You’ll no doubt attend your share of holiday parties over the next month – some rockin’ around the Christmas tree, others more of an inescapable humbug. When it’s your turn to host a fete, your guests should leave hoping you’ll do it all again next year.
We asked a few notable chefs and bartenders for their recipes for a quintessential host and the ideal holiday party. Turns out it’s not that complicated – you just need to be attentive to the details and approach the evening with foresight and intention.
IT CAN BE SIMPLE, JUST NOT ORDINARY
The average party is, well, average — but it doesn’t have to be grand or expensive to exceed people’s expectations. Combining small, thoughtful elements that go beyond the status quo creates an impressive evening. Make the night an authentic reflection of your own sensibility.
PEOPLE ARE THE PARTY
Whether it’s a small dinner party or a big bash, you’re providing the setting for people to come together. When there is a balance of personalities and a mix of old and new friends, people will find the evening more interesting. Stimulating conversations happen and a rich community develops when we meet people outside of our usual circles. As the host, keep your focus on your guests and make lots of introductions.
ESTABLISH THE VIBE
Whatever “tone” of the evening you’re going for, make sure your music, presentation and lighting are all in sync. People are generally more comfortable in low lighting, so put your dimmers to use. A few candles can work; just don’t overdo it, and make sure they are unscented. Edit a three-hour playlist based on a genre and set it to loop. The music is for the background, so people shouldn’t have to shout to have a conversation. Think about where you want your guests to hang out, and put your food and drink in that spot.
The food you offer your guests doesn’t have to be complicated, time consuming or expensive, just a less predictable mix of tasty options. Select four different cheeses, some olives, salami and prosciutto, and cut up French bread to go with a few dips. Add some roasted nuts, fruits, vegetables and chocolate, and lay it all out on a big cutting board for everyone to gather around and enjoy.
MIX IT UP
As the host, greet your guests with a drink and point them in the right direction for finding a refill. Have a drink station with simple (just a few ingredients) instructions for guests to make two or three different cocktails.
It’s ok if your hors d’oeuvres are gone two thirds of the way through the night, but never run out of something to drink. Always buy 25% more than you think you’ll need. Nothing kills a party faster than empty glasses.
CHECK THE DEGREES
This is the most simple — yet critical — factor that people don’t remember until it’s too late. If everyone is hot and uncomfortable, none of the other elements you worked hard to set up will matter. Turn the temperature down a few degrees about an hour before everyone arrives, especially if you’re having a large gathering, which will create a significant amount of body heat.
As the host, you set the tone for the evening. Prepare what you can in advance so you won’t be frazzled at the last minute. If you’re enjoying the night, your guests’ first impressions are already heading in the right direction. Be gracious, at ease and amiable to establish the mood for everyone else.
Whether it’s a12-year-old bourbon or a secret family recipe, find something you really enjoy and splurge on it to share. Consider it your own contribution to the season’s spirit of giving. This puts your mark on the evening and tells your guests that it’s a celebration and “you’re worth it.”