HOW TO: Throw the Best Holiday Party

There is nothing better than gifting your loved ones with a spectacular holiday party – here are my top 5 tips for doing so!

1. KNOW YOUR CROWD

The adage “know your audience” is particularly applicable to party planning. Before I delve into the nitty gritty details of my event, I devote a substantial amount of time to thinking about exactly who my guests are and how I can make their experience as enjoyable as possible.

During these initial planning stages, I focus on the two most important pillars of any party – food and beverage! The following bulleted points illustrate how I pair my audience with the perfect food/beverage selections:

  • Does my guest list consist of family? Are some of these family members older in age? Will I be hosting friends as well?
  • These questions largely shape my menu! Family parties call for simpler menus with start and finish timelines (i.e. appetizers, followed by dinner, and concluding with dessert and coffee). This sort of structure best accounts for a wide age range, and accommodates older guests who tend to feel comfortable with a structured timeline.
  • Friends – and some family members – often stay after dessert. So, if my guest list consists of friends/family members that enjoy staying late, I always prepare or order an “after party” meal. Sandwiches – or something simple and easy to throw in the oven – are big winners here! “After party” meals are tried-and-true hits, and ensure that each of my guests leave with a full belly.
  • What do my guests like? What food/drink makes them happiest
  • This is where taking them time to “know your audience” comes in handy! Honing in on what my guests like allows me to feel as if I’ve nailed it, as it allows them to feel at home! Below, find some of the questions that allow me to figure this out:
    •  Do the guests appreciate fun fusion food or do they like to stick with the basics?
    • Do you have a cousin or sister-in-law with specific dietary needs such as vegetarian or gluten free? If so, make a point to have a filling menu item they can enjoy.
    • What do my guests drink?
  • Everyone has an uncle that likes to have a glass of scotch or a father-in-law that enjoys sipping on Patron at a party. This is an easy chance for a slam-dunk! Have what they enjoy!
  • Is dessert important?
    •  If your guests rival the enthusiasm of tween Justin Bieber fans at the mere thought of sugary confections, be sure to emphasize dessert. You can even ask your guests to prepare their favorite holiday dessert. Having a smattering of dessert specialties prepared by some of your guests is sure to satisfy every sweet tooth and finish the party on a (sugar) high-note!
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2. DON’T SKIMP ON FOOD OR BEVERAGE

While my first tip involved meticulously aligning your food/beverage selections with your audience, this point concerns quantity. Accordingly, if you are going to skimp anywhere – don’t let it be on food or beverage! Remember that aside from enjoying each other’s company, people are attending your party to eat! We love family and friends, but basking in copious amounts of delicious food is downright incredible. Nobody likes to go to a party and pick up McDonalds on the way home because they are starving – but how many times have you done this? Here’s how to avoid this situation:

  • Make sure your menu is filling. This is the holiday season, so your guests can worry about their diet after the New Year! I always recommend having:
    • Appetizer picking items such as: cheese, crackers, stuffed mushrooms or peppers, stuffed breads, antipasto, dips and chips. The simple staples always work!
    • For Buffet: A salad, bread with butter, one salad, one chicken and/or beef, one seafood, and one vegetarian option
    • Portions: My company, Personal Touch Experience, plans according to the following rule of thumb: a small/half tray feeds up to five guests, and a large/full tray feeds up to ten guests. However, ALWAYS prepare for at least ten more guests than you expect. Your parties are awesome, so plan to feed the crashers as well!
    • As mentioned in my first tip, if you plan on having guests stay later than your predicted party end-time, have ‘after party food’ prepared or order a few pizzas.
    • Keep food and beverage out the entire time in abundance. Guests love leftovers so don’t be afraid to seemingly over-prepare!
    • Coffee and or Espresso at the end is always a good idea!

 

3. RENT OR USE DISPOSABLE

Perhaps I am lazy, but why the heck should you worry about cleaning the dishes or washing your tablecloths after a party? Below, find my top tips for ensuring that your clean-up is not a nightmare!

  • If you are feeling a little fancy – rent!
    • There are awesome cost-effective rentals for linens, china and glassware. Specifically, the most cost-effective rentals are:
    • Polyester Linens
    • Round White Rimmed Plates
    • Basic Silver Utensils
    • All Purpose Glassware
  • Use Disposable
    • There is absolutely nothing wrong with using disposable plates and utensils. I use these all the time for parties at my own home! Of course, you may not want to opt for the classic dollar pizza paper plate, but there are really nice options you can find on sale at your local supermarket (Chinet is always a great option, for example).
  • Mix it up! Use both of the strategies outlined above. I often rent linens and all-purpose glassware but use disposable plates, napkins and utensils.
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4. THE PINTEREST FAIRYTALE CAN COME TRUE!

Although Pinterest is endlessly inspiring, it can also be intimidating! Coming across a Pinterest fairytale can scare off someone just trying to make their party look beautiful.

How do I avoid this? I pull bits and pieces from the gorgeous, over-the-top pins I see and create my own fairytale. Do what you can and create your own fairytale! Below, find a few Pinterest tips:

  • What design element do I find to be cost effective, yet timeless and elegant?
    • Candles: You can never go wrong with creating some ambiance at your party. If you have a crowd that you think might get a little rowdy, or little Mikey won’t stop blowing them out, there are some gorgeous battery-operated candles you can find online or at a local craft/home-decorating store.
    • Real flowers over fake and stick with what is in season:  I find that clients often think that fake flowers are going to save them money. However, in reality, if you aren’t using them again you are going to spend much more money per stem in comparison to real flowers. I also find that my clients think they need to go to the fanciest flower shop to create Pinterest Fairytale looks. However, your local grocery store floral department has a designer that can likely create that same look for a fraction of the price. Disclosure: A floral designer is never going to create exactly what you see on Pinterest! All flowers are different, and consequently, no two centerpieces are alike. However, someone can get pretty darn close if they are talented!
    • Stick with what is in season! Don’t go to the florist with a photo and expect an inexpensive price if you are requesting spring or summer flowers in December. Ask the designer for a similar look using cost-effective flowers that are in season.
    • ‘Tis the Season to Use Nature Cut branches from a pine tree and gather a few pine cones (heck, spray paint the pine cones if you are really feeling creative!). Place these on your tables with a few votive candles and you, my friend, have created a gorgeous tablescape!  

5.  YOUR HOME A VENUE

This is my favorite part about having a party at my home! My loved ones are always thrilled to see how I transform my home into a magical venue. Below, find my top tips on how to do so!

  • If your menu consists of buffet items that guests can eat at any time, and your guests will be mingling throughout your party, you need not worry about having a seat for everyone. I always recommend seating for at least 50% of your guests. Combine this with a few high-top tables for standing guests and you’re golden!  
  • If possible, get rid of bulky furniture by storing it in your garage or basement. This creates ample room for tables, chairs, and walking around. Plus, you won’t have to worry about Aunt Kait spilling coffee on your new couch!
  • If you have area rugs – get rid of them for the party. No one wants to worry about shoes trekking dirt on your rugs.
  • Utilize your kitchen! I like to use my island as a buffet by removing island stools. Additionally, I remove my kitchen chairs, which allows me to utilize my kitchen table as an extension of the buffet and/or an appetizer/dessert display.
  • Have plenty of toilet paper visible in your bathrooms and assign someone to periodically dump the garbage cans in your bathroom. Our staff does this for events, but I always like to remind others that are ‘DYIers’ to do this. There is nothing more mortifying than being the poor soul that finds themselves in the bathroom with an empty roll!
  • If you aren’t hiring staff, making the garbage cans visible assists in your cleanup afterwards. Since most garbage cans are ugly, we always recommend wrapping them in a linen that matches your décor. It spruces them up and makes cleanup easy!
  • Designate the day after your party as a “restoring order” day. Most people find the ‘after effect’ of hosting a party at their home is stressful, so have a game plan! Having family/friend volunteers (or a hired service) queued up and ready to restore order the day after will allow you to enjoy your special day along with your guests.
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Best of luck planning your party! You’re going to nail it, and I hope my tips help!

Ashley PolicastroComment