This article appears in Holiday Cookbook 2017.
Have a small space and many friends? Don’t let that stop you from inviting them over for some holiday cheer. Just follow some simple advice and your cozy place will become the perfect party space.
“If you have a small space and a lot of friends, my No. 1 tip is to invite people in different stages,” said Manhattan-based design and entertaining expert Francesco Bilotto. For example, instead of one start time, have guests come over during a timeframe of between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., he suggested.
“As a host you’ll know who mixes well, what your friends’ schedules are like. If they have to get home early to relieve a babysitter, have them come over at 5:30 p.m. For the friends who like to stay until the end, invite them over later at 7:30 p.m.,” Bilotto said.
Sit or stand
If you’re inviting people over for dinner, “they’re going to expect a chair, a plate and a meal,” Bilotto said.
For more casual parties, not everyone needs or requires a chair. “Everyone ends up in the kitchen, standing and chatting anyway,” Bilotto said.
To avoid piles of dishes, set up finger-food grazing stations that require only napkins, toothpicks, skewers and tongs. Not only will you lessen the number of dishes, it also helps to control portion size, Bilotto said.
However, “being eco-friendly is great, but it’s OK to use disposables for a party,” he said.
Rethink your space
When it comes to furniture placement, “open it up,” Bilotto said. Create conversational groupings such as ”two chairs around an end table for a bistro moment.” Rearrange furniture to create a seating situation that would be at home in a hotel lobby: Push your sofa back and add a few chairs facing it.
Additional seating can be purchased, such as four stools for about $100, or ask good friends to arrive early with a couple of chairs, Bilotto said.
If you lack a dining room table, be original. “Do it like the caterers” do and create your own space, Bilotto said. Break out the folding tables or even a large box tipped upside down and covered with a pretty tablecloth. A basket or planter 12 inches or higher can be turned over and used for serving. If guests can’t see what’s underneath, they won’t care that it’s two sawhorses and some two-by-fours.
If you have a flat-screen television that’s on a stand (not the wall), unplug it and put it in a closet. Set up a bar or grazing station on the TV stand.
Bilotto’s pro tip: Test-drive the seating area. Sit down and see if it works. Does it need a pillow? If I sit here, who can I talk to?
Clear away clutter
Remove personal objects and knickknacks like framed photos, extra lamps, flowers, candles and remotes so that guests have space to put down their drinks and plates, Bilotto said.
Split up the space
If you’re short on dining space, put the appetizers on coffee tables, side tables, TV trays or anywhere else you can find space. “Utilize different areas: Coffee and sweets in the living room, a bar in the kitchen, cheese and nuts someplace else,” Bilotto said.
Small spaces can make people anxious, so have a conversation game plan. If there’s a lull or suddenly people are arguing about politics, break out a card game, charades or the Heads Up! app and get the fun back on track.