Your Guide To Hosting The Ultimate Holiday Party In A Small Space

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Anyone who's lived in a tiny apartment or house knows this seasonal struggle all too well. As the holidays draw closer, the first thing you think of is getting the whole gang together at your place for some shared cheer. Still, there's one small issue that stands in the way. You might live for entertaining and cook like a Michelin-starred chef, but your limited space takes the concept of coziness to a whole new level when you introduce guests to the mix.

Take comfort in the fact that a legendary party planner is on your side. "I think a good hostess really knows how to maximize the use of space, no matter if it's big or small," Martha Stewart told Apartment Therapy. So, if you want to throw a party but think your house is too small, relax — there are plenty of ways to make it happen in time for the holidays.

Tag in a co-host

No one wants to miss out on the highlights of the evening. But it's all too easy to fall prey to helicopter hostessing, leaving you little time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. And it's doubly important to take time to get ready prior to adding finishing touches around the home. "You don't want to answer the door with wet hair and be the scraggliest person at your own party. That's not fun, and no one wants to see a stressed-out host," chef and lifestyle expert Alejandra Ramos tells The Washington Post.

So before you make any guest lists or tasting menus, ask a trusted loved one or friend to share hosting duties for the big event. Plan to meet at your place at least an hour or two before partygoers arrive so that there's enough time to get the space — and yourself — in good shape for company. Then, make sure you have a game plan. For instance, one co-host can focus on playing bartender while the other takes care of food-related tasks. This way, you won't have to spend the entire evening darting around or missing out on merry mingling.

Take care of important details in advance

With gatherings of any size, you can never be too prepared. Consider the details that could make or break your night and create a checklist so as to remember everything. "I had a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous party right before the pandemic, and that room was something else. The food was so pretty, but the [room] was so dark," socialite Kathy Hilton tells USA Today. To avoid Hilton's plight, keep some LED lights or candles on hand to ward off dim lighting. Things like bottle openers, spare recyclable plates, and stain-removing wipes are just a few other items to have handy. And it's helpful to tag drinks with stickers, markers, or silicone bands to reduce the number of mystery cups left unattended, especially in smaller spaces.

Furthermore, given the unpredictability of store shelves this time of year, you'll want to get a head start on sourcing essentials for your event. Whether you're planning to shop in stores or online, start as early as possible for non-perishable items. "You really can't assume anything is available or will reach you in time, so it's best to start shopping now," lifestyle expert Michiel Perry tells Insider. Also, keep everything for your get-together organized in one place so nothing wanders off before the big day.

Plan on decluttering prior to the main event

Even the strictest minimalists accumulate some degree of mess, and enough stuff lying around can make any dwelling look smaller. "Clutter is always going to make a space feel smaller. You need to make your space easy to navigate so guests can mingle and enjoy the food and drinks," party planner Rebecca Hoeckele tells The Washington Post. During the chaos of the holiday season, things can quickly spiral out of control when it comes to housekeeping routines. To mitigate this, take charge of your surroundings well before the date of your gathering.

With the help of your trusty party copilot or partner, carve out some time to assess your settings and free up some space. Empty shipping boxes? Projects you started and never got around to finishing? Some things can certainly be discarded, but others can find a temporary home away from prime party real estate. If you're truly pressed for storage or time, designate a corner of the bedroom or a closet to keep trip hazards from public view.

To fix up a roomier layout for your serving and seating areas, get creative by using pieces you already own. For instance, a fleece-backed vinyl tablecloth draped over an ironing board can make a quick snack table. "An ottoman can double as a coffee table, a sectional placed in a corner can take up otherwise dead space and free up usable space," interior designer Georgia Zikas tells Forbes.

Make the most of your menu plan

If you're expecting company with dietary restrictions, make sure there are a variety of bites available to prevent any sheepish visits to the drive-thru after the party ends. "You should always have one thing that everyone can eat. It means so much to go to someone's home as a guest, and they have made something special just for you — it really is the thought that counts," chef Petrina Peart tells Plenty of traditional holiday dishes are suitable for special diets and virtually effortless, like roasted root vegetables and cranberry sauce.

Got gluten-free guests? Be mindful of ingredients if you're cooking from scratch. For example, you can modify most dishes to substitute gluten-free flour for wheat-based versions, and few will know the difference. "When people consider gluten, they usually think of breads, baked goods, and grains, but gluten may also be found in soy sauce, condiments, soups, sauces, and beer, among other things," dietitian Samantha Cassetty tells Everyday Health. Incorporate some trusted gluten-free options that everyone can enjoy — you'll save time and space while satisfying everyone's wishes. And, if you don't feel like cooking, check your area for top-rated bakeries that cater to special diets, and make sure you place orders early.

Have a drink menu ready to streamline requests

To some, holiday drinks are the highlight of the season. Try a combination of old standards and contemporary twists, or just stick to the classics. But whatever you do, choose quality over quantity at the wine shop. "Stock fewer bottles of worthwhile spirits rather than a greater variety of cheaper stuff...make sure they're brands that you'd want to drink even without a mixer," beverage curator Clark Moore tells The New York Times. By selecting a handful of high-quality wines and liquors, you'll please every attendee's taste buds and simplify drink requests.

When it comes to drink recipes, coquito, eggnog, and mulled wine are all great options to satisfy taste buds looking for holiday spice and everything nice. Depending on how much room you have, you can offer a small assortment or come up with a show-stopping signature cocktail that no one will want to pass up. If you can't decide, mulled cider is an excellent choice that fills the home with a festive fragrance as it simmers. It can be served plain for teetotalers or with a shot of whisky for drinkers. In either form, it's best when garnished with a slice of orange or lemon. "I have found that adding some aged rum, a lighter style amaro, and a touch of lemon for acidity brightens [mulled cider] up. It will keep you warm and asking for more," beverage director Juan Carlos Santana tells Food & Wine.

Use slow cooker dishes or the help of a food warmer

Counterspace is always an issue in small flats, and no one enjoys awkwardly waiting in buffet lines. Why not maximize the areas your guests can fill their plates using a food warmer or slow cooker? Food warmers can keep finished dishes piping hot nearly anywhere, so diners don't have to fight for a spot in the kitchen. And slow cookers function as both the cooking device and serving platter, making less clean-up work for you. You may be surprised to learn you already own one expert-approved warming device for serving sauces. "I like to keep my gravy, sauce or any type of jus in a smaller sized thermos when serving food on a buffet table to ensure [it] won't get cold," chef Ed Cotton tells People.

There is one crucial thing to keep in mind when serving or re-heating foods for company: temperature. If serving hot foods, you'll want to check that they're kept at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above, whereas cold foods should stay chilled under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. "If you're not used to cooking for a lot of people at one can be easy to make mistakes that could lead to a foodborne illness," food safety specialist Linnette Goard tells Ohio State University. Keep a food thermometer handy, set timers, and rotate perishable dishes every two hours to reduce the risk of developing foodborne pathogens.

Get creative with irresistible hors d'oeuvres

One way to save space and serving utensils is to include a tempting array of finger foods and small plates for partygoers. Appetizers are what hungry folks look forward to when they first walk in the door, so be thoughtful about which ones you'll serve. The choice is yours to develop a menu of miniatures that will satiate every type of foodie without compromising valuable real estate at your serving stations. Include everything from sushi to mashed potato bites — some may mix and match hors d'oeuvres to achieve their own perfect flavor profile. "I love medium grain sushi rice with buttery mashed potatoes...the texture contrast of smooth buttery mashed potatoes combined with chewy rice is heaven," Noodle Theory chef and owner Louis Kao tells Food & Wine.

Some dishes can also double as decorative centerpieces on the food line. "Any cheese ball is a welcome addition to a holiday party spread. But when it looks like a pine cone, you're talking about a real showstopper," food guru Chef John tells Allrecipes. Plus, cheese balls are notoriously simple — and fun — to make. Just like butter board recipes, these dairy-based sculptures feature a combination of fresh herbs, spices, and add-ins to keep guests coming back for more. And, of course, you can use plant-based alternatives in place of traditional soft cheeses for vegan-friendly fare.

Choose charming decor that won't get in the way

Few things could be worse than guests endlessly bumping into one another like cornered characters in a game of The Sims. If you can rearrange or utilize furniture in common areas to create more space, do so. And when it comes to festive decorations, choose flat pieces that are unobtrusive, like garlands, curtain lights, and banners. Still, don't feel tempted to go overboard when shopping for decor. "Something as simple as a wreath and a few boughs of holly can turn your small space into a festive spot for entertaining," small space expert Melanie Gnau tells Elle. When purchasing live wreaths or trees this season, ask your tree farm or nursery for leftover branches. You can make beautiful, aromatic centerpieces with the remnants at no extra cost.

Maybe your kitchen table only sits four — or you don't have a kitchen table at all. No problem. Ottomans, poufs, pillows, and even rugs or throws are okay to pull out if you're short on seating. Moreover, you can use them to create a gathering spot alongside low-height surfaces like your coffee table. "If you put all the food on the coffee table, people will stay there," designer Heather Higgins tells RealSimple. Include a small centerpiece, like warm-hued flameless candles or miniature light strands, to make it feel even homier.

Pick entertainment that everyone can enjoy

There may not be any lively games of Twister at your place, but that's okay. You can entertain your company with various props and activities, like conversation-starting party crackers. "For holiday dinner parties, I'm a huge proponent of putting a cracker at each setting — there's nothing like an oh-so-satisfying pop to set the night off on a festive note," creative consultant Harling Ross-Anton tells Architectural Digest. Look for something like Tom Smith's eight Gold Pin Dot Party Crackers, which are great for entertaining a small crowd. Your company will enjoy taking selfies with the provided paper crowns, and everyone gets to take home a favor.

Only you know your friends' limits when it comes to gameplay, so choose your activities accordingly. If your friends are willing, try planning something more involved, like an ugly sweater contest or a gift exchange, around the time you send out RSVPs. While providing a selection of classic card or parlor games for guests is always a good idea, there's no need to take things too seriously. "My family and I are really competitive at charades and Pictionary, which I'm not good at," television host Padma Lakshmi tells E! News

If you're looking for a newer release that's sure to elicit hysterical laughter, check out the Telestrations After Dark Board Game. Telestrations is a four-to-eight-player game that's a twist on the classic "telephone," and fans say it's definitely worth the investment. "[It's] one of the best [games] I've ever played. We were laughing so hard every round that tears were streaming," writes one reviewer.

Plan a feature film for late-night partygoers

Everyone loves a good film or television marathon. When the revelry starts winding down, put something festive on and hand out comfy throws and pillows. For added fun, have everyone nominate a handful of streaming titles and draw one randomly from a hat. Even if you don't own a big screen, you can easily invest in a small movie projector, like the Clokowe Mini Portable Projector. Not only is the device's picture quality excellent, but reviewers note that it's great for small spaces. "I've had small projectors before, but this one is ultra-compact — it practically fits in your hand and is super lightweight," one customer states. Once you've picked out a projector, all you need is a wall or a white drape, and you're ready to hold the perfect movie night with friends.

Plus, if you're serious about attention to detail, why not take inspiration from comedian Demi Adejuyigbe and pair the main attraction with a playfully themed snack or drink? "There are things in movies that are inherently good to adapt. Something Irish for 'Belfast,' or a king cake for 'King Richard,'" Adejuyigbe tells Eater. That said, we'd probably steer clear of serving guests something like the marshmallow-laden spaghetti from "Elf," regardless of how authentic it is.

Have a designated crash pad for overnighters

Whether spontaneous snowstorms make travel impossible or partygoers have a little too much fun, there are many reasons why people may need to stay the night unexpectedly. "Encourage guests to designate a driver who won't imbibe and will get them home safely," prevention expert Robert Vincent tells Healthline. Although having a designated driver is always advisable, it's best to establish a backup plan just in case. Even though your space may be limited, it doesn't mean you can't create a pseudo-guest room in a flash. "My place is so tiny, but it feels like a real home, so when people visit, they don't want to leave! It's about making them feel cozy," design advisor Helena Agustí tells Architectural Digest.

It takes virtually no effort to fashion an emergency overnight bag and sleeping quarters for friends who happen to party too hard. Your surprise sleepover kit can consist of essentials like toothbrushes, contact lens supplies, and makeup removal wipes. To provide everyone with comfortable bedding, have fresh blankets, pillows, and even a sleep mask or two ready for them. Feeling really pressed for room? One compact alternative to the traditional air mattress is a self-inflating sleeping pad or foam camping mat. With thoughtful entertaining touches like these, guests will remember your fabulous hosting skills, not the square footage of your space. Just remember to avoid common entertaining mistakes this holiday season.