How to holiday party prep like a pro

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s also the busiest time of the year at work. And most painful for my credit card. And freezing cold. And there are always about 800 items on my to-do list just waiting to get checked off. And absolute worst time to take any sort of public transportation. That’s right. Too much airport commuting this holiday season is turning me into a bit of a Grinch. But fear not, there are just 3 flights between me and Christmas time, so I’m channeling my inner Elf to crank away on a bunch of deliverables and then diving feet first into some sweatpants until the new year. And that’s my list of excuses for why this post is about 5 days late.

Last weekend I threw my annual holiday party. I’m a big proponent of throwing my party the first weekend in December before people’s social calendars get jam packed with multiple engagements in one night. And we all know if you have 4 parties to go to in one night, you’re going to get drunk at the first one and end up passed out on your couch at 9pm watching Love Actually with a pint of Ben + Jerrys. No? That’s just me? Well alright then.

You may remember last year after my holiday party I wrote up a little post on Holiday Party Hostessing. I recapped some of the basics on how to be a good holiday party hostess. So I figured I’d do a recap of this year’s holiday party (a big success) to help show that pretty much anyone (with a mild case of OCD) can throw a successful bash.

So if you’re an avid blog or Instagram follower, or just know me in real life, you know that I am a business consultant slash project manager by profession. Which means nothing gets me going quite like a well organized Excel spreadsheet. The more tabs the better. This year with my new job which involves a weekly commute via airplane, I had to be on my A-game with the party planning in advance because I didn’t have any time during the week to handle any prep. So this year I’m going to walk you through how to party prep like a pro with Excel spreadsheets.

There were 3 tabs to the party plan workbook: Execution Plan, Party Food, and Outstanding Shopping List Items.

The most important tab is the Party Food tab. The key to a successful party is to overfeed your guests, so no one can get too cray cray because they have no room left by the time they are rolled out the door. When I used to go to company parties at my first consulting job, they would always have an open bar and then feed you half a triscuit. And people would get absolutely hammerfaced within 15 minutes because of it. And by people, I mean me.  So I always like to go a little overboard with the food. One tip for making enough food (that will all taste good by party time) is half of the food needs to be able to be prepped the day before. Also, this is not the time to try some fancy new recipe that involves ingredients you can’t find or pronounce, or takes multi-hours to prep.

The table below is the list of what I planned for my party this year. Pepperoni bread, homemade pretzels, turkey kielbasa, and baked brie are my go-to items and have been for years. Crowd pleasers, and I can make them in my sleep. As for desserts, I stick to hand-held desserts that don’t require forks or being refrigerated. (No cheesecakes for a party like this). In the second column you can see Prep Day and then Status. The Status column can be populated with Not yet started, Prepped, or Complete. This helps me make sure I’m not an hour away from party go-live and there’s pretzel dough chilling in the fridge I forgot about. When all status cells read Complete, you know you’re ready for launch. I like to include the recipe link column because even if it is a tried and true recipe, when I’m prepping back to back deliverables, I don’t want to make a rookie mistake like forgetting yeast or baking soda or some key ingredient just because I’m moving quickly.

Appetizers Prep Day Status Recipe Link
Tom, Moz, Basil “skewers” Saturday Complete
Proscuitto, goat cheese, fig bruschetta Saturday Complete n/a
Pepperoni bread Saturday Prepped
Turkey Kielbasa Friday Prepped n/a
Baked Brie Friday Prepped
Homemade Pretzels Saturday Prepped
Assorted cheese, crackers, and hummus Saturday N/A
Mini Corndogs Saturday Prepped
Spinach Bites Friday Prepped
Cookie Dough Truffles Friday Complete
Browned Butter Blondies Friday Complete
Mini M&M Cookies Friday Complete
Browned Butter Rice Krispie Treats Friday Complete
Browned Butter Gingersnaps Friday Complete
Nutella Phyllo Cup Recipe Saturday Complete


To grocery shop for this, I go the weekend before the party and buy all of the non-perishables and frozen items. This takes the stress out of shopping the day of and finding out your ghetto Stop + Shop doesn’t have pizza dough, or it’s frozen, and you’re running all over the city trying to find what you need. I have most of these recipe ingredients memorized so I do one big shop just using what’s in my brain (scary) and then I’ll populate the Shopping List tab with anything that I forgot the first go-around.

The final tab, Execution Plan, is probably the most important. You need a logical order to get everything done. Otherwise you’re going to be sitting around twiddling your thumbs while all your doughs chill or dough is rising. Ain’t nobody got time for dat. Executing workstreams in parallel is key to optimizing party prep time. This will allow for additional day-of timeslots to “get fancy” and even hit the gym. (Sorry I didn’t take the time to figure out how to format a table in wordpress just yet, but I think you get the idea).


5:00 PM

Rice Krispie Treats

6:00 PM

Browned Butter Blondies

Cookie Dough Truffles

7:00 PM

Browned Butter Gingersnaps

Mini M&M Cookies

8:00 PM

Turkey Kielbasa

Spinach Bites

9:00 PM

Tom, Moz, Basil “skewers”

Phyllo Cup Recipe

10:00 PM

Set up kitchen table with labels/dishes

Pick Kristen up from the train station @ 10:10pm


7:00 AM

Pretzel Dough

8:00 AM

Spin Class 8:30-9:30

9:00 AM

Baked Brie

10:00 AM

Pepperoni bread

11:00 AM

Mini Corndogs

12:00 PM

Proscuitto, goat cheese, fig bruschetta

1:00 PM

GET ICE / Remaining items from Grocery Store (Shopping List tab)

2:00 PM

get fancy

3:00 PM

4:00 PM

5:00 PM

Bake Pretzels

6:00 PM

Set up drink station / warm appetizers

7:00 PM

Party begins


And yes, it takes that long for me to “get fancy.” No one wants a hostess looking like they are not the mostess. I recommend a little treat-yo-self action the day of your party. Getting my hair blownout is a nice relaxing pre-party treat that has my hair looking damn fine, and reduces any stress over running out of time and being halfway through blow drying your hair when the first guest arrives right on time. Two things you should always keep in mind when trying to organize the execution plan. 1) You do not want to have your oven on when party guests arrive (even int he middle of winter your kitchen is going to get h-o-t). 2) You want to be able to have all of your prep dishes and bowls cleaned and put away, and not have to be trying to speed wash anything last minute. You want to have appetizers that can be served hot, but that don’t require you to constantly be putting them back in the oven. And that’s how you do it. Plan, prep, execute. And then you actually get to spend time socializing with people and enjoy your own party. Everybody wins.

You’d think with such a well-organized plan, this post would be a little more organized, but what can you do.

So let’s just do a nice photo-recap of my party so you can see that in fact it was a well organized success.

IMG_2046The dessert table. The little labels were a nice touch so everyone knew what they were eating. Not that I think that would have stopped my friendsIMG_2048

Now you may notice these brownie bites were not on the original party spreadsheet. That’s a little thing called “Scope Creep.” I was a little ahead of schedule and felt like I wanted to do some experimenting. So whipped up these mini peppermint brownie bites which were a bit hit.IMG_2050Cookie Dough Truffles, made with eggless cookie dough, were the top rated dessert this year.
IMG_2051These cookies will be posted this week! They were made for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap which will I will post the recipe for this week. 
IMG_2052The easiest of all recipe, Browned Butter Salted Rice Krispie Treats, but always a BIG hit … and still taste good at 2am during some Cards Against Humanity.IMG_2054This was a new experiment this year. I mixed Nutella with Greek yogurt and piped them into these phyllo cups. The lesson learned here is that these should have been made the day-of, since the cups got a little soggy overnight. IMG_2055This is a quick adaptation of one of my favorite pizza recipes. Toasted baguette with fig jam, goat cheese and prosciutto. Delish, IMG_2053Browned Butter M&M Cookies. Always good to have a festive basic on the dessert table. IMG_2057Tomato, basil, mozarella skewers topped with olive oil + balsamic vinegar. Super easy, festive, and on the lighter side.IMG_2059Pepperoni Bread is my go-to and always a big hit that goes first. So I attempted an experiment with the second batch of dough Buffalo Chicken style. IMG_2062This Mini Corndog recipe came from my brother who made it a week earlier for a party. Homemade corn muffins with a little sausage in the middle. IMG_2065These Spinach Artichoke bites could not be easier. Just pull-apart biscuit dough, with a homemade spinach and artichoke cream cheese filling. Really tasty and bite-size. IMG_2066This Turkey Kielbasa recipe is probably the best thing I took from my ex-boyfriend (kidding … kind of?) His sister-in-law would make this for the holidays and it’s just Turkey Kielbasa, brown sugar, and whole cranberry sauce, mixed together and baked in the oven for about 45 minutes – served with toothpicks. Really good hot or once it gets to be room temperature as well. IMG_7984And for the pièce de résistance – homemade salted pretzels. I’ve got the dough down to a science now. Then I boil the bites in hot water with baking soda, bake them until golden and brush on some melted butter and top with coarse sea salt. People come to the party early to make sure they don’t miss out on these. Watch out Auntie Anne, I’m coming for you.

The best part of the party is when people were standing over the tables of food trying everything, and then providing real-time feedback on what they liked best. Cookie Dough Truffles won for best dessert, and Homemade Pretzels for best appetizer.

I always forget to take pictures during the party, so not as many this year as I would like, but here are a few. This is what the result of the afternoon timeslot for “get fancy” resulted in – some bounce in my hair, red lips, and smokey eye level 100.


Molly, Josh and I all started on the same day of my last job, so we are stuck together for life. But let’s take a moment to acknowledge Molly’s Pinterest craftiness for the win with her reindeeer beer decoration — Rudolph the red-nose Reinbeer.


My forever work-wife Allie who is just one of my all-time favorite people. And who my dog Harry has a weird thing for.
IMG_8014And to finish off the night strong, my FAVORITE party activity of all time – Cards Against Humanity. Just so inappropriate it’s always a good time. #bopitIMG_8011

And that’s it really. I grew up on Excel plans. Since I was 6 I carried around a color-coded Excel itinerary for every Disney vacation that planned out every item on the vacation 120 days in advance of our trip. And I’ve now learned that pretty much everything in life can (and SHOULD) be planned in Excel.

To do a quick “post-mortem” on this party here’s the final status:

  • On time
  • On budget, good margins
  • Minor scope creep
  • High level of client satisfaction

Now if I can only make a career out of Excel spreadsheets, party planning and cookie baking then I’ll be golden.