How to host a large dinner?

IMG_2610I have hosted large dinners before, but I usually didn’t cook all, or any, of the food. This past Christmas, I did it! And I did it all by myself too. My inner Martha Stewart came out for sure. I broke down the dinner into a couple of categories, which helped me succeed on the a) experience b) taste and c) schedule/time.

The first category I have called Inspiration because that is literally where I begin. I see something that inspires a theme, feel, or color. Then I start a pinterest board. Lucky for me, I always have a board rolling on Christmas. The second category is Menu. Everyone thought I was a little crazy to include this, but you will see why below. The third category I call Logistics; pretty self explanatory. The last category I will call D-Day Action Plan. I guess it was really C-Day, but you know what I mean.

Inspiration

This year’s Christmas inspiration came from two places. If you look closely at the photos, you will there see that there are actually two themes! The black, white, and gold theme I picked out late last year. I saw this tree that left me amazed, and I knew I could have it too! (Especially since my 9 foot tree is white.) The second inspiration came when I was shopping this fall and fell in love with tartan. Pretty much tartan everything. So I wanted a classic looking table setting.

Menu

IMG_2549This year I made a menu and even got it printed through tinyprints (holla). They have been getting my business for a while now. I always thought printed menus were classy, and since I am already married, I didn’t think I would get another opportunity to have them. It also kept me honest and made me feel confident. I made the menu over a few days by looking up traditional Christmas dinner meals, and then adding some of my favorites (mushrooms), some of my husband’s (corn). Before I knew it I had a full dinner menu! Though I still ran it by my willing sister-in-law to get the final ‘okay’.
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The menu is important for two reasons. First, you make your grocery list based on that menu. I found recipes online that did automatic conversions when I multiplied the volume; that was so helpful! The second reason is that it stops you from going bananas. It is easy, especially during holidays, to buy extra cake, extra this or that, and just one more thing. Before you know it, you have way too much food. We did have leftovers, but nothing out of this world. It made me realize that keeping to the menu is very important!

Logistics

Logistics come quite naturally to me, so I was going to skip this section. But then I thought I should share if it helps others. The first thing I made was a list of who was invited and got a rough confirmation of numbers. Then I confirmed I had enough chairs and table space. It turns out, I did not, but that’s okay! We went and bought more folding tables and chairs to add to the dining room. Then I made sure each person had one drinking glass, one spare glass, one large plate, one dessert plate, set full of cutlery, a napkin (I like IMG_2547linen), and a place setting which included a name tag, dinner menu, and Christmas cracker.

Then I made sure there were at least 3 to 4 areas in my house for various activities. I made one room the gingerbread house making station (out of graham crackers, I am not crazy okay!), another the chill-zone by the tree & fireplace, the dining room to eat, and lastly the kitchen and island (a common male stomping ground).

Finally, I set up the tables and chairs extra early to make sure everything would fit. I had one small surprise, but it was easily fixed, and that’s the stress you don’t want on D-Day! Next I wrote a list of things to do the day before the dinner. For me that included most of the chopping and peeling, and making the desserts. Then I created a schedule from the time I woke up, until dinner time the day of. My schedule included things like; put in the turkey, baste the turkey, start the gravy, have a shower, start potatoes, blow dry hair, and so on. This helped me more than I realized because it didn’t go to plan! I knew the dependencies of my scheduled time and was able to make it work regardless of being behind by 20 minutes. Only I knew that, but still.

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Although I made a list, it’s important as a host to remember to enjoy your time too. I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t get “things done” at the detriment of enjoying peoples’ company. I also made sure I didn’t refuse help. In fact, all of the little things everyone did let me get the dinner ready pretty damn close to on time. So remember that on D-Day it isn’t about being perfect, but being perfectly happy! Because you did the best you could, and people you love are coming to see you! (and eat the food too)