To ease your holiday hosting worries, we talked to New York City-based chef Behzad Jamshidi about his tips for putting together a low-prep, high-reward holiday spread. (He even demonstrated it for us in person at the recent West Elm Holiday Market!) Focusing on a carefully arranged board of high-quality, store-bought ingredients means that you’ll have less to do on the day of the party—and your friends will have a built-in conversation piece to hover around. So whether you’re hosting a casual holiday cocktail party or a 50-person family extravaganza, try your own version of Behzad’s spread.

Use your snack tray as crowd control.

“I use it as my insurance policy,” Behzad says. ”It helps people occupied—there’s no worse guest than a hungry dinner guest. You can almost make people self sufficient, and you get to give yourself a few more minutes.” If you’ve got a big spread set up when people arrive, you won’t feel like ten of your closest friends are breathing down your neck as you finish off the dinner salad. 

"I love to go to a farmers market or meat shop or cheese shop - it's an excuse to source products I'm really excited about."

Go on a shopping spree.

“When I put a spread together, I love to go to a farmers market or meat shop or cheese shop and just grab a collection of cheese, spreads, olives, different things I can position as tapas,” Behzad says. “It’s an excuse to source products I’m really excited about.” So head to your favorite cheesemonger, and swing by your favorite butcher shop, and compile all your favorite fancy snacks in one place.

Consider the mix.

When you’re selecting your meats and cheeses, go for a mix of flavors, intensities, and animals: from mild to sharp, funky to smooth, you want something to please all your guests. “I’m always thinking about color, texture, and flavor. Everyone has a texture in cheese that they gravitate towards, and you want a texture for each person: soft, medium, or hard,” Behzad says. “You want a board that’s accessible and attractive to any guest that might come in. Color is really important, too. Curating a collection of things that are visually striking and attractive is forgiving because it’s so beautiful.”

"I think fruit is the thing that captures our appetite best... it's really important to have sweetness even on a savory board."

Don’t be afraid of sweets

Even though you’re putting together a savory spread, fruity things should always play a role. “I think fruit is the thing that captures our appetite best,” Behzad says. “Whether you’re dipping your finger into cake batter or grabbing the corner of a freshly baked cookie—it’s really important to have sweetness even on a savory board. So go for preserves or jams. Creating that optionality on a cheese board makes it more interesting.” If you’re worried your guests might be wary of a full-on fruit component, consider something composed like prosciutto-wrapped figs.

Don’t let bread be an afterthought.

This is a cheese board, after all, and you’ll want some carbs to spoon or slice your cheese and salumi and jam onto. But don’t just pick up any old supermarket loaf. “I like breads that are more meaty, that you can really bite into,” Behzad says. “I really love a miche, or a nice sourdough. Always try to figure out who is making the best bread in your city; it’s often the artisans who are showing up at the farmers market and the specialty stores.” For some variety, he says, you can pick up some sturdy specialty crackers, too. Because the holidays are all about having options.

Make your drinks more accessible.

Since your guests are most likely going to bring a bottle of something with them, set up a bar full of mixers. Behzad likes to set up an assortment of mixers, garnishes, and syrups and let his guests DIY their own cocktails. And don’t forget about your nonalcoholic options! “I use cranberry sauce like grenadine to make a cranberry soda,” Behzad says. Just stir a spoonful into a glass of seltzer. “It comes out bright pink, which is super festive.”