With the holidays right around the corner, we thought sharing some of our top “do’s” and “don’ts” for hosting holiday parties and entertaining might come in handy. Whether it’s a small, intimate family Thanksgiving feast, or a large corporate holiday soiree, these tips are sure to get you started on the right track to a successful and memorable event!
Plan your budget & stick to it
First and foremost, your budget will dictate pretty much all aspects of planning, so it’s important to set a realistic budget. Consider your guest list and estimated headcount, then allocate your budget into food, beverage, décor and entertainment categories. This way, when planning your menu, décor, and activities, you’ll know what you’re working with.
Keep things festive & decorate
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, which helps make the theme and festivities come naturally. While you don’t need to go over the top, playing cheerful music and having simple holiday décor can help everyone to get into the spirit. If there will be children at your party, you may want to consider some additional entertainment… Whether something simple like turkey-themed coloring and crafts for Thanksgiving, something more elaborate, such as a special visit from Santa, or somewhere in between like having a designated play space for dreidel and just allowing the kids to play, the children (and their parents) will be grateful.
Finally, don’t forget about your menu! Most winter holidays have their tried and true traditional menus that are always crowd pleasers, but it’s still fun to incorporate festive nods to your celebrations… Think: apple cider cocktails for Thanksgiving, menorah or kinara shaped cookies for Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or a peppermint hot chocolate bar and miniature candy cane chocolate mousse cups for Christmas dessert. Delicious and cute!
Plan ahead & have a game plan for the week of/day of
The week leading up to the event can get stressful if you don’t plan ahead and delegate. Once you have your menu, headcount, and entertainment ideas set, plan backwards to figure out how you can pace yourself with shopping for groceries and supplies, set up and decorating, and meal prep and cooking. However, don’t be a hero… be sure to delegate to your planning committee (or spouse), and utilize any offers for help.
Consider giving back & encourage everyone else to help too
What better way to make your event one to remember than to give back to those less fortunate. Consider incorporating a canned food, stuff the backpack, toy or coat drive in which guests bring an item to help spread the holiday cheer in the most meaningful way.
Be afraid to ask for help
If you have friends, family and/or coworkers offering to help plan, set up, or contribute in some other way, take them up on it! You do not need to do everything on your own. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, consider making your family Thanksgiving feast a potluck, in which each family brings a side or dessert… This way ensures everyone has some of their favorite recipes included, and there’s less pressure on you. If you don’t want to ask others to bring a dish, consider bringing in the professionals. Whether opting for a delivery service to simply have some help handling the food, or going with a full service option, hiring a caterer is always a great way to take some of the stress off of your hands and allows you to enjoy as well!
Try a new recipe the day of the party
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to try a new festive recipe, be sure to try it out before the day of the party. You’ll want to make sure it meets your standards, and also want to know what you’re getting into! There’s nothing more frustrating than allotting a certain amount of time to make a dish, and then having the preparation take much longer than expected, or it needing more cook time in the oven… By doing a trial run, and sticking to some of your tried and true recipes as well, you’ll set yourself up for success the day of the event.
Reinvent the wheel
It’s natural to want to host a great event that everyone enjoys and remembers for years to come, but that doesn’t mean you need to get carried away. Keep it simple! If you’re hosting at your house and already have it decorated for your family, those decorations can double as some (or all) of your party decorations as well! Having to start from scratch at an outside venue? Grab some poinsettias, greenery and candles for a simple yet classic tablescape. Similarly, when it comes to food and entertainment, new and innovative spins on the holiday classics are always exciting, but not necessary if you’re pressed for time, money or help.
Sometimes this is easier said than done, but when things start to get overwhelming, try to remember the reason for the season. While you may have plans for an elaborate event, your guests will be nonethewiser if you have to scratch the photobooth, champagne tower, or DJ last minute or if they aren’t in the budget to begin with… Remember that everyone is just looking forward to time to share in each other’s company and celebrate this festive time of year together.
Keep in mind that there is no one “right way” to host a holiday event, and what works for one family may not be the best for the next, or ideal for a larger company party, etc. When planning, factor in the size of your party, holiday traditions, and the formality of the event and go with the route that works best for you… No matter which direction you go, your guests will be thankful for your hard work and planning, and that you all can celebrate together with good food and great company. Happy Holidays!
Michael Evans is chef-owner of Helga’s Caterers, a family-owned, full-service catering company with over 35 years of experience in providing fine food and excellent service for all of your catering needs throughout the D.C. Metro Area.