I love to entertain. In fact, I do it for a living, which means I also understand the stress entertaining at home can bring. But you can throw a party sans the stress. Here are some of my tips to have a fabulous event and entertain with style:
1: Be Yourself. This is the most critical rule you should follow! If you prefer beer and nachos to pouilly fume and brie en croute and spend more time picking up take out than cooking elaborate dinners, please do not try to serve a multicourse meal with wine pairings. The holidays are stressful enough without trying to stretch your kitchen skills – stick with what you know and your guests will have a better time, and so will you! There is no one “right way” to host a holiday party – craft beers, spiced nuts and easy winter appetizers like Bourbon Little Smokies and marinated goat cheese can be very appealing to those burnt out on cheese platters, heavy holiday appetizers and Christmas cookies.
Make sure to have some wine and liquor on hand for those guests who prefer them, but don’t try to be someone you are not. A relaxed host with a happy disposition is the most key element to any successful event.
2: Use non-floral table arrangements to help with budget. While floral arrangements are beautiful and fragrant, it is often shockingly expensive to have several (table, bar, entry, powder room) for one night’s soiree. I recommend using a small floral arrangement in the powder room and then using nonfloral arrangements for your other spaces. For fall, sprinkle pressed leaves on the table with acorns piled on small plates, fill a bowl with gourds and place a few orange votives around it for ambiance. For winter, a glass vessel filled with ornaments with additional ornaments scattered about is a great, and inexpensive, look. Keep your centerpieces low to ensure your guests can talk across the table and let you imagination run wild – dancing gingerbread men down the center of the table anyone?
3: Outsource. You do not have to be a society doyenne to take advantage of some of the trappings of a catered feast. A great example is table ware: If you must have matching plates and cutlery or if you simply do not own enough for your party, renting tableware is an inexpensive way to serve your food on real plates (and the environment thanks you, too – no landfill-filling paper products). The best part is that you can return it dirty! Yes, rental companies must wash everything anyway once returned so there is no need to wash all of the plates, cutlery and glasses rented – just rinse them and the rental company does the hard work. Several places in town rent tableware in quantities both large and small; some even have calculators on their websites to help you figure out exactly what you need.
4: Choose platters the evening before and write the name of the food you plan to serve on a slip of paper and put it on the platter. This saves you from running around the afternoon of the event trying to find platters. If they need to be cleaned or polished you know in advance and can assign that task to any spouse or child standing around looking like helping with the party is their dearest wish.
5: Battery-powered candles. People feel strongly one way or the other about this but I am a huge proponent of the battery-powered candle. There are some great options out there now that are very realistic and, honestly, safety first people – especially with all that greenery on the mantle!
6: Make things ahead of time. No one wants to see the host slaving away. If your budget allows, there are affordable catering options in town – they can make platters of appetizers or a whole dinner parcooked, you just finish it and plate it. Voila! (No one has to know.) This is perfect for families where no one cooks or everyone works long hours.
7: Involve kids. Trust me, both adults and children will have more fun at their own table. For a dinner party where children are invited, I recommend you have your children help with decorating a special kids table, complete with place cards and a fun centerpiece. Then feed the children early – during cocktail hour – and shepherd them off to another space for a video or games while the grownups enjoy a more leisurely dinner with actual conversation.