Ina Garten’s 14 Best Hosting Tips of All Time

published Nov 18, 2023
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Ina Garten headshot on colorful background
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Entertaining your loved ones is no easy task, but fortunately this holiday season Ina Garten wants to help you streamline the process. It doesn’t matter if you’re hosting a small gathering or something on a larger scale, extended family and all — come Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or all of the above, Ina has plenty of simple tips and tricks to make this a stress-free experience. An experience that, dare we say, could even be enjoyable! 

This year, celebrate your holidays in style by being the host with the most by following Ina’s lead. Whether you’re looking for the perfect pan to roast the most succulent turkey or trying to save time on baked goods, the multi-hyphenate icon has a solution for everything. We scoured the Barefoot Contessa’s Instagram to tell you what to buy, how to decorate (or assemble) everything from cakes to tables, and where to go to accomplish each unexpected detail. From timing plans to easy DIY hacks, here are 14 holiday hosting tips that have earned Ina’s stamp of approval.

1. Start with the right tablecloth. 

Start your hosting duties off on the right note with a clean slate: the right tablecloth. According to Ina, a solid-colored tabletop works when entertaining a small or large group, and is an affordable way to liven up tabletops. While white linen is often a top contender for Ina herself, a pop of color is a seasonally appropriate choice, too. Add depth without being overly distracting with a dark red or emerald green hue. In addition to being perfectly on trend, it’ll also add contrast to your white dishes and glassware.

2. Mix and match vases and flowers.

Instead of focusing on one specific size, shape, or height for your vases, take the road less traveled and mix and match. Ina recommends moving them around until you find what you (and your eye) like best and going from there. It’ll make your table a one-of-a-kind design that’s uniquely yours! After figuring out how you want to display your vases on your table, break up your floral arrangements. “Instead of making one big arrangement, it’s so much easier to make small vases of flowers and just move them around until they look right,” Garten explained.

3. Pick your plates.

Err on the side of caution and throw your support behind white plates. For years, Ina has done the same, and it’s served her well (literally). White plates make your food the star of the show; all eyes will be on your culinary creation and even more so when you opt for the two brands currently a mainstay in her collection: the Pillivuyt Coupe Porcelain Dinner Plates from Williams Sonoma, and the Apilco Tradition Porcelain Dinnerware Collection from Williams Sonoma.

4. Have your plates double as seat assignments. 

Have your plates double as seat assignments? Yes, you read that correctly. According to an Instagram post, Ina turns to her favorite ceramic artist, Melissa Goldstein, to decorate plates with numbers that are later “a way of animating a table; people have played games or used as seating assignments.” Talk about a foolproof way to handle hosting duties!

5. Find flatware. 

No table works without flatware, and Chambly is Ina’s daily silverware of choice. However, if her mainstay is outside your budget, a simple stainless steel set like this one offers the same durability and longevity at a lower price point.

6. Create a conversation circle. 

Prior to serving the main course (or courses), kick things off the Ina-approved way with appetizers. On a versatile wooden cutting board, arrange fresh go-to items like grapes, cashews, and cheese. Need an example? This board will create an inviting atmosphere that allows guests to interact while indulging in delicious finger foods. 

7. Strike gold with an investment pan. 

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of the main course: It’s the perfect time to invest in a versatile roasting pan that delivers. Crafted from stainless steel, this pan heats evenly and comes with a V-shaped rack that cradles poultry perfectly. The large, roomy handles make picking it up a cinch — even with bulky oven mitts on — and it’s dishwasher-safe. It’s the investment that’s worth every penny. 

8. Stay within your budget.

Hosting the holidays doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and Ina refuses to let it. Instead, when it comes to the best baked goods, she turns to Trader Joe’s affordable French Apple Tart, a staple at her holiday soirées. “Hosting is all about the people — not the food,” and this French Apple Tart covers both bases by creating a cozy and inviting space for your guests while also tantalizing their taste buds. Plus, it won’t break the bank!

9. Save time on baking.

Instead of making more than one dough for cookies, Ina recommends saving time with shortbread dough. This recipe is multi-functional: You can cut it into various holiday shapes, including Christmas trees and wreaths, then later decorate it with different icings, sprinkles, glazes, or chocolate.  

10. Master mess-free muffins. 

Before you host, your life may feel like a never-ending to-do list. The last thing you want is to repeat a step you previously completed. Avoid any redos in the kitchen by planning ahead with these mess-free muffins. The secret to success is simple: Grease every inch of your muffin pan — including the top. This hack avoids broken or damaged muffins and makes transferring them from pan to plate easy.

11. Decorate desserts effortlessly. 

Ina shared her hacks for mess-free muffins, but what about mess-free cakes? Consider it handled — or at least, with this trick, you’ll have it covered. Before decorating cakes on your cake stand, Ina recommends placing parchment or wax paper on the stand and cutting it into small triangles. As you work around the cake, you’ll see the tiny triangles sticking out; seamlessly pull them out when finished. You’ll have a mess-free cake stand that rivals one from the pros. (This video shows how to do this step-by-step around the 18-minute mark.) 

12. Indulge in boozy beverages (and treats!).

Love alcohol and dessert? Ina is no exception. That’s why, this holiday season, mix the two to create one delicious dessert. Ina’s three-ingredient boozy limoncello desserts earn an automatic green check in our book; they’re easy to make and delicious. Part lemon-flavored alcohol, part ice cream, topped off with garnish and voilà! It’s the elevated ice cream float that’s too decadent to miss. 

13. Perfectly plate portions. 

Ina provides another simple hack that will have you whipping up restaurant-style cakes (or muffins) in seconds. Before plating your slice of cake, spread just a couple of spoonfuls of fruit jam in a circle on a small plate (using the back of the spoon), then lay the slice of cake on its side and garnish with a few fresh berries. It’s the tiny details that will make a world of difference. 

14. Serve in style. 

Sure, Ina will assemble her table to her liking, but when grabbing food, she leaves that up to her guests. She lets them grab as much or as little as they need, and the way she does so is by planning ahead with the proper serving platters, particularly this one. This Le Creuset oval platter is dense enough to block moisture absorption to prevent cracking, crazing, and ripping, and the nearly nonstick glazed interior easily releases food for a quick cleanup. Plus, it looks so stylish when laid on a table, ready to dive deep into!