How To Be A Good Dinner Host—Have A Party Guests Will Talk About Later

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This time of year I look forward to getting cozy in bed in a cool bedroom, checking out the holiday lights as I take my dog for a stroll, or even just cooking and sharing a meal with my best friends. While some Canadians are hosting their very first holiday gatherings, some of us are veteran hosts (hats off to those of you, btw). Whatever the size of your fête, I’ve got you covered with my well-organized party planning guide. If you follow this guide, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the holidays with your closest friends without worrying about a thing.

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Prep as much as you can ahead of time

Remember this golden rule: Preparation is key. Do as much as you can in advance to transform tasks of cooking and entertaining into a more manageable and enjoyable evening for yourself as much as your guests. Marinate meats, chop vegetables, set the table and freeze dessert beforehand. These time-saving measures allow you to breathe, and they’ll ensure that your holiday gathering is filled with ease, rather than last-minute hustle.

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Curate a playlist

Spare your guests the task of controlling the music – unless they request to do so. Instead, prep a playlist in advance. If your party has a theme, tailor your playlist to complement it. Select tunes loved by the group or even choose a pre-prepared playlist like this Holiday Cocktail mix on Spotify.

According to a survey from Wine Rack, 93 per cent of millennials and gen Z feel a curated playlist while drinking wine is integral to enhancing the occasion. Listen to the tunes in the playlist above and tell me that doesn’t make you want to sip a nice glass of red wine. 

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Light a candle in the bathroom before guests arrive

Taking care of the little things is often what sets an OK host apart from a great one. Before your guests arrive, place a softly scented candle in the bathroom. This small gesture makes the powder room warm and friendly, and it extends your hosting prowess beyond the dining table. The holidays are all about making your home feel welcoming, and a bathroom with a pleasing smell is a great way to do that. Plus, it’s better than the alternative scent.

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Make a charcuterie board

Whether you’re serving just a selection of cheeses or a whole array of accoutrements, charcuterie boards are always a good idea. Choose a stylish serving board to steal the show, even for last-minute board prep. You can’t go wrong with a classic wooden cutting board, or you could opt for one made from marble or slate for an elevated serving look.

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Serve wine that’s guaranteed to be a hit

If you’re looking to serve a luxury wine that wine newbies and connoisseurs alike will savour, look no further than a Canadian wine. Nicholas Gizuk, the Inniskillin Niagara Estate winemaker, tells me, “If you’re throwing a party and need a crowd-pleaser, a clean, dry pinot usually wins over the room. Also make sure you have something fun that will be a conversation starter like a pet-nat, sparkling or an icewine for when your guests first arrive.” Imagine walking in the door and a glass of wine is put in your hand before you sit –now that’s good hosting.

If you’re wondering about what temperature to serve your wine, try Gizuk’s quick wine hack. “Most reds work well at room temperature or if it’s a sweeter wine, give it a bit of a chill. Serve whites chilled, but make sure they are not just plopped in an ice bath and left there because they will get too cold too quickly.” 

Guzik tells me he likes to open whites as the evening progresses and offer them to guests on the initial opening to make sure they get to try them at their best temperature.

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Strategically plan out the menu

Your festive holiday menu doesn’t have to be a complicated affair. It’s the perfect opportunity to have a potluck. While you focus on preparing the main course, let your guests contribute with their favourite sides. Just be sure to coordinate beforehand to avoid duplicate dishes.

To add a sweet touch to your holiday gathering, why not request your guests to bring a single dessert as well? This not only results in an irresistible dessert bar but could also transform into a friendly bake-off. 

Don’t forget the aperitif or some type of drink for after dinner.

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Check TikTok for tablescape inspo

If you’re like me, you’ve likely already spent the last 45 minutes on TikTok watching videos of dinner tables being styled up for a festive party, Considering that the hashtag #ChristmasTablescape has racked up 63 million views on TikTok. 

The well-styled table has become the unexpected centrepiece of the holiday fête. Maybe it’s because we all embraced cooking and hosting at home during the pandemic, or maybe it’s because peak entertaining season presents an excellent opportunity to pull out that linen tablecloth you hardly use. Either way, a good-looking table setting should be part of the evening.

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Set out place cards

I love place cards. There is something about seeing my name encouraging me to sit that just makes me feel special. Elevate the dining experience at your next gathering with elegantly crafted place cards at the table. This detail not only ensures a well-organized seating arrangement but also adds a personalized touch. Plus, they can take them home after if they want. I always take mine as a keepsake.

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Use a photobooth

I don’t know about you, but I love a photo booth. Whether you use it to capture group photos or us it to learn the latest TikTok dance, it’s a lot of fun. Designate a space where you and your friends can get creative. Set up a backdrop with a Happy Holidays banner and/or balloons, and add a prop basket filled with speech bubbles, wigs, fake flowers, you name it!

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Leave the dishes until the guests leave

With dessert disappearing, you might be tempted to immediately start tackling that mountain of dishes. But wait – a cordial host knows that the end of a meal isn’t the end of the party. 

Take this time to truly be present with your guests, share stories and create memories. The dishes can wait until your guests have hopped in their Uber, allowing you to experience every moment of holiday cheer to its fullest. 

After all, memories are more important than clean dishes. And a good party exists, not only in the tasty food, but also in the gossip and fun convos.