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8 Secrets to Hosting a Fabulous Holiday Party on a Budget

Holidays mean parties! Use these tips from Paul Kenny, author of Impromptu Friday Nights, A Guide to Supper Clubs, to throw a memorable bash without breaking the bank.


Set a theme

When planning a holiday party, a specific theme can set a direction and make all the decision making loads easier. Whether the theme is something visual, like holly leaves, something conceptual, like gratitude, or a menu theme, like comfort food hors-d’oeuvres (one of my personal favorites for holiday get-togethers), let it guide the menu development, the invitee list, the decorations, and even the drinks to be served. Here are 21 appetizers for Christmas that everyone will love. Or consider these 11 lucky New Year’s Eve foods.


Create a menu

With the holiday theme and heavy hors-d’oeuvres focus, develop a menu of comfort foods you know everyone will love but that also considers a variety of dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan. While holiday parties are by nature not diet-friendly events, it’s important to have offerings that take into consideration the special needs of your guests.

Here’s a sample holiday party menu:

  • Cranberry, Mint Mojitos
  • Cheese and Bacon Gougères
  • Crudité with Tapenade or Almond Bacon Crostini
  • Roasted Pepper Involito
  • Chips with a Caramelized Shallot and Blue Cheese Dip
  • Grill-Roasted Shrimp with a Southwestern Sauce
  • Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs with a Sweet Chili Sauce
  • The Ultimate Secret Recipe Brownie
mushroomsBrent Hofacker/shutterstock

Check your menu for key features

Before you lock in a menu, consider whether it meets three very important criteria:

Everything can be made in advance. You want to enjoy being with your guests and not stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is having a good time. Choose items that can be served at room temperature or can be placed in a warmer (e.g. meatballs in a crockpot).

Some menu-related tasks can be delegated. Think of items that you can farm out to other guests to prep, whether it’s placing the credit topping on the bread slices or plating the chips and dip. There is no reason the host has to do all the work. Plus, people like to help and are usually grateful that someone else has stepped up and hosted the party.

There’s a good balance between splurges and savings. The menu really sets the cost for the event. For example, beef tenderloin is a great holiday party item, but can get expensive. Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs are a low-cost item that also pleases carb-conscious guests.


Gather recipes

With the menu of tried and true comfort foods, you probably have recipes in your repertoire from past events and/or family collections. And you can always find more on the Internet. Just keep in mind: Gorgeous recipes on the Internet don’t always work so well in your own kitchen. Too often hosts will jump from an Internet search to serving a recipe at a party and wind up with a disaster. (Check out these massive kitchen fails!) Consider doing a dry run with new recipes, and when it comes to holiday comfort foods, it’s never hard to find a test panel.

table setting Natalia Klenova/shutterstock

Decorate for the season

You certainly don’t want to make one of these 18 holiday decorating mistakes when prepping for the season, but often when it comes to holiday décor, less is more. Try hanging decorative lanterns or string lights and placing votive candles in clear glass jars to create a festive atmosphere. For tableware, save on plates and cutlery by buying plain white, and splurge on boldly patterned or metallic napkins for a pop of color. Placement is important too: Consider handing out drinks near the door and keeping food stations in the back—or around the house—to allow for better flow. Use these tips to throw an amazing party in a small space.

quicheMoving Moment/shutterstock

Develop a game plan

With your menu and recipes set, figure out when and how everything will get done. You’ll want to round up your menu, all the recipes you’ll need, a list of ingredients to buy (and the stores where you’ll need to buy them), plus who will make each thing and when. Consider which items can be made in advance and frozen and which will need your attention the day and the night before the party. Make sure that not all appetizers will need to be warmed in the oven or assembled at the eleventh hour. This document becomes your work plan and security blanket. Nothing relieves stress more than knowing that you have it under control.

partyYulia Grigoryeva/shutterstock

Promote the party

Draft a list of invitees and the get the word out. I believe in a multi-media approach. In today’s world, we are barraged with all kinds of information and not everyone responds equally to one type of communication. I like to start with an e-mail (Evite works great), follow up with a text, and then really connect face-to-face or with a phone call. The e-mail has the benefit of providing the key information (who – Host/other invitees, what – theme, where – address and when – date /time). A follow-up text is great because it sets up a one-to-one communication and encourages individualized responses versus the reply-all dilemma. Actually talking to someone is probably the best. That way you can talk about the menu, generate interest, and set the stage for delegation. This is especially important if you’re considering throwing a pot-luck party—and here’s how to throw a successful pot-luck if you go that route.

partyMonkey Business Images/shutterstock

Make a great first impression

So much of our impression of a party gets set at the very start. There are a few things that really help:

  • Walking into a house that smells great gets people thinking that they are in for a culinary treat. I love to have gougeres cooking in the oven as a guests arrive. They smell fantastic and taste even better.
  • Signature drinks also provide an opportunity to let the guest know that they are welcome. Something customized to your theme is fun, but beer, wine, or even a non-alcoholic punch works well. The key is to make people feel welcome.
  • Visual appeal. People eat with their eyes. Show them something that looks good and they will think it tastes great.

Hopefully, these tips will set you up to put together a great party. It should spark your creative juices and give you tools to manage through many of the challenges that come with hosting a holiday party. No matter what challenges you face, remember to share the work and cost and once the party starts, focus on enjoying your guests.

Paul Kenny is the author of Impromptu Friday Nights: a Guide to Supper Clubs (January 30, 2018). All recipes above can be found at