10 priceless holiday hosting tips from professionals (and our grandparents)

Modern-day and inherited hosting advice for a beautiful holiday season

three image hero of entryway, tablescape and dining table
(Image credit: Future)

As beautiful as the holiday season is, there can be an underlying layer of stress and fear with simply having too much to do, in so little time. No matter how frequently you invite neighbors and family over, there is inherent pressure to impress over the festive period, and it can leave us a little frantic, to say the least. 

So when you are the guest, and greeted in blissful luxury, with a calm host, who has it all worked out – what is the secret? 

Whether hosting is in your nature or not, there is always room for improvement and the opportunity to learn and be inspired by others. To make sure you have everything that regular hosts always keep in their homes, as well as the best approach to ensure you and your guests have a memorable time (for all the right reasons), we called on those who have timeless, and up-to-the-minute experience for their top hosting tips.

Holiday hosting tips

As when getting a kitchen ready for hosting, decluttering is a good first step. The key is to create a welcoming, and convivial atmosphere, to make everyone feel joyful, and pleased to be in each other's company, and in your home. As Ariela Kiradjian, Co-Founder of StayBoutique shared with H&G, 'Personalization and intimacy is key.'

For best results, this is what our experts, including grandparents, recommend:

1. Preparation is key

dining table with long candles, red striped tablecloth and rattan pendant light fixture

(Image credit: Future)

Much like preparedness will help with most things in life, a dinner party could not come together (well) without it. 

This is, in fact, one of our very own's key tips. 'Preparing as much as humanly possible in advance if cooking a three-course meal,' Solved section editor Millie Hurst advises us. 'Once guests are there, you don't want to be grating garlic.' 

Let us nod to the fact that you have started here, this can count as preparation. Otherwise, this means planning ahead where you can, cooking parts of your meal or canapes in advance so that they might just need warming up. This does not apply just to the food menu either, considering entertainment, ambiance, and everything else that we will mention below in fact, will streamline your dinner or cocktail party.

Speaking of garlic grating, consider a cute garlic grater plate like this one from Amazon for a quick and easy way to make purées and more for last-minute dips.

2. Seasonal tablescaping will leave lasting memories

Of everyone I spoke with, how the table was set seemed to spark beautiful memories. Even a simple tablescape scheme can be elevated with holiday additions to represent the colors and spirit of the season, be it Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving. 

My step-father tells me that my grandmother adored dressing the table with seasonal accents and ornaments which have clearly left him with fond memories. 

Adding small ornaments that will bring joy and give guests something lovely to relate to can make all the difference. Even just a sprig of Holly for a classic finish will make a thoughtful touch.

3. Allow yourself to mix and match styles

A beautifully set table is clearly part of the package but for a more relaxed ambiance, it seems that we can do away with some of the more stuffy rules of holidays past. Allowing yourself to mix and march tableware is one of our dinner party rules we can afford to break, a thought that is also endorsed by Richard Brendon, founder of Richard Brendon Design.

'My mom is a bit of a tableware fanatic; she was always buying new plates, bowls, and glasses, but never sets, so our Christmas table was an eclectic mix,' shares Brendon.

'Often when hosting for large groups people don’t have enough of one set of crockery for everyone, so I would recommend people lean into it and mix and match. A lot of our bone china collections have a shared color palette so they can be mixed and matched seamlessly.' 

Richard Brendon
Richard Brendon

Richard Brendon launched his brand in 2013. Richard Brendon Design collections are timeless and characterful, showcasing true craftsmanship in beautiful tableware that marries heritage and modern styles together perfectly.

4. Make an entry, starting from the outside

Gabled entrance, front door wreath

(Image credit: Ben Anders)

This next piece of advice my step-father tells me is that a house that is primed for hosting starts from the outside, and it always has, just done slightly differently. 

'Back in those days, there was no electricity or big outdoor tree lights,' he says. They used candles (with care) instead.

Gitte Beha Smed, Head of Corporate Communications at Hotel Alexandra in Copenhagen also enjoys greeting visitors with outdoor decor, including flowers in the display: 'We usually welcome guests at home as soon as they arrive outside the house with candles and a floral decoration on the main staircase.'

Whether you decorate a porch for Christmas with cozy throws and more or hang simple Christmas lights out the front, it will make for a beautiful welcome and make your house look cozy before guests have even stepped foot inside.

Gitte Beha Smed
Gitte Beha Smed

Gitte Beha Smed holds an MA in Art History. She is the head of design at Hotel Alexandra, a boutique hotel in Copenhagen that specializes in design and the world known Danish architects from the mid-20th century. After 15 years working with national art and culture funds at the Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, Gitte joined the industry in 2022. She is now an independent art consultant and runs two design hotels in Copenhagen with her husband.

5. Always remember the welcome drink

Is there a more joyful way to say hello to guests than with a seasonal tipple?

'Also, it’s a good idea to serve everyone a drink as soon as they arrive to get them into the festive spirit!' Adds Brendon. Reach for a delicious something from a beautifully styled bar cart and serve it in the most fitting glassware, and you will prove a popular host, we guarantee.

6. Keep the ambiance elevated

christmas dining table with candles and foliage

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Cozy lighting, decorative serveware, and good conversation will bring natural ambiance, but let us not forget how music can elevate an occasion. Especially important when hosting a dinner party without a dining room, for example, as you will want to work harder to create an atmosphere in all the right places.

To engage all of the senses, fine-tune your playlist to the season, occasion, and your crowd. 'A playlist using Spotify blend, combining everyone's music, is fun,' suggests Hurst.

The right music can help guests flow romantically or even bop, from room to room. Get the tone right, and you might be able to swap out Spotify and encourage guests to the grand piano...

7. Create unique centerpieces and cohesion with color

My late grandmother, though perhaps unknowingly, always had a very beautiful fruit bowl on show and it acted as an effortless accent on the dining table or buffet. Filled with seasonal fruit, it will add festive color even to the most neutral of living room spaces, ideal for those who prefer a quieter approach to holiday decoration but like to entertain nonetheless.

8. Account for extra coats and shoes

mudroom with storage and wood panelling

(Image credit: OKA.com)

Your entryway may be perfectly organized all year long, but bring on a holiday, or a last-minute family gathering and it can easily be thrown out of sorts. 

In the spirit of fine-tuning preparation, Hurst further advises us to not forget the extra room you might need to create for big winter coats, hats, gloves, and umbrellas. 'Make space for their coats, and shoes in the hallway,' she says. Do this and you will be avoiding a key entryway organizational mistake and make for fewer coats on the floor, disrupting a lovely decor scheme.

9. Curate the view, inside and out

My stepfather has always paid particular attention to the view from all rooms in our home over the holiday season, giving the outdoor Christmas lights just as much thought as indoor Christmas lights. This gave us all a beautiful display from the kitchen and dining room windows, so long as the drapes were open.

'It is nice to see lights twinkling in the yard when you're having a chat in the kitchen,' he says. 

See this as part of creating cohesion throughout the home too. Carrying elements of Christmas kitchen decor, through to a festive living room, onto the entryway, and upstairs will make the space feel thoughtful.

10. Know when to ask for a helping hand

Asking for help, in any circumstances, can feel a little daunting and some are quite stubbornly against it. However, saying 'yes' to a kind friend that wants to help you with the baking, or even tablescaping can make all the difference. Hurst encourages us to call on others instead of becoming overwhelmed by the sheer multitude of tasks:

'Asking for help rather than silently getting flustered is essential,

'People are happy to help you work out how much pasta you need, or even simply lay the table.'

Whether it is yes to having a guest put out dip, or make up your signature welcome drink, sharing is caring when hosting.


How can I create a hotel-like experience when hosting?

Thoughtful touches and preparation is essential as Smed shares with us: 'A hotel-esque guest experience at home will always include having everything ready when guests arrive and having time to chat with a pre-dinner drink, listen to music and relax. A dinner with us doesn't have to be pretentious, for us it's about socialising and having plenty of time to talk and interact. That said, bubbles and a home-cooked dinner always help set the mood. For us, it's the finest way to show love to our friends and family.' 

How can I not get overwhelmed when hosting?

The key is keeping it simple, as best you can, and as the holiday allows. 

This final one is from me, much like decorating for Christmas can feel overwhelming if you go overboard with themes, planning for too much in one evening or occasion often is not worth it.

Considering your guests and the occasion will naturally set the tone, then think about making it a merry but minimalist Christmas, as opposed to one that is overdone. As extravagant as you like your gatherings, remember to cut yourself some slack, and if the baked camembert slipped your mind, or if you cork the wine, let it add a little humor and your guests will probably forgive you. If they do not, perhaps you can omit them from your guest list next year.

What glassware should I use for guests?

You will likely be inclined to use your best champagne flutes or crystal tumblers, depending on how you stock your home bar. My grandparents would usually bring out their favorite crystal, because they loved talking about it with friends. 

Giving a little thought to how drinks will look and taste best will make for an all-round exceptional experience. Brendon suggests: 'Our Jancis Robinson wine glass is amazing because it works perfectly for every kind of wine, whatever the color, strength, or style, so it makes hosting really straightforward.'

Be prepared, keep the wine flowing, and invest in some guest-facing pajamas should you need to put visitors up in your beautifully decorated guest room for the night. Even if you need to host guests without a guest room, do not worry, it can be done, and you are sure to have a swell time. Lastly, enjoy yourself.

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Contributing Editor

Camille is the former deputy editor of Real Homes where she covered a broad range of topics, including house tours, small space design, and gardens. She studied English language and Italian at the University of Manchester and during a year abroad studying linguistics and history of art in Bologna, Italy she started documenting her adventures and observations in a blog. Camille is always creating and spends her downtime painting, taking photos, traveling, and writing short stories.