Simple, Essential Tips for Entertaining at Home

If you’ve pulled up your calendar recently and thought “This is the year I’ll host a holiday dinner or throw a festive party” then today’s post is for you, as we’re going to deep dive into entertaining at home.

Christmas Eve is just 6 weeks down the road and New Year’s Eve a mere 7 days after. It’s never too early to begin planning.

In this post I’ll explain how to choose a menu and help you discover your hospitality style. I’ll also list the questions to ask before planning to host and help you figure out the flow of the event.

So set the date for your party (ahem, bookmark this post for repeated referencing) and let’s get started.

Yours truly at the family table. Photo by Denis Duquette

Hospitality has been a focus of this blog ever since the beginning and together we’ve learned a lot along the way. I’ve been through nearly every stage of hosting from having a minuscule table in a tiny apartment rental to an epic canoe buffet for eighty — and everything in between.

Today’s post presents simple, essential tips for entertaining at home. It’s still my favourite thing to do. Ever.

Friends, I’m throwing a lot at you in this post; don’t feel like you have to download it all and apply absolutely everything to your gatherings. If you only absorb one great tip for entertaining at home, then that’s perfect! You’re off and away and my work here is done.

Questions to ask when planning to host

Before you start shopping for those winter sangria ingredients, run through these questions and have an honest conversation with yourself and any co-hosts. These questions will help you plan your menu and set the tone of the event.

  • Who is coming? Friends or family? The boss or the co-worker? Kids or not?
  • What works for your home? Can you seat people for meal around a table? Is a cheese board served up on the coffee table a better option?
  • What’s the occasion? Is a casual brunch more your vibe or are you picturing a glam NYE extravaganza?
  • What’s the budget? Can you budget the bubbly for the aforementioned NYE party or are you better off hosting a pot-luck or BYOB – Bring Your Own Bubbles?
  • What’s the weather? Is it warm enough to extend the party outdoors (and extend the guest list)?
  • What inspires you? Are you a baker extraordinaire? A regular Martha Stewart? Do you already have a Pinterest board at the ready?
  • What’s the available time investment? Love to host but your days are booked solid? Consider a simple event that you can prep in advance.

What’s your hospitality style?

So you’ve answered the questions above. They should give you an idea of what is realistic for your event.

Now on to the next question: What sort of gathering suits the occasion and sounds like the most fun? Pay attention to what jumps out at you as enjoyable, not aspirational.

  • Morning coffee/Afternoon tea
  • Weekend brunch
  • The buffet lunch
  • The plated, multi-course dinner party
  • The family-style dinner party
  • Pizza party / ordering in
  • Wine & Cheese (formal or informal)
  • The backyard barbecue

The list goes on!

  • Dessert buffet
  • The pot-luck dinner
  • Just appys/finger food aka ‘Happy Hour‘ or ‘A Cocktail Soirée’
  • Bonfire night – cider or cocoa, marshmallows, popcorn & apples
  • The Birthday Party or Cake & Coffee
  • The DIY buffet (taco bar, sandwiches, chili bar, etc)
  • The Pie Social or Cookie Swap
The holiday cookie swap

Did you pick two or three events that feel like a good fit for you as a host? It’s best to be in your comfort zone when welcoming others into your home.

5 Questions to ask when planning the menu

Keep these questions in the back of your mind as you work out what to serve at your gathering.

  1. What do I love to cook?
  2. Do I have a balance of food groups?
  3. How much food will we need?
  4. Have I considered special diets?
  5. What can I delegate? (my favourite!)

Where will I serve the food?

People + chairs + food = party. It’s important that the basic math adds up for your event. Here’s a quick example of how I decide where to serve my meal based on number of guests.

4 – 10 guests — Around the dining room table, family style meal (meaning platters of food in the middle of the table).
10 – 15 guests — Dining room table, plus a smaller ‘kids table’. Family style meal.
15 – 35 guests — Buffet service, often finger food with no utensils required. Youngest children, such as toddlers etc, seated at the table, usually with a parent. Seating throughout house with plenty of space on side tables for cups/plates.
40 guests — Backyard, buffet service on end-to-end picnic tables, outdoor bar, only during summer months except on the rare occasion

Final Entertaining Tips

Because this post isn’t long enough yet! J/K. Obviously this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I promise, these are my last simple, essential tips for entertaining at home.

  1. Don’t attempt a new recipe. Go with a dish that is tried and true. And cook a dish or menu that you love!
  2. Keep a menu journal, making simple notes on gatherings you’ve hosted. Note what worked and what didn’t, what to keep and turn into tradition and what to toss forever.
  3. Consider the modern dinner party and bring what is important to you to the forefront, be it seasonal eating or low-waste lifestyle.
  4. When gathered with guests at the table, remember the simple acronym T. A. B. L. E….Take time. Ask questions. Be present. Listen. Empathize.
  5. Have fun!

Images by Allison Slattery and Tim Chin. Food Styling by Aimee Bourque (moi!) and Kerrie Ahern. Food was consumed and enjoyed by all.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Jennifer Jo says

    And now I’m feeling inspired!!

  2. Hi Aimee!
    Great article! It’s help me too much in arrangement of dishes whenever guests are coming at my home.
    Thanks for sharing the wonderful article with us.

  3. Thank you! I love having a lot of people round but our house is on the smaller side. I think I need to think more about buffet/finger food menus. Thank you for always being practical and inspiring!!

  4. What an amazing round-up! I love hosting during the holidays. I often will host Christmas coffee dates or brunch, when people are not so over-scheduled. I’ve already made my ingredient list for all my favourite recipes. 🙂 This has definitely give me some more inspiration. Lovely photos as well. xo

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