Every year, the holidays provide an opportunity to bring family and friends together. Planning a party or event, however, need not be overly stressful or intimidating. If this year happens to be the one in which you decided to put those hosting skills into action, Snowbirds Vintner proprietor and founder of Cuisiniers Catering, Chef Jamie McFadden, has shared ten of his favorite tips to help you organize, manage, and host those holiday festivities like a seasoned pro.
Step #1: Get Organized & Streamline Guest Lists
A peek into Chef Jamie’s catering office will reveal list after list for each event they plan. He recommends a master to-do list, with checkboxes for each task needed, as well as a timeline for the event. Shopping lists are also important, and it’s wise to keep a list of any dietary restrictions, if guests have shared them with you in advance.
Successful parties require proper planning. Start off by getting an idea of who you would like to be on your list. The ideal party includes a mix of friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances that you know can-or should-mesh well. A diverse group keeps it fresh and fun!
Step #2: Set the Mood
Themes are a great way to set the mood, and that starts with your invitations! Online invitations are certainly acceptable for last-minute get-togethers, but there is nothing quite like a high quality, mailed invitation to set the expectation for a merry celebration!
Guests also love relax with good company and comfortable music. Preselect a great playlist for the evening-one that is a little festive, but not too loud or distracting. Light jazz, soft reggae, violin covered classics, these all make for a delightful ambiance.
Step #3: Space Plan Carefully
A vital element to the flow of any gathering is the way the room/space is arranged. By understanding how many guests you are planning for, and what elements are necessary to the event, you can now plan to ensure that the space is not only well utilized, but also will not create a traffic jam in any areas.
One way to do this is to keep the bar and food stations in separate areas, as this will encourage movement, and potential mingle opportunities for your guests.
Step #4: Eliminate Clutter To Prevent a Mess
A good rule of thumb is if it can break, it will. Fancy serving trays may be attractive, but if not sturdy, they can quickly turn a beautiful food display into a disaster. Instead, try linen draped boxes, stacks of books, or other items to vary heights for different dishes on food stations or at a buffet.
The same goes for breakables and precious antiques. If you’re expecting a large crowd, be sure to stash breakables and delicate pieces in another room. Always keep hallways and walkways clear and spacious, for easy serving and traffic flow for guests.
Step #5: Satisfy Their Cravings
Be sure to have snacks out when guests arrive. Bowls of pistachios, a really great cheese, sweet and savory treats from a local bake shop along with an interesting salumi or two make for great starters. Aim for foods that your guests can grab, and manage with one hand, to make eating, drinking, and mingling easier.
Step #6: Plan Smart with Simple Menus
Although we love extravagant wine dinners and celebrations, a great party doesn’t need an ultra complicated menu. Stick to mini versions and finger or fork only foods for less mess and more conversations. An 80/20 mix of cold food to hot food is always a good ratio, to cut down on too much unnecessary last minute cooking when you should be mingling with your guests.
Step #7: Be a Gracious Host
When your guests start to arrive, introduce those who do not know one another, and point out anything they may have in common. Offer them a beverage, like a warm mug of Snowbirds Mulled Merlot Cheer, or show them where the bar is.
Uncork a few bottles of wine in advance, so that they are ready to be served. Red should be briefly chilled for just a few minutes, but not too cool, while whites and rosé should be kept on ice. Snowbirds Vintners wines were all created to pair with a variety of foods, making party planning stress free.
Step #8: Keep Them Moving
Depending on your party or room size, a great way to create an active ambiance is to set up snack stations around the room, with various hors d’oeuvres or light bites. This allows people to spark new conversations as they move from station to station.
Unless you are serving a formal sit down dinner, do not provide a seat for every guest. When people sit, they stop mingling, and only chat with the person sitting next to them. A lively room is a party they’ll remember!
Step #9: Make Your Guests Feel Special
Before you open any food stations or serve dinner, step out of your comfort zone and toast your guests with a witty welcome! One of Chef Jamie’s favorites is, “There are tall ships and small ships and the ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and long may they be!”
Have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, and guests will enjoy themselves, too.
Step #10: Ask For Assistance
As much as we love to DIY, during this time of year, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and overcommitted. If at some point you feel that you may have taken on more than you can or would like to handle, hiring an experienced catering service can make the experience for you and your guests that much more pleasant.
Using these chef secrets and tips, you are well on your way to hosting one of the best holiday party experiences you and your guests can talk about for years to come.