10 Smart Tips for Successfully Hosting a Crowd (PHOTOS)

Liz Alterman | Dec 29, 2014 Food & Party

chef overwhelmedEveryone loves a party, but let's face it: Cooking for a crowd can be tricky.

From keeping appetizers replenished to finding the perfect recipe that'll please the masses, serving as host or hostess can be a daunting task. So what are hard and fast rules for cooking up a successful gathering? 

cooking for a groupWe've rounded up 10 important tips for whipping up a wonderful wingding when you've got tons of guests coming. Check them out below, and then tell us: What's the number one thing that's tripped you up when cooking for a crowd?

 

Image via NDPhoto/shutterstock & Keen_eye/shutterstock

  • Do the Math

    1

    Dawn and Curt Simmons, authors of Cooking for a Crowd for Dummies, say the hardest part of hosting a big group is figuring out how much food you'll really need.

    For example, if appetizers will precede a meal, count on 6 to 8 pieces per person. If hors d'oeuvres will take the place of dinner, figure on 12 to 15 offerings each.

    Calculate portions ahead of time to avoid sending guests home hungry. 

    More from The Stir: 13 Ways to Make Cooking More Fun

  • Stick With What You Know

    2

    As tempting as it might be to try a new recipe, making something that you know is a winner is your best bet. 

    Experimenting with new recipes or complicated dishes increases the chances for problems, says Simmons. Always put new recipes through a test-run before serving them to a crowd.

    "We host a New Year's Eve party each year, and we always serve pulled pork, because I could make it in my sleep," says Kathy Collins, mom of two from New Jersey. "Once I tried to mix it up and I cooked a stuffed pork roast. When I started slicing it, it wasn't even close to cooked in the center. Meanwhile, everyone was watching and waiting for dinner. It was really embarrassing."

  • Don't Make It Too Formal

    3

    When hosting her annual shindig, Collins says she serves everything buffet-style to make it easy on herself and to keep guests circulating.

    "It's a party; I don't want to have to ring a dinner bell and force guests to sit down," says Collins. "Plus, I wouldn't have enough dining room chairs or matching plates to make it possible anyway. I set things up and restock as needed, and guests just help themselves when they're ready. It works."

  • Don't Try to Do It All Yourself

    4

    As much as you might want the bragging rights to claim you cooked everything yourself, be realistic. Rather than have a meltdown before guests arrive because you've run out of oven space, consider which items -- such as appetizers, side dishes, or desserts -- you can outsource. Chances are guests would rather have a relaxed hostess than a homemade pie anyway!

  • Read Your Recipes

    5

    Say you take a chance and decide to try a new recipe that you're sure will dazzle your guests. If you don't read the instructions thoroughly, you may find yourself in trouble. 

    Former Cooking Light Test Kitchen tester Mary Drennen Ankar explains the importance of figuring out your timing: “Trust me, you don’t want to be an hour away from dinner guests arriving when you get to the part of the recipe that says to marinate the brisket overnight or simmer for two hours.”

  • Don't Overlook Food Allergies or Intolerances

    6

    Don't put a guest in the awkward position of having to pull a granola bar out of her purse, because your meal will send her into anaphylactic shock. If you're aware of a friend or family member's food allergy or aversion, be mindful of that, and be sure to serve foods all attendees can enjoy. 

    Allergy-free recipes are easy to find online, so if you're unsure if one of your guests may have an intolerance, consider making a dish or two that will be safe for all. 

  • Don't Rush

    7

    While they might seem similar, there's a big difference between simmering and boiling! Sure, you want to get things done as quickly as possible when you're entertaining a big group, but improvising can backfire.

    Cooking Light nutrition editor Kathy Kitchens Downie shared a painful -- literally -- experience that involved swapping the techniques. "I had a friend serve me a beef stew once that gave me a real jaw workout," she reveals. "She boiled the meat for 45 minutes instead of simmering it for a couple of hours. She says she just wanted it to get done more quickly. Well, it was 'done,' but meat cooked too quickly in liquid ironically turns out very dry. And tough, really tough."

  • Don't Try to Do It All That Day

    8

    "If you leave everything to be done the same day as your gathering, you're just flirting with disaster," says Laura Haas, a mom of three from California, who routinely hosts birthday celebrations for her children that exceed 50 guests. "Pick some make-ahead dishes, like lasagna or baked ziti, and do anything else you can in advance. [Doing] things like putting out all the paper goods and setting out bowls with bags of chips in them ready to go will save you time that day."

  • Don't Turn Down an Offer to Help

    9

    "If someone offers to bring an appetizer or dessert or both, always say 'yes!'" says Collins. "It's much better to have to wrap up leftovers than start scouring the cabinets for more food. Plus, it makes your guest feel included, and, hey, if she didn't want to help, she shouldn't have offered."

  • Strike a Balance Between Hot & Cold Dishes

    10

    No hostess wants to get stuck in the kitchen manning the oven and resetting the timer all night. By serving up a variety of hot and cold dishes, you'll save yourself time and trouble and also avoid the potential for burning something if you get caught up in conversation with a guest.

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