Whether it is a game-watching party, extended family for the holidays, a baby shower, or other celebration, opening your home to a large group can be fun if you let it. A home brimming with the energy of a large group is a rare gift to be enjoyed, if you know how to do it right. Planning for large groups brings with it certain hospitality challenges that require extra consideration. Each idea I share below is meant to set you up to enjoy your guests and the occasion as much as possible.
Let be frank. Hosting large groups is going to involve more work than having a friend over for a casual dinner. Sometimes we volunteer to host the large group. Sometimes we get “volunteered.” Either way, make friends with the fact that you are going to have your work cut out for you. Together, we can figure out the best road forward.
A large group, in my opinion, is defined as more people than you can seat at your dining room table. For me, this means more than twelve people. For some, the number might be twenty-four. For others, it might be six. Don’t get hung up on comparison. Everyone’s space has different limitations. What’s important is that you know yours and can plan accordingly.
The most important step is to make a plan. We can talk more about this in another post one day, but, as a general rule, do not leave anything to chance. Think through every detail, write it down, and then check it off when it is complete. This will help keep you sane. Plus, when the list is done, the party begins!
Next, be deliberate yet global with your choices. This is not the time to offer all the options when it comes to beverages or menu items. Stick to one or two beverage choices, and make sure they are universally enjoyed. Sure, Jane might love Caffeine Free Diet Coke, but tonight, Jane might need to drink water or tea. Limiting the options is a way to care for your guests by ensuring their experience is as pleasant as possible. Jane, you matter, but tonight your specific beverage preference is not the point.
If possible, make every station a self-serve buffet. This applies to beverages, appetizers, dinner, and dessert. Set up different areas (preferably outside the kitchen) where your guests can help themselves. You are not hosting a state dinner. You are working a crowd, and that crowd is capable. Equip everyone to help themselves so that you can tend to other matters.
For goodness sake, make room for your guests. Take the bevy of throw pillows on your couch (beautiful though they may be) to your bedroom to allow as many seats as possible on your sofa. Pull in dining room chairs, borrow folding chairs from a friend, remove bulky blankets from armchairs, and make sure there is plenty of space on side tables and coffee tables for people to set their drinks. When you host a large group in your home, your home becomes a huge hospitality hub. Get rid of the clutter, and create some space!
Let’s talk about your menu. I suggest choosing something that has mass appeal. If you must consider dietary restrictions, include a huge salad with the dressing on the side. If done well, a salad will satisfy. It usually works best if everything on your menu is self-sustaining once you put it out. This means it is delicious at room temperature and won’t require you to fuss with it as the evening progresses. My favorite go-to menus center around a large casserole or pot of chili.
Perhaps you are wondering if details matter when hosting a large group. The answer is no…but sometimes yes. The most important factor when hosting a large group is the greater good of the group. Details that prevent the group from having access to what they need become liabilities. If your desire to use the cute little drink pitcher you bought makes it really difficult for twenty people to get a beverage because you have to refill it frequently, then maybe don’t use the cute pitcher when hosting a large group. Buy bottled water or use a larger dispenser.
However, sometimes situations are once-in-a-lifetime, and it is worth capturing them - like when Elizabeth’s only sister graduated from college, and was on her way to law school. Elizabeth thought of hilarious law-themed menu items, so she hosted a large group in her home and made adorable food labels. To not do so would be missing an opportunity. Does the difference make sense? Details for the sake of details are not helpful with large groups. Details with distinct purpose are an occasion to celebrate.
Finally, and this is by far my number one suggestion: do not use your own dishes. With rare exception, there is a disposable option that will serve your purposes beautifully. If you are committed to the idea of using real dishes, rent them and be done with it. At a minimum, rent glasses. My favorite combination is to rent glasses, use nice disposable plates and silverware, but to use real serving pieces. For example, in the past, I have put Roast Beef Sliders on a large white platter, allowed people to serve themselves on thick clear plastic disposable plates, offered bamboo or plastic forks, then rented simple multi-purpose glasses. At the end of a big evening, there is nothing better than knowing the dishes are a minimum!
Creating space for others, particularly large groups, is always a worthy endeavor. The more you practice, the better you will become at artfully and graciously hosting others in your home. I hope these tips prove helpful. I would love to hear what you think!