free of valuables, so you won’t need to worry about them), or purchase an inexpensive portable garment rack.
It's time to start cooking. Only warming and assembling should be needed on party day.
Give your house a once-over. Do whatever touch-ups are needed.
On the morning of the party, finish setting up. Push furniture against the walls, and put out any rental chairs.
Arrange any cheeses on platters. Label each (name, origin, flavor characteristics).
Just before guests arrive arrange the breads on platters and set out appetizers and snacks that won’t spoil. Wrap them tightly to ensure freshness; tear off the wrap when the first guest rings the doorbell. Then have a glass of wine, breathe, and enjoy.