5 Easy ways to throw a holiday party... and get to enjoy it

By Crystal Baldwin

Do you want to throw a great party and actually enjoy the party and your friends?  I can't tell you how many party's I have thrown where I spent the whole evening in the kitchen, heating food, refilling trays, making drinks and not really having fun or spending time with the people I love.

Don't get me wrong, I have put on small parties for just two friends where I can spend time in the kitchen and time with my company and I want to cook up foods that need attention. 

However, when throwing a larger party, like during the holidays I have found that making it simple so I can have fun too is a much better way to go! 

So what's the secret to having a simple party that you get to enjoy?  I have three concepts for you...                      1. Simplify, 2. Make ahead, 3. Self- Serve! 


Don't make dishes that take a lot of time, that need watching or must be heated and taken out of the oven and served immediately (think stuffed mushrooms - so yucky when cold).  These kinds of foods keep you trapped in the kitchen all night. 

Buy stuff from the store to serve!  Guess what, they make really good food that you can just serve, ready to go and you don't have to cook it!  That's right, don't get caught in the "homemade" trap. 

I'm a "from scratch" kinda women and this got me hung-up for years!  You don't have to make every single thing you serve from scratch.  Plus, your guests will love to know where you got something so tasty and easy to make so they can buy it for their next party!


If you do want to make some fresh, from scratch food, make things that you can prepare ahead of time and just heat and serve or just cut and serve.  Prepping should be what you spend most of your time doing just before a party. 

I would suggest you make no more than 3 items from scratch...everything else should be purchased, prepped and served. Don't get me wrong prepping can take a bit of time but at least once its done - you get to sit back and enjoy your party. 


Setting up stations and letting your guests serve themselves is the best way in the world for you to enjoy your party.  This doesn't have to feel like a step down, actually people love roaming around and eating what (and how much) they want.

It feels extravagant if you have done it right...setting up lot's of different stations for tasting and your guests will LOVE that they actually get to spend time with you - not talk to you for 30 seconds before you have to dash off and pull something out of the oven. Done right these parties are awesome! 

So, here they are....5 ways to throw a party           you get to enjoy! 

STATION#1 Charcuterie Table

Notice I did not say make a charcuterie board here...I said make a charcuterie TABLE!  This is such a awesome, dazzling and very filling station.  You can add anything you want as long as it's all self serve here. 

If you want hot dishes on this table and have either crock pots (check out these double mini cockpots shop here) or chafing dishes then go for it.  However if you have the room, I suggest putting hot foods on another table (reduces lines). Here are ideas for this table... 

  • Cheese, baked brie with honey & almonds (on a hot plate to keep brie soft)
  • Cured Meats, Pulled Pork, Shrimp cocktail
  • Olives, Tapenade, artichokes, pickles, capers
  • Nuts, spiced, flavored & chocolate covered
  • Fresh and Dried Fruits, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, pears, raspberries
  • Jams & Jellies, Apple Butter
  • Fig Spreads (very popular)
  • Dips- artichoke, cheese, queso, guacamole, salsa, Pesto
  • Crackers, pita, chips, sliced baguettes (be sure to have some gluten free)
  • Sliced veggies - mix it up with - jicama, watermelon radish, snap peas
  • Honey Baked Ham, turkey or roast beef, bacon
  • Smoked Salmon (big hit)
  • Heated meat balls in a crock pot

STATION#2  HOT STUFF... Soup & Breads, Dips & Finger Foods

This station satisfies the "hot foods" slot and keeps you from getting stuck heating stuff in the kitchen.  I would highly suggest crock pots (you can buy small ones for different items) or chafing dishes.  Investing in just a couple can totally change your entertaining. Add some warm breads or stuffed breads along with flavored butter's, jams & jellies, applebutter or pesto for spreading on the bread.  Of course crackers & focaccia are a good idea as well. Ideas for this table...

  • Soups - beef vegetable, butternut squash, cream of mushroom
  • Shrimp Creole with rice- see recipe here
  • Queso & chips
  • Meatballs
  • Nacho Dip
  • Buffalo Wings
  • Barbecue 
  • Spinach Artichoke DIp
  • Cheesy Bacon, Ranch Potatoes 
  • Breads, crackers, focaccia 

STATION#3 Fondue Table 

Yup, you can make a fun and unique fondue table and people LOVE IT!  If you don't have a fondue set-up (which I highly recommend) than use your crock pots again.  You can create a savory fondue table or a sweet, chocolate dessert table or have both.  The possibiites are endless and who doesn't like angel food cake and strawberries dipped in chocolate?  I would highly suggest you use a disposable table cloth on this table.  Ideas for this table...


  • Meat - chicken, ribeye, shrimp, bison, sausage (firm meats are best)
  • Cheese- have fun here,  Gruyère, Emmentaler, sharp Cheddar, swiss
  • Breads -Day old French Bread, hardy wheat, baked garlic
  • Veggies- Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, green beans, potatoes
  • Sauces- Thai peanut, sirichi, chipotle, garlic aioli, mustard, horse radish


  • Chocolate- dark, milk, white, semi-dark
  • Fruit- bananas, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, oranges, pears, apples, black raspberries (my favorite), 
  • Cake- pound cake, angel food, brownies, marshmallows, graham crackers
  • Sides to drizzle chocolate on - biscotti, cookies, pretzels, salty chips, whipped cream
  • Flavors to add to fondue- nutella, peanut butter, whiskey, bailey's, coffee, cinnamon

Google some great recipes and understand you will need to mix some ingredients to keep your fondue liquid and free moving.

Fondue Pots, chafing Dishes, Crock Pots 

There are lot's of different fondue pots but here are a couple of ideas to get you started.  Instead of using the stainless steel skewers that come with the pots, use wooden skewers so you have lot's of them and you can compost.  Also, a couple of mini crockpots work just as well.

This Cuisinart is large- 3 quart and electric, great for parties- shop here

This fondue pot allows for 2 different types of fondue at once- shop here

This looks like a nice double chafing dish shop here

I love this cute, mini, double crockpot shop here

STATION#4 Dessert Table

Okay so this can be super easy as there are so many delicious desserts out there.  You can also make up some cookies ahead of time or just use your chocolate fondue table as your dessert table.  The sky is the limit here.  Cakes, pies, tarts and more.  Here are some ideas for this table...

  • Fudge, Bourbon Balls, English Toffee
  • Cookies  & Cakes - Ginger Cake with Whip Cream, Coconut cake, Layered chocolate cake
  • Chocolates, Chocolate Covered Nuts, Yogurt Covered Pretzels
  • Fruit Tarts, Coconut Cream Cake, Tiramisu
  • Pies, Scones, Lemon Squares, creme brûlée

STATION#5   The Bar...kind of important!

Okay, so. you can't forget this one as it kicks off your party.  Have it be close to where people enter so they can grab a cocktail and get started.  I would also suggest you have this next to the Charcuterie table so people can start nibbling while they invibe- feed that liquor please! 

Another fun thing about this self serve station is that people get to be their own mixologist.  This is fun for them as often its hard to come up with a drink on the spot when your host say's "what would you like to drink"? 

With a self serve bar your guests can look around, think about it and come up with something fun. Having recipe cards really helps as well. Have some mocktail recipes and some regular recipes.  You an even create a themed cocktail for the evening with both NA and alcohol versions - think cranberry martini!

Besides the booze and glasses, have some other important ingredients on your self-serve bar so you don't get caught becoming the bar tender.  Include items like

  • Lemon & Lime wedges, grapefruit & jalapeno slices 
  • Fresh herb leaves, lemon peel strips, maraschino cherries, olives,
  • Fresh juice like Lemon & Lime Juice,
  • Bottle of plain simple syrup
  • Flavored simple syrup for speciality cocktails or floral elxirs which are ready to go in flavors like: Lavender, Cherry, Juniper Berry, Hibiscus, Prickly Pear, Rose, Orange Blossom, Jasmine & Elderflower
  • RECIPES- People are often looking for an idea of what to drink so have some recipe cards scattered around your bar for ideas- especially for mocktails
  • Basic Tools, ice bucket & Ice
  • Bottle & Wine openers
  • Stirrers, garnishes, straws and a mini trash can or bowl marked for trash 
  • Cocktail napkins. Bar spoon, muddler, shaker, strainer, wash cloth

For drink mixing...

  • Liquors- Bailey's irish cream, vermouth, Aperol, Campari and more
  • Beer & Wine - whites on ice in a large ice bucket works well, beer in cooler
  • NA Wine & Beer in a separate ice bucket CLEARLY MARKED and I would suggest in a slightly different location than the regular drinks
  • Whiskey & Scotch
  • Gin, Tequila, Rum, Vodka 
  • La Croix, Seltzer, Tonic water, Fruit Juices, simple syrup

Alcohol Free Drinks

I would suggest you always have alcohol free choices for the non-drinkers but hey how about something more fun than just soda or seltzer or near-beer?  I love having these items on the bar for both drinkers and non-drinkers to play with...

Floral Elixirs

These are sort of like simple syrups except they have actually been distilled from real flowers and not only add flavor but some health benefits..

Hibiscus elixir is high in vitamin C and gives a tart fruity flavor, Elderflower has a mild taste that mixes well with lemon and is good for your immune system and lavender of course is relaxing and a classic.  Plus, we have so many more.  You can mix them with seltzer, ginger beer, lemon juice, lemonade or hot chocolate.  Of course have some flavored La Croix and tonic water on hand for mixing.

Another super fun NA mixer are Zero Proof by Ritual

These non-alcoholic mixers taste like the real thing but they won't get you loopy.  They are also low in calories-  ( a winner) and the mixing possibilities are endless.  With Tequila, Gin, Whiskey and Aperitief you can make pretty much any kind of drink you want.  They do not taste great alone but once mixers are added its like magic! 

Just a shot of simple syrup & lime and soda water with the tequila and you have a instant margarita taste alike.  Zero Proof is a also a great choice when you want to switch off the alcohol and still enjoy a social drink or two for safe driving.

We like that Zero Proof are not pre-mixed so your guest can make the drink of their choice by blending in a few flavors. 


Another AMAZING thing to have is really great NA wines...not all are alike.  If you have tried the sour reds or the overly sweet whites then you know what I'm talking about. 

We prefer the JOYUS brand of NA wines as they are award winning and taste great!  They are actually wine that is made and then has the alcohol removed so it actually tastes like wine...the sparkling white or sparkling  Rosé is the best tasting with the yeasty flavor, flat Rosé  comes in next and the Cabernet Sauvignon is the best red we have found- the red won't taste exactly the same as its a little thinner tasting without the alcohol but its not too sweet  like grapejuice or sour tasting either. 

Hot Drinks


The NA Table is a good place for hot drinks like...

  • Coffee
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Spiced Wine (NA with this Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Tea Station
  • Hot Cider

We love the ease of the Lush Wine Mixer  brand as you can just add your dried organic powdered mix with a bottle of wine (real or NA) and a bottle of water and liquor as desired. 

They come in Spiced Wine, Margarita, Sangria, Frose, Lavender Lemon, Strawberry Basil.  You can also freeze these for a wine slushy or cook down for a simple syrup.  They make easy mocktails and cocktails and super easy to use for instant results!

There you have it - 5 easy ideas for setting up a self-serve, fantastic party - that you get to actually enjoy!

Use one or two ideas, combine up your table, spread it all around your house or whatever works for you.  I promise you will enjoy your own party and won't have to think about much while your guests are visiting with you! 

Happy Holidays - enjoy, laugh and Love ❤️ 


 Download your Shrimp Creole Recipe HERE






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