Holiday Entertaining Disasters

How To Avoid Hosting Chaos As You Celebrate The Season

by Todd Nelson // October - November - December 2021

Your home is beautifully decorated; the dining table is stylishly set; your guests are happily chatting away, enjoying their hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs. You’re this close to getting an elaborate holiday feast you’ve been preparing for days served to the table piping hot when … wham! Disaster strikes. You can’t always avoid holiday entertaining disasters, but it pays to anticipate and prepare for how you’ll react under pressure before the big day arrives. Culled from true entertaining disaster stories from coworkers, friends, and family, here are some real risks and how to prepare, so you can ensure your holiday get-together is all set for your guests to eat, drink, and be merry.

Smoke/carbon monoxide detector goes off. With your oven and stove firing on all cylinders, there is a high risk that anything burnt-on will start to smoke, possibly setting off smoke alarms. The best way to avoid this holiday entertaining disaster is to thoroughly clean your oven, stovetop, and range hood before the big day and use vents if you have them while cooking. If your oven is self-cleaning or dirty enough to require strong chemicals for cleaning, be aware that the process can stink up your home, so leave plenty of time for unpleasant odors to dissipate before the big day. If cooking with a gas stovetop, know also that too many large pots covering burners can trap and cause unsafe buildup of carbon monoxide in your kitchen. If a CO alarm sounds, be sure everyone moves quickly to fresh air, ventilate by opening windows and doors, and contact your fire department for further instructions.

Bad odors. Especially if you have pets, remember that your own sense of smell will have acclimated, but your guests are definitely going to notice when they walk in the door. As you prep for the big day, make sure you eliminate odors, not just mask them. Simple ways to remove bad smells include opening windows, cleaning regularly, tackling a deep clean, and using your science skills. Baking soda, which is alkaline, works well as a so-called “green” deodorizer because it bonds chemically to neutralize acid-based odor-causing agents. The reverse may be true for acidic substances such as white vinegar or used coffee grounds, which are also often recommended as green odor removers. The key takeaway here is that you need to know the basic chemistry or biology of an odor you’re attacking in order to determine what substance will be effective at eliminating it. For serious odor sources such as black mold or pet urine, you may want to call in the pros who know how to remove odors both effectively and safely. I promise you, your guests – and their noses – will appreciate it.

Spills that stain. You can pretty much guarantee that at some point during your holiday soiree, a guest is going to knock over or spill something on your table or carpet. Different spills require different solutions; you can prepare by considering what you’ll be serving, Googling effective stain solutions, and making sure you have all the needed items and tools nearby. Keep a spare tablecloth plus one or two extra place settings on hand for spills that happen early in the feast or before you even get it served.

Sick kids. Holidays are a time for sweets! Which means they are also a time for sugar-high kids running around with their cousins, becoming overheated, and, without warning, vomiting all over your carpet. You can’t stop it from happening, but you can be prepared with knowledge and a vomit-cleaning kit.

Garbage disposal troubles. Home garbage disposals are designed to handle regular daily amounts of food scraps. They are NOT designed to handle 20 pounds of potato peels and other feast quantities of food at one time. And there’s a good chance your plumber’s going to be busy when you call for help with a clog. Avoid the issue by discarding large-volume food scraps (for one-day only) with the trash or maybe start that compost you’ve been thinking about. If your disposal motor simply cuts out (versus clogging), there’s a good chance it has simply overheated. Give it a break, then look under the sink for the reset button to restart.

Dishwasher breaks down. It’s Murphy’s Law that if your dishwasher is ever going to break down, it’s going to happen when you are hosting people for a big holiday meal. Just in case, have a large stack of clean dish towels on hand and graciously accept any offers of help with the washing up.

Todd Nelson

Owner of MaidPro of Raleigh and Wake Forest.