Your home is beautifully decorated, dining table stylishly set, guests happily chatting away, enjoying their hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs. You’re this close to getting an elaborate holiday feast for 18 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. Culled from true entertaining disaster stories amongst staff, friends, and family, here are some real risks and how to prepare:
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. Best way to avoid is to thoroughly clean your oven, stovetop and range hood before the big day and to 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 clean for the big day, check out this handy guide for removing (versus simply masking) common home odors.
Spills that stain. You can pretty much guarantee that—at some point in your entertaining career—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, then making sure you have all the needed items and tools close at hand. Keep a spare table cloth plus one or two extra place settings on hand also for spills that happen early in the feast or before you even get it served.
Child sick. 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 quantities of food scraps. They are NOT designed to handle 20 pounds of potato peels and other feast quantities of food at one time. And, because many people don’t know this, there’s a good chance your plumber’s going to be busy when you call desperately for help with a clog. Avoid the issue by discarding large-volume food scraps (for one-day only) with the trash or maybe starting that composting habit you’ve been thinking about for a while now. 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 have lots of people in 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.