If you're ready for your turn to rock the hosting hat, don't let living in cramped quarters keep you from throwing a special holiday get-together; all you need is the right plan of action. Here are a few simple tips to help you leverage your tiny apartment to set the scene for an intimate (but impressive) party, rather than some claustrophobic affair.
I absolutely love to play host; and though I'm constantly inviting people into my home, I live in a very small, 3 bedroom-1 bath house. I have a tiny kitchen and one living room/dining room combo. I've learned a thing or 2 about home entertaining during my younger years from watching my mom throw parties (in fact, many of the tips below include pieces of advice I learned from observing her flawless hostessing skills), but I've probably learned even more during the 2 years I've spent in my petite house learning to navigate party-planning entirely on my own terms. And, let me tell you, playing host is no easy-breezy task--and it's only more challenging if you're working with limited space. That said, entertaining is kind of my jam, and I've only found that where there's a challenge, there are innumerable creative solutions. So whether you live in a small space yourself or simply want to utilize your more generous space to its complete potential, here are my best hosting tips and tricks for pulling off a seamless holiday party that you can enjoy to the full.
1. Don't serve a full meal
If you live in a tiny space, you're setting yourself up for a major headache if you try to host some sort of elegant, sit-down holiday dinner party and plan to invite more than a few guests. Save yourself some serious stress by sticking with an appetizer, cocktail, and dessert spread. Trust me, your guests won't complain one bit. This set-up provides a relaxed, yet still sophisticated, atmosphere and allows them to move, munch, and mingle at will. Just be sure to clearly communicate ahead of time so guests know what to expect. Keep in mind: Your party's start time often communicates your menu plans. If you're not serving a full meal, don't start the party before 7:30 or 8 PM. Now, if you do want to try your hand at a seated supper, make it a casual gathering with just a couple of close friends.
2. Spread out your seating
If you are having more than 10 to 12 people over and the only real seating options are centralized in the leaving room, you're going to have a lot of people standing up the entire night in other areas of your home--people tend to flock towards the food. If you use your dinner table as a central buffet/food station, take your dining chairs and space them out purposefully in other areas of your home. If you have a sofa and a love seat in your living room, I'd even encourage you to go so far as to move one to another room or area. If your living room looks a little empty as a result, don't worry. You may be used to every square inch of a room being filled, but it needs to look spacious. As soon as guests arrive, that empty space will be taken over very quickly. If you're fully familiar and comfortable with the crowd, leave all doors open so that portions of your home don't feel closed off and the main gathering areas feel less claustrophobic.
3. Re-think your table space
When you live in a tiny apartment, condo, or house, you probably only have one (small) dining table. Overcrowding that table with your entire spread of food and drinks isn't ideal because it will inevitably pile up traffic up in one area of your home. No matter what you do, people will generally flock and converse close to food, so it's crucial to think outside the box when you consider your serving stations. Here's how to solve the dreaded dilemma: Hide frames, books, candles, and other personal knick-knacks that take up space on your coffee table, end tables, etc. and use them for setting up different food and beverage stations. Your coffee table in the center of the room could definitely showcase a glorious holiday dessert spread, a side or entry table could hold cocktails and wine with a cooler for beer placed nearby, and your dining table can hold the bulk of your appetizers. If you have spare counter space, spread out additional appetizers around them so that guests move around if they want to graze.
4. Never be afraid to ask for help
A stressed-out host isn't a good one. Trust me, I know this from bad experiences as both a host and as a guest. If you're working with only one oven, a few burners, and you're low on counter space, preparing all of the food could take days. To make things easier on yourself, ask each guest to bring 1 dish or drink to share--specify guest contributions based on what you need to pull off the party. This simple ask is not frowned upon at all, and you should never feel weird about charging others to contribute in the merrymaking. If you don't ask, most guests will probably bring something anyways, and then you'll end up with 40 unopened bottles of wine or too many desserts when you really needed another savory dish. Your friends and family will want to help and bring something that you need or are missing--even something as simple as utensils or ice--so do them a favor and plan a few options for them. If you really don't want to make every guest bring something to share, simply solicit the help of a few of your BFF's and make them co-hosts to take the pressure off of yourself.
5. There's nothing wrong with taking a shortcut
I am all for homemade. I mean, I spend my workweek helping people learn to cook and bake, and while I'm totally on board with the everything-from-scratch-is-always-better motto, honestly...that simply isn't realistic all of the time. I am not afraid of a shortcut--and you shouldn't be either, especially when you don't have a ton of kitchen space for prepping ahead and storing items. For ultimate holiday enjoyment, I would land somewhere in the middle. Meaning: Make half of your baked goods and appetizers truly from scratch so that you can take full credit, and integrate smart, time-saving ingredients or store-bought shortcut items throughout the process to fill in the blanks. For instance, buy the bread, chips, and pre-sliced veggies. If you want a fancy layer cake or other specialty holiday dessert, go ahead and order it from a local bakery (or use a shortcut product--like a box of cake mix--to make the job easier for you). For some of our best shortcut ideas, see Our Best Baking Mix Recipes and Our Best Cake Mix Recipes.