Organization and prep are the secrets to pulling off a fun gathering.

By Shandra Martinez

Whether it’s for your office or neighborhood friends, planning a large holiday party can be overwhelming. Even knowing where to begin can sometimes be a challenge. So for advice, we turned to the professional planners at Meijer, who organize more than 3,000 annual events. They’re responsible for handling all the behind-the-scenes details for celebrity appearances at the stores, as well as the popular “Shop with a Cop” children’s gift-buying trips during the holidays. Here are some of their tips:


A good plan is a big time-saver.

Begin with some basic lists — everything from who is invited to what will be needed on the big day. Every detail should go on these lists, big and small. Make sure to include the obscure things like gravy boats, salt and pepper shakers, hot pads, wine openers and coasters. Then, make a list of steps to accomplish — from gathering recipes to buying non-perishables. Set deadlines and put them on your calendar so you won’t forget.


Keep the menu simple.

A delicious holiday spread doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate. This isn’t a time to try new ideas. Stick with crowd-pleasers that are simple and easy to prepare. Know what you are good at and outsource the rest. Take advantage of pre-made platters and ready-to-bake appetizers that will save you time. Be considerate of guests with different dietary needs by including tasty vegetable dishes for the vegans and low-sugar treats for those who have health issues like diabetes.


Stick to your budget

It’s easy to overspend on parties, especially on last-minute items. Smart planning can keep you on budget. Begin by estimating how much you will spend on food, decorations, and party supplies. The biggest expense will likely be the menu. While there isn’t a perfect formula because of variables such as no-shows and guests who bring friends, this party planning chart gives good guidance. By spreading out the shopping over a few weeks or longer, you’ll have more time to advantage of deals and sales.


Prepping for your prep.

Getting ready for the big day of cooking requires understanding how long it will take to create the main course. For turkey, that means hours for roasting after days for thawing safely in the refrigerator. (Check out this calculator to see how long you will need for both.) When possible, bake dishes ahead of time and freeze. Your schedule should account for oops. Have extra basic ingredients on hand so you don’t have to run out to the store if you need to redo a recipe. Pro Tip: Test out cooking timers. Use a timer and alarms for your to-do items. This will keep you on track.


Make time for the calm before the party.

Plan to be done with your prep work 30 minutes before guests arrive, so you can have some time to relax and prep yourself. Remember, it’s about spending time with your guests. Guests want to be comfortable in your home. If you are stressed, they are stressed.


If you aren’t hosting a party, this is your chance to shine as a gracious guest.

If you are bringing something warm or cold, don’t assume there is room in the oven or refrigerator. Invest in a thermal case or crock pot. Take along your own disposal platters and serving utensils so you aren’t concerned if they aren’t returned to you. It’s one less thing the host has to worry about. One way to show appreciation for the hard work that goes into hosting a party is a thoughtful gift, such as candles, stationery, or Christmas ornaments. With a season of parties ahead, consider creating a box of these items that are ready to go.




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