(BPT) - When it comes to holiday get-togethers, no mood-killer is worse than a stressed-out host or hostess. Your guests may be willing to brave snowy roads, low temperatures and the fruitcake they know you'll serve, but if you're too frantic to enjoy their company, they won't enjoy yours, either.
This holiday season, try some stress-busting tactics to ensure you stay calm, your party runs smoothly, and your guests arrive to a warm welcome. Here are five ways to minimize party-planning, prep and presentation stressors:
1. Become a fixture at your local rental store
Stop scouring the house for enough chairs to seat everyone, agonizing over not having enough tables, or worrying which of your grandmother's prized china dishes will crash to the floor during this year's party. Renting the items you need spares you the time, logistical challenges and expense of buying or borrowing. What's more, you don't have to worry about where you'll store rarely used items - such as chafing dishes or linens - from year-to-year.
Local rental stores carry a range of products perfect for holiday gatherings, such as tables and chairs, dishes and silverware, warming trays, lighting, centerpieces - even portable dance floors. To find an American Rental Association member store in your area, visit www.rentalHQ.com. Just remember to contact them and reserve your items early, as the holidays are a busy time for rental stores.
2. Take a shortcut to menu planning
Your guests can only eat so much turkey, ham, green bean casserole and fruitcake; you'll need to flesh out your menu, even though you may not have the time to be creative. Figuring out what to make besides the must-have traditional favorites can be a drag, but an online search can make the task easier.
A plethora of websites offer not just great recipes to try, but entire suggested menus. Some smart online searching can yield a host of ideas, even if you're hosting people with special dietary needs, like vegan or gluten-free. Some sites even allow you to plug in preferred ingredients, dietary restrictions, etc. and have a menu generated for you.
3. Cheat shamelessly on food prep.
In a perfect world, your holiday meal prep would run like a precision instrument, and all your dishes would be done at exactly the same time and arrive on the table at the same moment. Who lives in that world? In reality, making food a day or two - or even a week - ahead, freezing it, and heating it when you need it is a much smarter way to get everything on the table in a timely manner.
Or, you can buy prepared items from your grocery store - like brown-and-serve rolls, cook-and-serve sides, etc. - and 'doctor' them to be more like your own. Another option is to supplement your own cooking with a dish or two from your favorite restaurant. Or, you can go all-out and have the entire affair catered.
4. Tactics for easier decorating
Unless you started a week before Halloween, you may not have the time to decorate the whole house from top to bottom like something out of a home decorating show. Instead, decorate wisely and time-efficiently by focusing your attention on key areas guests are most likely to see. A great entryway sets the mood, and a well-decorated kitchen and dining room evoke a festive atmosphere. Don't overlook the powder room! A scented candle on the vanity and some sleigh bells on the doorknob are both decorative and practical. And go ahead and buy that pre-lit Christmas tree - you'll save scads of time not having to untangle lights and get them in just the right spot on the tree.
5. Simplify your spirits.
You could make yourself crazy trying to prepare for everyone's spirit wish list - but don't! Simplify your beverage service with one good red, a fine white, and one each of a domestic, imported and light beer. If you must serve cocktails, wow your guests with a single 'signature' holiday cocktail that's easy to whip up. You can find plenty of holiday cocktail ideas online.
Staging a holiday celebration doesn't have to be stressful, if you use resources like rental stores and pre-made items and ideas to make the task easier. So, invite your guests and enjoy their company during the holiday season.