If you’re hosting the family for the holidays this year, you’re not alone: AAA predicts more than 53 million people will travel for Thanksgiving in 2021 thanks to reopened borders and vaccine rollouts worldwide. Opening up your home to family and friends can be pretty tough, though — between the cleaning, the cooking and the nonstop socializing, hosting can be a lot to handle.
If you prepare in advance to host this holiday season, you can set yourself up to handle every last mess and meal. As an event planner myself with my company Fête du Jour Events, I know it’s the overlooked details that can really make or break the overall success of a party. From organizational tools to helpful decor, we rounded up some of our favorite hosting essentials we think Select readers will appreciate.
Holiday hosting essentials in 2021
To help you host during the holiday season and beyond, we asked professional party planners for some of their favorite hosting essentials. As a party planner, I also included some of my own recommendations and advice with Select reader interest in mind.
Hosting essentials for the kitchen and dining room
With so much to do in a finite amount of time, a notepad can help keep you on track leading up to your event. “Be sure to add even the smallest of tasks like ‘remove cheese from fridge a few hours before serving’ so that you don’t forget anything during prep,” advised Joey Skladany, lifestyle expert and author of “Basic Bitchen.”
When the party’s at your place, you will need every free inch of counter space you can get for meal prep and, later, cleaning. This over-the-sink drying rack allows you to wash and dry simultaneously, saving you both time and space.
Single-use toothpicks are pretty wasteful. If you want to limit how much you’re throwing away at the end of your meal, opt for reusable ones instead. “Pop these into easy-to-grab food to eliminate the need for appetizer plates,” said Lory Parson, content creator and hosting expert of To Have and To Host. While these are technically cocktail sticks, they can easily be stuck into finger food for fast (and sanitary) picking.
To get the most use out of the table linens you invest in, Parson said to opt for neutral colors and designs. “You can simply add a pop of color with a festive napkin ring rather than investing in a holiday linens that you’ll only use once a year,” she noted.
Save your guests the headache of choosing a seat and assign ones for them with festive and fun place cards. These acrylic holders will blend in with most holiday decor while adding a touch of modern style to your tablescape. When it comes to the types of name cards you choose, Skladany said that personalization is everything. “Love is in the details,” he added.
A more intricate serving piece like this one can be used to display small appetizers at the beginning of the night and then repurposed to hold bite-sized desserts at the end. “(These) can display any type of baked good and provide wonderful variations in height and color,” said Skladany.
Some people use their finest china or borrow some from friends (Parson likes to mix and match), but if you don’t have any formal dinnerware, you can actually rent your china for the occasion. Social Studies offers nearly 40 different fully styled sets to rent and each order includes a full place setting for each guest with add-ons like runners and votives. The best part? No dish washing.
Having water on the table when guests go to sit can be a huge time saver. “Guests can fill and refill their own glasses without feeling like they are bothering the host,” explained Parson. Fill some with still and some with sparkling to appease all guests.
“If serving food buffet style, invest in mini chalkboard easels to write out the names of each dish,” suggested Skladany. Not only will these help you avoid questions, but their farmhouse style will also add to the decor.
Other hosting essentials
A clothing rack is a great addition to your entry or sitting area for people to hang their coats as they enter. This one can hold up to 35 hangers and folds for easy storage once the party’s over. It’s also on wheels so you can move it to an unused room during the party to keep it out of the way.
A stylish bar cart is not only a decor piece you can enjoy year-round — it’s also useful as a gathering place for guests to mingle during a party. “A self-serve bar cart with a DIY signature drink is always a great conversation starter for your guests,” said Parson. Fill the cart with fun and festive garnishes and some cute cocktail napkins.
A great option for parties on the bigger end when you don’t have enough of your everyday wine glasses, this 12-pack can be used with red, white and even Champagne. The glasses are stemmed so guests can walk around with them, and they are dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup at the end of the night.
Whether you opt for candlesticks in theme-friendly candlestick holders or small tea lights in decorative votives on the dining table, make sure they are unscented. “You want to go out of your way to create an experience that caters to all their senses, but it’s important to let your cooking do most of the talking,” explained Skladany. If you do want to light a scented candle, experts said you can do so in the bathroom away from the fragrant food.
Galvanized items can be used year-round and fit seamlessly into virtually any theme. Fill this ice bucket with mixers or extra bottles of booze to give guests easy access to refills.
Before someone inevitably asks for a phone charger, be fully prepared with a charging station in a common sitting area. You can even use it as an incentive for everyone to place their phones out of reach to stay present during the party. This one comes with a variety of six mini cables to suit most phones.
If you don’t want to stress over the music during your party, make a playlist beforehand (or use a pre-made one from Spotify). Have your chosen playlist up on your computer and play it through a Bluetooth speaker to free up your phone for when guests inevitably call with a question about parking or directions. One of the best portable speakers, this JBL speaker is easy to move around, so you can bring it with you when the party moves from room to room and take it to other parties throughout the rest of the season.
Whether you use it to hold throw pillows and make more sitting room on the couch or store people’s shoes when they enter your house, this straw basket from Bar Harbour has many different uses. “Fill it with chunky knits and warm blankets as a thoughtful detail for a cozy touch,” Parson suggested.
When the party finds its way outside, don’t let the cold weather discourage your guests. This mushroom-style patio heater heats up to 200 square feet of space, can be temperature controlled and isn’t overly bulky, according to the brand. On Amazon, it has a 4.5-star average rating from more than 2,100 reviews.
You should be prepared to help your guests leave with leftovers. These containers — which are entirely compostable, according to the brand — can hold up to 32 ounces of food and come in packs of five.