9 Tips for Entertaining Guests in Small Spaces

Many people think they can’t entertain because their place is too small.

I thought this was the case when I downsized from my four bedroom home into a cute little cottage by the sea. I was the one in the family who hosted all of the holiday gatherings, and it made me sad to think I couldn’t do it anymore.

But after two years I realized that I was the one limiting myself. I could do it again, I just needed to think outside of the box and figure out how to make it work in a small space.

I now happily entertain friends and family again. I figured out how to manage a sit-down dinner for 10 in my little kitchen (see the photo above of my sister, niece and nephew happily ensconced in my small kitchen).

For my Care2 friends who think they can’t entertain due to limited size, here are 9 tips for how you can successfully entertain friends even if you have a small space to do it in. ( Also See Feng Shui for Small Spaces)

1. Get organized and plan traffic patterns. Have a place for everything to land when entering your home. As soon as friends and family come in, greet them with a hug and steer them into the designated room for all purses, coats, presents and non-food items (which is on my bed). You will be heading off at the pass any potential falls due to the congestion of bodies and objects all vying for the same space as well as opening up the traffic patterns.

2. Assign a designated area for wrapping gifts. Choose a place away from the crowds, such as a bedroom, and have wrapping paper, two sets of tape and scissors, tags, ribbons and a waste basket all organized in one area. You may want to put all of the things for stuffing stockings as well in this area. Contain it and head it off at the pass, as I am sure you have the inevitable friends and family members who show up without having wrapped anything. This way you just point the way and can spend your time being the hostess instead.

My sit-down dinner for ten- cozy in my small kitchen

3. Wash the dishes and pans as you go. You will no doubt need to use the limited counter space for serving the food when you get to that stage, so discipline yourself and get your holiday helpers to pitch in.

4. Organize food in the most logical way for serving, saving people bumping into each as they go back and forth in the line. An example might be arranging the Turkey (or Tofurkey) first, the stuffing next, the gravy after that and cranberry sauce last. I make sure salads are tossed rather than slowing down the food line by people choosing which dressing they want. Put the butter on the table so that the line doesn’t slow down by guests having to use two hands for anything. Put these things on the table and pass around later. Keep it moving and make sure things that go together are lined up side by side.

5. Don’t keep it yourself, borrow or rent it for the holidays. If you have limited space, you most likely have limited storage as well. Get to know your neighbors and borrow their extra tables and chairs when you entertain. My neighbor has huge elaborate parties and is happy to loan me hers. If you don’t have friendly neighbors, you can rent them fairly inexpensively, or have families and friends all bring a chair or two with them. I now have a sit-down dinner for ten cozily arranged in my small kitchen with two borrowed tables pushed together and festively decorated. The great thing about small spaces is that everyone has to talk and mingle, no more going off in corners for private conversations!

6. Take it outside! If you happen to be in a place where the weather is good, pretend you are French and take the party outside! Here is my recent birthday party with ten of my closest women friends for my Fall Birthday bash.

Take it outside! My recent Fall Birthday bash with best girlfriends.

7. Get as much cooking done as possible before they arrive and/ or have the helpers come early to cook. You want to be spending your time entertaining once the guests arrive and your space is too small to be putting it together when the crowds are congregating in the kitchen. Think it through and have everything diced, chopped, sliced and prepared before hand. For the things that need to be done at the end, having it all ready to go into the pans will save having to find limited counter space.

8. Have everyone prepare what they are bringing before they come. My dear sister, (whom I love), is a last minute Nellie. Her pies are exceptional so this is always her assignment, but she would always show up with ingredients in hand and make them at my house. When I had a large kitchen, that worked fine, but not with my tiny space.There she would be rolling dough and slinging flour while I was trying to get everything together. It was all I could do to not wring her neck! I finally put my foot down and told her she had to make what she was bringing before coming. She wasn’t terribly pleased but it has made a huge difference in the sanity I now enjoy when entertaining. If you have a friend or family member you think might do this, ask them to please make dishes they are bringing fully prepared due to your limited kitchen space.

9. Find unusual ways to use what you have, setting up stations for drinks and appetizers away from prime kitchen space. When you have limited space you need to get innovative and use everything you have. Next to my kitchen is my utility room with washer and dryer. I used these surfaces as tables and turned this room into a festive ‘south of the border‘ serving area by stringing colorful lights around the walls and covering the washer and dryer with attractive table cloths; I then put decorative trays over those with a lovely floral arrangement in the middle.Voila! It had morphed from utility room to a fun (and very useful) area for serving drinks and appetizers that kept guest away from prime kitchen space where the cooking needed to take place.

When you have limited space, don’t limit yourself by thinking you can’t entertain. Think outside of the box and rethink every corner to make it both fun and useful, and make your home the fun and warm place it used to be!

For More on Small Spaces, see Feng Shui for Small Spaces by Erica Sofrina

Erica Sofrina in a nationally recognized speaker, teacher and author of the book Small Changes, Dynamic Results! Feng Shui for the Western World, an Interior Design and Feng Shui consultant and Founder of the Academy of Feng Shui.

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Michael H.
Mike H4 years ago

Thank you for sharing this

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

Amanda M.
Amanda M4 years ago

When I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, I didn't do any entertaining. This was partly because I couldn't figure out the logistics of trying to host a party in an apartment that didn't even have a dining space, but mainly because all my girlfriends had gotten married and "abandoned" me because I was still single and I worked as a security guard, which means weird hours to begin with (think heavy on the weekends and evening/graveyard shifts). With a combination like that, one tends to have a social life that can fit into the period at the end of this sentence.

My husband and I didn't have too much trouble entertaining in our last house (a 200-year-old log cabin that had definitely seen better days), but we didn't throw parties too often because we had to keep the parties on the patio due to the small kitchen, and we didn't have a dishwasher (and washing by hand takes FOREVER), as well as the fact that the single bathroom in the house was on the second floor and the living room, kitchen, and bathrooms were on the first floor! Not the best layout, especially once I got pregnant with our second kid. One can imagine how much sleep I got due to the multiple bathroom runs in the middle of the night then-morning sickness in that situation is bad enough!

Anne F.
Anne F4 years ago

Such a cheerful article. Thank you. It helps me to remember that the company is the most important part of the occasion.

Karen R.
Karen Ryan4 years ago

Think outside the box and rethink every corner - great idea! I never thought of putting tablecloths on the washer and dryer and using the laundry room as a drink station. Look at everything with fresh eyes and you can be surprised at what you see.

Dot A.
Dot A4 years ago

Wow, great tips, Erica - Great timing!!!

Robert O.
Robert O4 years ago

Thank you Erica.

Jamie B.
Jamie B4 years ago

I am moving all of the 'small' furniture from my living room into the garage and setting up a dining room in my living room this year for 'T-Day'. If I thought for one minute we wouldn't be eaten alive by mosquitoes in the garage, we'd be eating out there!

Rekha S4 years ago

That pic of the little mousey opening the gift is so cutee!

Barb h
Ba H4 years ago