Holiday Helper 1 – The Host’s Guide to Gatherings

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Image ‘Party Poppers’ courtesy of Simon Howden/

Hello beloved readers! During the month of December I’m going to be writing a series of posts specifically about things to help you prepare for all those Christmas and New Years’ gatherings.

Today we start with tips on planning a gathering and then on Sunday we’ll explore how to run a gathering if you’re on a budget. Other holiday helper posts include tips on barbecuing, summer drinks, best snacks and sides for parties and a crucial post on how to store all those leftovers that you’ll probably end up with. If you’ve found these posts at all useful please share them around all your friends and family, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to tell me how much you loved them.

So to start off this month of Holiday Helpers let’s talk about how to host a gathering at your place. And to help you make it from planning to implementation as well as into cleanup I’ve developed a handy framework you can follow to make sure you don’t forget anything for the day.

Just a word of advice: take your time with the planning and allow a minimum of 3 days of planning and preparation for any party, especially the bigger the party as you’ll need to do everything on a bigger scale.

Types of gatherings

There are a few common types of parties that people usually hold. These are:
  •     Sit down dinners(usually with an entrée, main and dessert).
  •     A stand up finger food party (people mill around talking while eating canapes and mini hotdogs, pies or quiches).
  •     A BBQ (snacks first them meat cooked on the BBQ later for mains).
  •       A buffet (each person takes what they like from the food offered on the table).

This is just a few of the types of gatherings people have, and I’m sure you’ve got your own as well, so don’t think these are the only options.

It’s important to know which type of gathering you’ll hold because in terms of your planning and preparation it can make a huge different. In the instance of a buffet or BBQ it’s probably not too much of a problem if you don’t have certain foods or equipment (except you really do need a BBQ for a BBQ gathering!), but a sit down dinner without the right number of chairs or plates can be a bit of a drama and a definite dampener on the evening.

In order to avoid any dramas, take a look at the Host’s Guide to Gatherings Framework below. Use the framework when you’ve got a party of gathering looming, and take note of all your answers so you can plan out everything you need ahead of time

Basically, if you have a plan, you won’t forget anything and the night will go off without a hitch!

The Host’s Guide to Gatherings Framework

Things to consider
In this stage you want to assess what you have in terms of equipment and food so you can decide on the type of party you want to hold.
·       Do you have enough chairs for everyone, or can you borrow/hire some?
·       Do you have a big enough space for the number of people attending? Should you make the party at a local park/hall instead?
·       Do you have enough plates, cutlery, cups, etc for each person attending, or will you buy some plastic ones?
·       Do you have any serving platters or big dishes and boards for putting food out on if you’re hosting a large party?
·       Do you need to find recipes or will you make things you already know?
·       Have you got decorations for the type of gathering you’re hosting?
·       How many people are you inviting? Do you need to know the exact number?
·       Are you sending out invites? Do you need RSVPs ahead of time?
In this stage you need to plan out what you’ll buy, make and do ahead of time so you can solve any problems before they arise.
Think about the food you’re going to make:
·       Do you need an entrée, main and dessert for every person?
·       Are you going to make a few large pots of food and everyone can help themselves?
·       Are you having snacks out on the table when guests arrive? How many? Are they canapes requiring preparation time or are you opening packets of chips and dips?
·       How much food are you going to have to make yourself? Or can you ask people to bring something?
·       Are you ordering or buying food in? If so, when will you pick it up/get it delivered? And who’s doing the picking up (you’ll need to be home doing other things).
·       When will everything need to be prepared by? What time are the guests arriving?
·       What can you make ahead? How far ahead can it be made?
·       What foods will need heating or making on the day of or during the party?
·       Make a plan of what to do and when it needs doing, then you can just follow it from start to finish over the next few days.
Other things:
·       When will you decorate the house?
·       Do you need someone to help you with decoration, or even in preparing and serving food on the day?
·       Do you need to rearrange the house?
·       Are you going to clean the house/party area before the event?
·       Are you providing alcohol? Where will it be served? A good idea is to have a separate area for drinks so people can make their own while you concentrate on the food.
·       Do you need to borrow/hire another fridge for extra food or the drinks? Or will you fill a tub with ice for drinks?
·       Where will people leave their bags and coats?
·       Is there enough parking out the front of your place? Or will you just leave it to them to find a space?
·       What will you do if it rains on the day and you can’t use the backyard/balcony/local park as you’d planned?
·       Don’t forget to plan in time for you to get dressed and ready to receive guests, and plan in mingling time (you don’t want to be in the kitchen all night).
·       Make your cleaning plan now (see the clean-up section below).
In this stage work out what you can prepare ahead over the few days before the party.
·       Clean the house 1-2 days ahead so there is no last minute stressing.
·       Decide when to decorate and rearrange the house (move chairs, set up tables, etc) and get it done really early – ideally do this after you’ve cleaned the house.
·       Go grocery shopping 2-3 days before so you have time to go back if you forgot a crucial ingredient.
·       Make any foods that can be made 2-3 days ahead – for instance, make any desserts that are frozen (like ice cream) or casseroles which you can freeze now, thaw and reheat on the day. Make anything that will save you time on the day but will last until the event.
·       Prepare some of the salad items and have them ready in containers in the fridge – this works well for salad veg that don’t turn brown, like tomatoes, grated cheese and carrots, etc.
In this stage you need to do the preparation the day before or the morning of the party.
·       Prepare salad items that are more fragile, like chopped lettuce, avocado, etc.
·       Cook any dishes/meals that can be made on the morning of the gathering – or cook parts of meals such as prepare the rice now but leave the meat till later, etc.
·       Bake any desserts that need to be chilled.
(The actual day of the party)
During the party you will need to do a few things, and this stage outlines exactly what you need to do and when.
·       What has to be cooked on the day? Follow the order of preparation on your planning sheet. For instance, put the entrees in the oven when the first guests arrive, or get the lasagna in the oven so it has 2hrs cooking time before it’s needed.
·       Get the bowls and platters out, make sure they’re washed and set them on the table. Open any packets of food into their allocated bowl and get the canapes or cheese platter of the fridge an hour before guests arrive.
At the end of any party you’ll need to clean up the leftover food, but also make sure you clean up the house too. In this stage consider the best ways of cleaning up ahead of time to make it a much faster and easier process after the party.
Clean up plan:
·       Where will dirty dishes go during the night?
·       When will you run the dishwasher?
·       Will you need to wash plates between entrée and main?
·       How many garbage bins will you have? Will you have some around the room so people can clean away their own mess as they go (like lolly wrappers and the paper around champagne bottles, etc)?
·       Will you clean up straight after the gathering or leave it all to the next morning?
·       Where will you store all the leftover food? And when will you put things away?
Feedback (optional)
This stage is optional, but is a good idea to complete if you’re planning other parties soon.
A day or so after the party jot down notes on what worked and what could be improved for next time. Pay particular attention to whether food was served on time, whether it was warm/cold enough or whether you had enough space in the oven for everything you needed. Maybe next time you need to pick one item for the freezer, another for the oven and a third for the stove so you don’t need the same appliance for everything.


Hopefully the above framework can help you to get everything planned out ahead of time so there are no dramas on the day. Making sure you plan out your meals can especially help you get everything ready on time so you don’t have to hang out in the kitchen all night and you can actually spend your time chatting to all your guests.

The below are a some images to help you remember a couple of the points listed in the framework above.

Get the bowls and platters ready: keep the unopened packets in their allocated dishes so they can be opened when guests arrive.


Prepare veggies ahead


I hope the Host a Gathering Framework has been helpful. Please share it around Facebook, Twitter (use the buttons at the end of this post) or anywhere else if you found this post useful.

Question: Have you got any tips on running a gathering? What do you do that I forgot to mention above? What could we add to the framework?

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