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Quick Tips for Successful Holiday Entertaining

Holiday Entertaining

With the holidays around the corner, it's time to start planning get-togethers with family, friends, and colleagues. The key to being the best host or hostess is to be organized and prepared in advance. These helpful hints will help you stay en pointe, so you can relax and be your most charming self on the day of the event.

Start with a guest list and a theme

Will it be a Christmas brunch, a tree-trimming celebration, a cocktail party, an ornament exchange, or a Hanukkah dinner? Send invitations by email and mail—it's easy to keep track of your guest list online, though some partygoers may not be as tech savvy as others. Select email and paper invites that coordinate well with each other and the colors or theme of the party. Send invitations no later than three weeks before the party date; holiday schedules fill up fast.

Line up help as needed

Plan the menu, contact caterers, arrange for a bartender, organize babysitters, and order flowers. Prepare for pre- or post-party cleaning, or for helpers to pass drinks and appetizers, replenish buffets, tidy up, and generally take some weight off your shoulders during the party. Consider high school students and professionals alike.

Tidy up the décor

Take out the Christmas ornaments, greenery, and embellishments. Set up the tree and shape the branches. Give everything a good cleaning before you decorate. Give fragile tree ornaments a light brushing with a soft artist's paintbrush to remove dust. Secure a pair of old tights over the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner to clear dusty garlands, tinsel, and tree branches.

Arrange furniture

Make sure everything is spaced just right, so that guests can move easily from one part of your house to another. Add leaves to dining tables or set up rounds for dinner parties. Clear sideboards, coffee tables, and accent tables for buffet and beverage service. Make sure there is enough seating for everyone; make conversation groupings of chairs. Put away valuables and clutter.

Deck the foyer, the sitting room, the dining room, and the halls

Don't be afraid to use decorative pieces in new ways. Fill large bowls, glass cloches and vases with glittering and bright tree ornaments for extra glitz and glamour. Create tableaus with figurines, ribbon, and greenery.

Survey the serving dishes and linens

Break out barware and platters-don't forget the cheeseboards, carafes, gravy boats, and coffee makers. Give everything a good cleaning. Lay out the serve ware with proper serving tools; use a sticky note to label each with a dish name, to make sure the order makes sense. Then make a place card to label each dish for the party. Wash and press linens; polish silver. Make sure you have enough of everything: place settings, napkins, wine glasses, coasters, and silverware. Plan for three glasses and three napkins for each guest.

Stock the bar

It's easy to make fantastic, creative cocktails with a half-dozen base spirits and a few mixers. Design a signature cocktail or festive punch for the night. Fill up the bar with basics-cognac, rum, gin, bourbon, vodka, and tequila. Balance with mixers like Cointreau, red and white vermouth, bitters, and simple syrups. Plan three bottles of wine for every four people or three to four cocktails per guest for a two- to three-hour cocktail party.

Set the table

Nothing shows careful attention to detail like a well-organized seating arrangement-use place cards. Encourage conversation with low flower arrangements and pillar candles. Display tall candelabra and dramatic bouquets on entryway tables and mantels. Be bold with color: pair neutral china with vibrant or patterned salad plates, napkins, and table runners.

Get technical

Plan for lighting that fits the mood and the crowd size. Use low-wattage bulbs or candlelight for the perfect ambiance. Battery-powered candles are ideal since they're safe and can be programmed to go on and off at certain times of day. Create a playlist or plan ahead for musical entertainment.

Make room for coats

Clear space in the entryway closet or bring in a garment rack; fill them with hangers. If weather is inclement, be prepared with umbrella stands and boot trays to catch water and snow.

As soon as the doorbell rings, you'll be ready. Everything will be timed perfectly, the hors d'oeuvres will be delicious, and this will be a party everyone will remember for years to come. Get mingling!

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