How to Be the Perfect Low-Stress

Holiday Party Host


Featuring Phyllis Cambria, Party Expert


The primary reason to invite someone to a holiday gathering is to include them, as a guest, to share in your happy time.  From the invitation to the thank you note your guests comfort must be considered.  But that doesn't mean you have to tie yourself up in knots trying to make everything perfect. Just keep in mind these suggestions.

·           Successful stress-free parties don't just happen, they take planning. If you plan ahead, you can eliminate most of your anxieties. Just think through every step of your party from your guests' point of view to ensure that no detail was missed.

·           Be sure that you answer every question a guest may have on the invitation. In addition to when, where, why, include dress code, gift policy, times for special presentations, phone number of the event site for baby sitter.

·           Provide clear directions and if necessary, a map.

·           Make sure you have sufficient parking spots or hire a few young, licensed drivers to act as a valet service. If you live near a public parking area, you can suggest guests park there and then have one or two cars available to shuttle guests back and forth.

·           Clear away any snow or ice from your walkway. Use sand or cat liter to create a no-slip zone. (Salt can damage your concrete.)

·           Remember, this is a party, not a visit from the Inspector General. You don't have to clean every nook, cranny and closet. Clean the areas where guests will gather and close off the doors to your less "hospitable" areas. Lower the lights, light some candles and enjoy. Or, get your whole family involved in the clean-up. If they worked hard to make the house presentable, they're less likely to be careless and get it dirty before your party starts.

·           Keep extra towels and toilet tissue in your bathroom. If you're using paper guest towels, crumple one up and toss it into a nearby waste basket so guests will know what the towels are for.

·           Guide guests to the entrance with clearly visible signs or guide-items such as balloons or lights to lead guests right to your door. Lead them from the lobby to the banquet room with signs or greeters.

·           Have an official greeter at the front door to ease those awkward moments when guests arrive and are not sure of just what to do next.

·           Clear out a closet or rent a coat rack. There's little that's more frustrating to a guest than having to dig their coat out of a pile on a bed.

·           Make sure guests are offered some type of food and a beverage within a few minutes of arrival.

·           Control music volume and room temperature.

·           Limit the use of scented candles in a crowded room, especially those with heavy scents which can become overpowering and alter the taste of your food. (Never leave lit candles unattended and place only in areas where they can't be jostled.)

·           Provide name tags as an anxiety-reliever when the guests do not know each other or are distant relatives who have not seen each other in quite some time.

·           For sit down meals, assign, if not a specific seat, then a particular table so that your guests need not wander about with food and beverage in hand.

·           Reserve seats for elderly, parents with small children or otherwise challenged guests if you are not planning on seating for everyone.

·           At large parties, serve from both sides of a buffet and call table numbers to decrease the wait on line. For standing-room-only meals, cut foods to bite-size requiring only a toothpick or fork.

·           Clear off table tops or provide small tables so guests will have a place to rest their food and/or drink. Or use plate holders designed to carry food and a beverage in one hand.

·           Be prepared to serve a variety of delicious and attractive non-alcoholic drinks such as fruit juice spritzers, punch "without the punch," or Martinelli's Sparkling Cider for your tee-totalers or designated drivers.

·           Pay attention to guests' dietary needs. For instance, if you know someone is a diabetic, include sugar-free desserts or fruit along with your more traditional desserts.  Since so many people are on a low-carb or vegetarian diet these days, be sure to have plenty of complex carbohydrates (whole wheat pasta and breads, green veggies, sweet potatoes and so forth) on your buffet with lots of protein items to ensure every guest can find something delicious to eat.

·           This is also true of your beverages. In addition to diet soft drinks or club soda, offer guests an assortment of drinks including low carb varieties such as Coors Aspen Edge beer.

·           If the party is moving along well and everyone is having a great time, relax and enjoy yourself. But if you find that the energy level is down and guests are getting restless and a little bored or if you want to do something a little different, have some other activities to encourage guest interest. For instance:

o       Arrange a photo swap if you have a large number of friends and family members who repeatedly get together and might want to share duplicates of pictures from past events.

o       Tour your city's best holiday decorated homes and attractions.

o       Start a sing-along of carols. If you're guests are game, "take your act on the road" and go caroling in your neighborhood.

o       Go ice skating or build a snowman if the weather permits.

o       Start your own traditions. Bring out the video camera or tape recorder and interview your guests. The tapes can then be given to family members unable to attend or you can start your own family/friend history book to be shared and updated over the years.

·           The holiday season also brings out strong charitable feelings in many people. Give them an outlet to share those feelings with others in need. For instance, you might consider doing some altruistic deeds as part of your celebration.

o       Invite guests to bring an unwrapped toy that can be donated to the Toys for Tots or other charitable toy drive.

o       Ask guests to bring some non-perishable foods which can be donated to a local shelter, food bank or house of worship.

o       Contact your local American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, church, synagogue or United Way to see if there is a family or two you can "adopt." This way your guests can purchase items for a specific person(s) in that family. It will be the most joyous shopping your and they will do all year.

o       Don't forget the children. Very often they get lost in the shuffle or become overwhelmed with their own gifts. Let them participate by donating one of their new or gently-used toys, books or clothes to another less fortunate child.

o       Children also can be entertained by making ornaments for their own tree or to be donated to a charity.

·           Let family and friends get involved with the celebration. Most people want to participate and feel as if they made a contribution to the success of your gathering.

o       Let them bring along a favorite dish if they choose.

o       Swap recipes or put together a booklet of recipes of family and friend favorites to share with everyone.

o       Have them help decorate the party site.

o       Ask one or two close friends or family members to volunteer to be designated drivers to ensure all of your guests arrive safely home, particularly those who may have over-indulged.

o       Let one or more guests take turns as the bartender or assist you with cleaning up during and/or after the party.

·           Don't stress yourself out. Don't try to do too much. It's not essential that you make every single dish from scratch. Use mixes and pre-packaged foods. Also, there's nothing wrong with having some or part of your menu catered. Or bring in take-out. Just re-plate it on decorative trays and in festive bowls. Dispose of the take-out "evidence" and take your bows. Guests will remember the fun they had much more than if you made a peerless pouched salmon.

·           Give guests a lasting reminder of the fun time they had with a party favor. If you choose wisely, your favor can serve triple duty as décor, a place card and a favor. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate or expensive. You can create many items from natural materials such as pine cones, evergreens, fruits and nuts or items you find in craft stores. Or take the easy way out. Find affordable but fun gifts in your local discount or dollar store. (However, the best deals and your biggest selection will be available in late October or early November. So plan to shop and buy early.)

·           You also can shop online from the comfort of your home. You can purchase everything from décor to food to attire and never have to fight to find a parking space.  Instead, go to our Party Mall ( All you have to do is point, click, pay and wait. Let the party come to you.

·           If something goes wrong (and it often does with even the best of planning), take it in stride. You can immediately deal with the "crisis," but don't overreact.

o       Spilled red wine on your couch? Pour a box of salt on the spot. Throw a towel over it and forget about it. The salt will absorb the liquid and you can vacuum it away the next day. If there's a residual spot, keep a clean, white, damp towel on it until you can have it professionally cleaned. Or serve white wine!

o       Guest break a glass? Sweep up the mess and give the guest another glass.

o       Worried about precious heirlooms being broken? Remove them from the party site before the celebration so nothing can go wrong.

o       Burned your meal? Make scrambled eggs, order take-out or pizza. It will make for a great story at future parties and become "party lore."

o       Have a cranky uncle who really doesn't want to party and would rather watch the game? Put him in another room, bring him food and close the door. He'll be happy and so will the rest of your guests.

o       Kids underfoot? Rent a few videos, give them crafts to make, or hire a babysitter to entertain the children while the adults have fun.

o       Afraid of water marks on your furniture? Cover your furnishings with placemats or pieces of decorative fabric.

o       Someone over-imbibes? Forget the coffee. You'll only have a wide-awake drunk. Serve them water, aspirin and ask one of the designated drivers to take them home. Or simply put them into a darkened guest room until the next day.


Most of all, be relaxed and comfortable yourself, to set the example for your guests. When your guests are comfortable, they will enjoy the special plans you have made for them and your celebration will be a sensational success and you will have been the perfect stress-free host.








7:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. ET



Party Planner Provides Tips on How to Throw a Memorable Holiday Party


The holiday season is in full swing – and so is the party planning that accompanies this festive time.  And, to help listeners plan this year’s holiday fete, Phyllis Cambria, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Throwing a Great Party and The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Choosing a Caterer, shares her recipe for a great party – family, friends, food and fun.


First and foremost Phyllis stresses the importance of making your guests comfortable – because keeping guests merry makes for a celebratory atmosphere.  Some tips she has that will be sure to keep guests in a festive mood are:

  • Keep in mind guests' dietary preferences including vegetarian and low-carb options for both food and beverages.
    • Find out if anyone is on a special diet – or perhaps has dietary restrictions – no one wants to prepare food that someone cannot eat.
    • Along with family favorites, serve crudités platters and low-fat dips, cheese boards with multi-grain crackers and breads, seafood platters, snack trays, fresh fruits.
    • And for dinner think of serving lots of green vegetables, sweet potatoes or mashed cauliflower along with favorite family dishes.
    • Even take some time to think about the beverages you stock – such as low-carb and non-alcoholic alternatives.
  • Offer guests fun activities such as:
    • Holding a photo swap from past holiday gatherings.
    • Creating gift baskets to be given to a local charity or collecting toys for the Toys for Tots program.
    • Going ice skating.
    • Taking a tour of your neighborhood light displays.
    • Going caroling or holding a sing-along of holiday songs.
    • Having the kids create ornaments from pine cones, felt, ribbon paint and glitter.
  • Create memorable favors:
    • Instant Polaroid or digital photos of guests can be put into decorative frames and used for party favors or place cards at the dining table.

INTERVIEW WITH: Phyllis Cambria is a nationally-recognized, award-winning party expert, event marketing expert, author and sought-after speaker. Her lively, useful and humor-filled seminars and her ingenious and easy-to-follow advice in books, magazines, newspapers and websites have charmed and informed audiences everywhere.  Phyllis is co-author, with Patty Sachs, of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Throwing a Great Party (Alpha Books/Macmillan), The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Choosing a Caterer (Alpha Books/Penguin), and is the author of the Event and Party Planning Careers: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Get Started and Succeed (SWP Press).  Additional, party planning ideas can be found at


·        What are the essential ingredients to creating a great holiday party?

·        Should hosts find out what dietary restrictions their guests may have?

·        What types of food and beverages should be on hand to meet most guests’ dietary needs?

·        What are some fun activities that hosts can plan to keep the party festive?

·        Are favors an important part of making a memorable party?



Visit the PartyPlansPlus Party Mall


Back to party plan list