Jonathan and I LOVE Christmas so we sparkle up our house every year and throw a party. After lots of trial and error we've got it down to a science. No matter how large or small your home, or your guest list, these tips will help you give a stress-free party that everyone will love.
Keep it simple. People don't entertain as much they used to so being invited to a party is exciting. Don't feel like it has to be fancy to be good. Just getting your friends together is an act of love. And its a great way to extend the friendship branch to people you don't yet know well.
Ask your friends to help. Ours is an appetizer potluck. Everyone brings an appetizer to share so there is a huge variety of delicious food and something for everyone to love. It's so festive! The beauty of this is that no matter how many guests you have (or how many cancel at the last minute) there's enough food for everyone, and you're not exhausted from cooking it all. Yay!
Expect the Unexpected. Some people forget to bring their food table-ready so we put out a pile of empty platters and serving utensils in the kitchen. Folks can prep their appetizer and we're not running around trying to find what they need instead of talking to our guests. (It took me a few years of missing half my party to figure this one out.)
Wine Only. I know serving a signature cocktail is the height of sophistication. But it's also a pain to keep everyone's glass filled. So we serve a mix of several varietals of red and white wine. Jonathan says 50 bottles for 100 people is about right for our friends. Plus people bring lots of wine to share. (Are you getting a sense of the laughter and noise level by reading about the wine consumption levels?) Ha!
Be sure to have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and water out front and center. We do a mix of flat and sparkling waters and juices. Oh, and grab some of those cool wine pens so guests can write their names right on their glasses. The ink washes off later, but during the party it helps people hold onto their own glasses so you don't go through so many.
Invest in the Basics. We love to have parties so we bought wine glasses and appetizer platters to use year after year. Less waste and more festive than plastic,and cheaper than renting. If you live near a restaurant supply store you can get them there, but the best is to wait for a sale. That's how we got our 100 white appetizer plates from the Crate & Barrel outlet store.
Decorate On A Budget. Cocktail napkins are part of the party decor so pick beautiful ones. Solid bright red is always good, or choose a holiday motif. Scatter stacks of them near the bar, on the food tables, and anywhere people might want to set a drink or dab their lips.
Flowers jazz up any party any time of year. At Christmas bright red poinsettias around your house are festive and not too expensive. (They also make a great hostess gift. Thanks, Kirk Hinman, for the beautiful one you brought this year!) White hydrangeas mixed with a branch of red berries looks Christmasy, too. I put them in an old pair of rain boots by the front door. Cute, right?
Get strings of white lights and put them up, down and all around. Gather a bunch into a clear glass bowl, run them along the floor and around mirrors. Then turn your regular lights way down. Instant cozy glamour. (Is that an oxymoron?)
Bring in the Pros. We hire two servers to make things run smoothly. They point people to the coat drop-off (on our bed!), accept food platters, and keep everything clean and tidy during the party. And they clean up after! Then all we have to do the next day is box up the wine glasses and plates for next time. I know it's spendy, and not in everyone's budget, but if you cans swing it, the right servers will make your party fun for everyone, especially you.
We live on a curvy, hilly street with little parking so we also hire people to park cars for our guests. The last thing I want is a pretty lady with a platter in her hands teetering on high heels in the cold as she tries to make it to our front door. At our last party it rained like crazy and the valets walked people to our door with umbrellas. Who doesn't love that?
Serve a Second Supper. One year our party started at 7:00 p.m., ALL of the food was gone by 11:00, and there were still hungry imbibers nibbling on crumbs. Not. Cool.
So now I make a huge pot of mac and cheese a day in advance. I asked the servers to heat it up and put it out at 10:30, along with some Neiman Ranch meatballs. The second supper was is a huge hit, and keeps guests fueled for another two hours of fun. (Thanks to Cricket for the best mac recipe ever. I should probably blog about it.)
Wear Something You Love. My mom taught me that the hostess should always be gussied up, especially at the holidays. But being stuck in an uncomfortable outfit wrecks my fun. So I always make sure to choose something to wear that is fancy, festive and flattering -- and that I also feel totally comfortable in. This sometimes takes some work! So don't wait until the last minute to plan your outfit.
If you're a regular salon-goer (as I and my grey hairs are), set your appointment for the day of your shindig and ask your stylist for party hair. Party hair!
Grownies Only. Our party is adults only, at the request of the friends who first encouraged us to bite off hosting a major holiday party. They lamented the fact that, ever since becoming parents, they had nothing grown-up and sophisticated to do during the holidays . They hoped our party would be kids-free so they could really enjoy some adult time. Getting a sitter can be a pain, but once those with kids arrive I can feel how happy they are to be out and about without their little lovies.
Invite Nice People. One thing I LOVE about our party is the great conversations and connections that our friends make with each other. Put good people together and they'll always have a great time.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
P.S. Share this with someone you think should have a party!