In an effort to find a better, less frenzied way to entertain this holiday season (and beyond) we’re taking a cue from one of our favorite restaurant trends and doing brunch. This three-part series turns the dinner party upside down and provides tips for hosting a midday meal at home.

Part I: Set the Mood

First, choose a style of fête: Do you envision a seated, formal affair or a laid-back, family-friendly feast? With the right planning both can work wonderfully. Either way, an edited guest list is key. “The worst parties I have been to are holiday parties where [the hosts] invite every single person they know,” warns local food styling expert Erica McNeish. “There are too many people and not enough thought about the chemistry of party.” She encourages hosts to think about meshing guests with interesting backgrounds, careers, and the like to create easy conversation. This doesn’t necessarily mean guests must already know each other, just that you’ve considered who is coming. If children are invited, remember to factor them into the equation, as well.

When considering numbers for a seated brunch, invite two more guests than your dining table naturally fits. McNeish swears that “crowding the table” makes for a warmer party with better conversation.

Now, set the mood and make it official with a paper or digital invitation. For online invites, we are smitten with several designs from Paperless Post, including bold and bright (pictured), direct appeal, or homespun elegance. For a formal affair, invitations should go out three weeks ahead of the date. A week to 10 days should suffice for a more casual occasion.

For a taste of what’s to come, we share a make-ahead granola recipe from Boulder’s Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. This cardamom-spiced, just-barely-sweet recipe will become a fast favorite.

Honey-Almond Granola

(Yield: 6 cups)

3 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup sliced almonds with skin

1/4 cup sesame seeds

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 tablespoons mild honey

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle. Oil a sheet pan or line it with parchment paper.

Stir together oats, almonds, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Heat oil, honey, cardamom, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan over low heat (or in the microwave) until heated through. Stir into oat mixture.

Spread granola evenly on the sheet pan and bake, stirring once, until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely in the pan (it will crisp as it cools), then stir in dried apricots.

Next Up: We plan the menu (Part II) and chat decorating tips with stylist Erica McNeish (Part III).

(Check out all the stories in the 5280‘s Holiday Entertaining Guide)