How To Host a *Fun* Holiday Party (Hint: Plan Now)

‘Tis the season for holiday parties! Are you excited?! Some of you are. Many of you are lukewarm. Some of you even dread it. But throwing a memorable holiday party – whether it is a sit down dinner or a cocktail party – doesn’t have to be stressful. The two keys to success are to keep it simple and to start planning now. If you are hosting a party for friends, family, or colleagues, here are a few tips to make sure it is unique and, wait for it, fun!


1. Decide on Format

Casual cocktails? Elegant sit down? Buffet? Each has its perks. Regardless of type, the secret to success is to select dishes or items that can be easily prepared in advance or taste delicious at room temperature, allowing you to optimize time with your guests.

Start simple with appetizers: a nice pâté and cured meats with crusty bread. Sprinkle marcona almonds with paprika. Buy nice (pitted) olives. If you do a cheese platter, remember they often require a bit of knife work.

Make your dessert first. Pick a recipe that can be made the day before. Chop any vegetables or make vinaigrette the day before. Try to keep your “cook to order dishes” to a minimum of ONE, like a salad. Even better, choose a main course that tastes better on the second day (think braises and stews), keep them warm in the oven, and serve them on the table directly in a beautiful cooking dish (I’m partial to Staub).


2. Self Service Bar

It may sound super fun to shake a cocktail shaker all evening to impress your guests with those amazingly unique bitters you acquired, but trust me the first thing your guest will do is go for a drink. A bottleneck at the bar is no bueno. Pre-mixed punches are decidedly hip and you can serve them in your grandmother’s punch bowl. Offer a signature cocktail and supplement with beer and wine.  Don’t forget to put your drinks on ice about an hour before the party starts. You will also need more ice than you think, plan for about 10 pounds for every four guests. Make sure you have enough booze – plan for an average of two drinks per person in the first hour and one drink per person each hour after.

If your party is a seated dinner, open a few bottles of wine and put them directly on the table as part of the decor. They add visual interest and guests can serve themselves, freeing up your time to focus on plating food and tending to other needs.


3. Great Guests Make Great Parties

Be sure and invite at least one very funny person and/or one very charismatic person. It takes the burden off of the host. If possible, sit these “anchor” guests at the center of the table, put the more reserved or shy guests closest to you, and try not to let couples sit together.


A Few Extra Tips

  1. Rent a coat rack.
  2. Fill your sink with soapy water and soak dishes as they accumulate.
  3. Set the playlist a week in advance. Set it and forget it. Or outsource it to a friend or family member.
  4. Everyone looks better by (unscented) candlelight.
  5. A clean house is nice, but make it comfortable and lived in! It will relax your guests.
  6. Downplay mistakes or shortcomings. Hosting a party is hard work!
  7. Set the table and decorate (with low flowers and votives) the night or two nights before. Pull out all your plates, glasses, and silverware. Use cloth napkins.
  8. Hosting on a Saturday pumps up expectation. Try for a Friday or even Sunday evening.


And the Best Tip: Hire Professionals

Shameless plug! Stomping Ground is a fun and unique event space. The vibe is relaxed and similar to a dinner party in your own home, except you don’t have to worry about the prep or clean up.  We take care of it all including the food and drinks. We offer three options for format: cocktail, buffet, or full seated service. We have suggested menus but we are happy to customize based on your needs. Hosting your party at Stomping Ground allows you to throw an amazing party with not a lot of work. We still have some availability, but act fast. Email Stephanie Swick at It’s not too late!

“We wanted to host our special event at Stomp because we knew we would get an intimate and personally curated experience for our friends and family, and Nicole and her team truly exceeded all expectations.”



  • The latest from Nicole
Head Janitor, Chef, and Proprietor | Stomping Ground
Nicole’s cooking style is rooted in, but not limited to, her love of southern biscuits and her diverse culinary upbringing. A military brat, she spent her childhood in the Chicago suburbs enjoying her great-grandmother Mae’s Lithuanian cooking. As a tween, she moved to Paulding County, Ga. where she begrudgingly fell in love with the charmingly perplex small towns of the Deep South. She fondly remembers grubbing on Martin’s biscuits, late-night Waffle House debauchery and cooking with her family. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Nicole started a marketing career at an art nonprofit in Atlanta. At 25 years old, she became the youngest executive at the local Atlanta NPR affiliate. Chasing her dreams, she moved to Alexandria, Va. where she took a short post in the Whole Foods marketing department. Realizing that cooking had been her true love all along, she began night courses at L’Academie de Cuisine. She completed her apprenticeship at Blue Duck Tavern where she was promoted to a line cook after graduation. From there, Nicole worked as a private chef for busy Washington D.C. executives and their families. As grown-ups tend to do, Nicole realized something about her childhood — the best parts were enjoying small town communities, cooking with her great-grandmother and sharing meals with family and friends. She opened Stomping Ground to build a safe and welcoming community around yummy, handmade food from local sources. As her first foray running her own kitchen, she has shamelessly hired better, smarter cooks to fill her kitchen and your bellies. Her great-grandmother’s recipes often appear on the Stomping Ground menu without advertisement and, no, she won’t tell you the secret ingredients. Nicole lives in Del Ray and won’t shut up about how much she loves living there.

If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.

2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301


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