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Planning the Perfect Holiday Dinner Party

With the winter holidays right around the corner, you might find yourself in the beginning stages of trying to plan the perfect holiday dinner party. Whether you’re hosting an intimate gathering with a couple of friends or a larger, socially distanced party with all of your family, hosting any type of event in your home can be intimidating, especially if you’re working with a smaller space! Arranging furniture, setting up the table, and making sure there is enough seating for everyone, while remaining six feet apart, can be a real challenge.

Fortunately, by starting to plan for your party ahead of time, you can easily deal with any spatial issues while still finding the time to decorate and create the perfect menu. So grab a pen and paper, make a list of everything that needs to be done, and check out these handy tips for planning an amazing holiday dinner!

Holiday Party Menu and Serving Tips

The most helpful tip when planning a party menu is to keep it simple. There’s no need to invite the stress of coming up with an overly complicated menu. Instead, pick a few simple dishes designed to please everyone, including those with special dietary needs. And don’t forget, there’s no shame in buying pre-made dishes or having some catered!

If you are doing the cooking yourself, keep these additional tips in mind:

  • Always overestimate how much food, drinks, and ice you’ll need. One of the worse things that can go wrong at a party is running out of things to eat and drink!
  • Buy extra leftover containers to give to your guests. Choose simple plastic food storage containers or opt for trendy Chinese takeout boxes. That way you’ll have an easy way to send any leftover food home with your guests.
  • Do as much of your shopping in advance as possible. You’ll need to purchase your proteins and other perishable items a day or two before your party, but non-perishables can be safely purchased a week or two in advance!
  • Assemble dishes in advance. When planning your menu, make an effort to choose dishes that can be either totally or partially assembled the day before. That way, you can just pop them in the oven when the big day comes. At the very least, chop all your fruits and veggies the day before you’re ready to cook!
  • Don’t hesitate to involve your guests. You want to enjoy your party too, and one great way to cut down on stress is by having your guests bring some food or drinks with them to lighten your workload.
  • Have one person serve from the buffet. A buffet is an ideal way to serve party food, but in the post-COVID-19 world, staying safe can be tricky. Counters or traditional buffet tables are great options for serving. Or, if your guests won’t be sitting at the table, you can use that for a buffet as well! Just make sure whoever is serving sterilizes their hands before dishing out the food!
  • Use vertical serving options. This is an especially useful tip for those working in tight spaces. Maximize your serving area by using cake stands and cupcake towers to serve several items of food at once.

Holiday dinner party menu covid

Holiday Party Atmosphere and Decorating Tips

As you’ll probably spend a good chunk of the day of your party cooking or adding the final touches, the week prior is the best time to make all of your decorating decisions and get everything set up. Remember the following when decorating for your next holiday party:

  • Set the mood with cozy lighting. Candles are an excellent and cost-effective way to create soft lighting and make your party feel more intimate. String lights and fairy lights are another great way to light up your entertaining space, especially outdoor areas.
  • Don’t forget the music. Every party needs a great playlist to go with it! Use an app like Spotify or Pandora to queue up your favorite holiday hit list. Or ask one of your guests to compile the perfect playlist for you.
  • Get creative with tablecloths. No fancy tablecloth? No problem. Head to the thrift store and look for something you can upcycle! Sheets, thin blankets, and even large scarves can be used as tablecloths in a pinch as well.
  • Don’t spend a fortune on centerpieces. Flowers may be the traditional choice for a centerpiece, but even artificial flowers can be awfully expensive. Instead, utilize some of the holiday garland or tree decorations that you already have. Or you can opt for a much more useful, edible option by using fruits or candies as a centerpiece.
  • Don’t stress about table settings. Magazines and television chefs may make you feel like you need a fancy table setting, but you don’t. Chances are your guests aren’t going to care if they have a setting with eight pieces of silverware, two plates, and three glasses, so keep it simple! One glass, a knife, a fork, a spoon, and one plate will do the trick. Don’t have a full set of silverware or plates? Don’t be afraid to mix and match!
  • Have a mask contest! Wearing masks doesn’t have to be a burden. Have everyone wear the coolest mask they can find and give a prize to the winner!

Holiday Dining Room Tips

If you’ve got a huge dining room and a 20-person dining table, you’re probably not going to have any trouble figuring out how to rearrange your space. Unfortunately, many of us are working with much smaller tables and spaces! If you’re hosting a big party in a little space, keep these tips in mind:

  • Consider rearranging your space. If your dining room is too small, move it into the living room! Rearranging your furniture might be a bit of a pain, but it can be the difference between a safe, socially-distanced dinner or a tight, cramped one.
  • Remove useless furniture. If you’re tight on space, consider which furniture is and is not useful for your party and remove unnecessary furniture from whichever space you’re doing your dining in.
  • Make sure your dining table is the focal point. In your dining room, you want everyone’s eyes to be drawn to your beautifully set table. Accomplishing this is usually as simple as making sure the table is centered in the room, as opposed to pushed against a wall or tucked into a corner.
  • Mix and match your seating options. Nobody expects you to have a full site of matching dining room chairs! If you only have a couple of dining chairs, use more unconventional seating options like desk chairs. Or, make sure your guests know that it’s ok for them to dine while sitting on your La-Z-Boy chairs or sofas!
  • Control your traffic. People tend to gather where the food and drinks are. To avoid too many people gathering in one spot, make sure to set up your bar cart or buffet in an area that isn’t likely to be susceptible to a traffic jam. You can also encourage people to spread out by placing multiple food and drink stations in separate rooms.


Remember, this party is just as much for you to enjoy as it is for your guests! No party is going to be perfect. Chances are, something is going to burn or break or just not turn out as well as you’d hoped.

Try not to sweat the small things and remember that the most important thing is whether your guests are having a great time and are keeping themselves and others safe from germs. So enjoy yourself, enjoy your party, and have a wonderful holiday season!

And don’t forget, there’s still plenty of time to order the perfect holiday gift from Bowden & Carr! Browse our complete online inventory, swing by our store, or give us a call at 252-447-3648 to get help finding the right gift for your loved ones!