Entertain with ease

Jacqueline Whitmore Click on the topmost title to open

Holiday entertaining can be stressful. Working full time, a lack of experience, and high expectations can make preparing a “feast” feel like an insurmountable task. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert, author, speaker, and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. “The best rule to keep in mind is the five Ps: prior planning prevents poor performance,” she says.

Here are Jacqueline’s 10 tips for being a hospitable host during the holidays:

Do your homework

Find out ahead of time if any of your guests have food allergies or other dietary restrictions and plan your menu accordingly or prepare a buffet with a variety of items.  Keep it simple and serve what you know. Don’t try to serve an unfamiliar, complicated, or labor-intensive dish your first time out.

Keep a list

Write down all of the items you need to make your meal complete. It’s especially frustrating when you think you have all of your ingredients and then discover, in the midst of cooking, that you don’t have enough salt, sugar, or butter. 

Have a variety of beverages on hand

The mark of a good host is to have a few bottles of red and white wine along with plenty of nonalcoholic beverages for the teetotalers in the group.

Stock up on snacks

This includes nuts, chips, salsa, or dip, one or two different cheeses, crackers, and one or two kinds of frozen appetizers. Choose hors d’oeuvres that are easy to eat and require only one bite. This will ensure that no one gets crumbs on his or her nice outfit, or on your floor.


Do as much as possible the day before

Don’t wait until the last minute. Set your table the night before. Clean and polish your serving pieces and fill your salt and pepper shakers a few days before Thanksgiving dinner to avoid last-minute flurries.

Iron your linens

When you are serving cocktails, provide linen cocktail napkins or, at the very least, decorative paper cocktail napkins. For dinner, use linen napkins because they’re more elegant than paper ones.

Set the mood

Candles are an easy, inexpensive, quick way to make any home more inviting. Buy as many candles as you can and place them throughout your house. Remember to reserve a few unscented ones for the dinner table. Light your candles approximately 15 or 20 minutes prior to your guests’ arrival, and then light the candles on your dinner table just before everyone sits down to dine.

Choose your tunes

Music is a vital element in the staging of a good holiday get together, as it sets the tone for the evening. Create a dinner party playlist on your iPod or iPhone or preset your CD player so there’s music in the air when your guests arrive and keep it playing throughout the evening.

Preset your coffee and tea service

About an hour before your party set up your coffeemaker and put cream, milk, sugar, and sweetener in decorative containers. Put condiments in attractive bowls or containers rather than placing bottles directly on the table. Put your coffee cups, saucers, teaspoons, and assorted teas on a tray on a side table.

Make time for yourself

Allow plenty of time to shower, get dressed, and look your best for your party. You’ll want to greet your guests at the door with a relaxed smile on your face. The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you will feel, and the better time you’ll have at your own party.



DolceDolce’s tips for taking the stress out of holiday entertaining: 

Start cleaning, polishing and assembling the dishes you will need a week or more in advance, if you are having a large party of more than 8-12 people.

If you are not a calm or experienced cook simplify your menu.

Buy and reheat the dish that scares you the most. I cook, but when I had a very tiny apartment kitchen and minuscule stove, I used to order a smoked turkey and make all the side dishes. Order fabulous pies from a bakery or a fancy cheese plate from specialty shop. Make soup mid-week.

See our Food section this issue for more great entertaining ideas.