Good hosts bend over backwards for their guests. Great hosts delegate.
What can I bring?
Their intentions are good. They just want to help. You know this. But if you’re a seasoned host who’s roasted a turkey or two in your day—a host with a vision—an offer to help might be a distraction. “Just bring yourself,” you might say. You’ve got it covered. Of course you do. But why?
We host holiday meals to show love and care for family and friends. But if, for you, it’s also a means of self-expression—maybe even a chance to show off a little—that doesn’t mean you need to do it all yourself. With so many moving parts to manage, and so much pressure—making memories, making elders proud, keeping traditions alive, keeping everyone happy—hosting a holiday is a lot. If you think a good host does it all, bear in mind that sharing the work is a gift to your guests. Having a job lets each person feel useful, part of the team. Delegate wisely, and you can lighten your load and protect the integrity of your menu. Besides, you may not be hiding your stress as well as you think you are. Nothing kills the merry vibes like a harried host.
Before the invitations go out, think about what you’re excited to make. Decide what to let go of, and what to keep. If you look forward to making that Buche de Noel all year, don’t give it up. That Malbec you brought back from Chile? Serve it. Know what you care about, and when the RSVPs come in, fill in the blanks.
If a guest offers something specific, lean toward yes. Can I bring wine? Yes. Dessert? Absolutely. Salad? That would be great. An extra main dish? We’ve got that covered, but thanks so much! Let them know what you‘ve got planned. Flatter them by asking for something you tried at their house. Guard your wheelhouse, and outsource the rest.
The beginning of the meal is a great place to start delegating, with options for any budget or culinary skill level. Corn chips, crudites, bread and cheese, canapes–they’re all appetizers, and each has its place. If you’re not thrilled about the supermarket hummus and baby carrots, someone will be. Served first, it won’t throw your menu out of balance. Since you don’t know what to expect, have backup nuts and cheese.
If a guest bakes bread regularly, it’s a no-brainer. If they live near a bakery, fantastic. But you can ask anyone to bring bread. Kids love it, even when it’s bad.
Your sister-in-law loves microbrews. Your stepdad loves Bordeaux. Easy peasy. Boom, done. If a beer or wine pairing is part of your vision, let them know and serve both. Buy a bottle of wine per adult, and let folks bring wine anyway. Save your faves for after the guests are gone.
A pre-made batched cocktail is a lot of fun if you’ve got a mixologist on your list—or maybe they’d like to bring their tools and ingredients and make drinks onsite. Greeting non-drinkers with something fun—a fancy soda or a mocktail—is a lovely way to make them feel seen. Consider buying these yourself. Extra seltzer is great to have on hand, a good ask for a procrastinator stopping by a convenience store en route.
For an ordinary dinner party, you might want to make the sides yourself. For a meal like Thanksgiving dinner, letting someone else take care of the squash or cranberry sauce can keep you sane. Depending on the size of your crowd, two versions of a dish might be called for. Casseroles travel well.
More is more. It’s a celebration—nobody’s going to complain about too much dessert. If a showpiece dessert is your thing, cookies won’t compete. Ice cream or whipped cream for pie is a terrific ask. If someone’s in your way, let them whip the cream by hand.
Paper towels, aluminum foil, food containers, ice (always ice). At the last minute, there’s always something. The procrastinator can save the day.
How can I help?
Some guests can’t relax, and some can’t take a hint. And when the holiday’s in full swing, you really can’t do it all. But there’s a job for everybody.
Early arrival? Take coats.
Sulky teen? Walk older folks to the door. Chatty hoverer? Circulate with hors d’oeuvres. Trusted member of your inner circle? Help serve.
It’s true that no matter how specific your requests, sharing the work means that your holiday might not align perfectly with your vision, and that’s fine—better than fine. You brought everyone together, and that’s what’s important.