Face it, your parties are good, but they can probably be better. This is your year to be at the top of your party-hosting game! Don’t let the stress of the holidays and party planning weigh you down. Instead, use these helpful hints from local entertaining experts to throw the bash of the season. Whether it be a small get together with friends and family or a gathering of the entire town, these tips and words of wisdom will come in handy.
1. Avoid the setup and cleanup.
Do so by hosting your holiday party at a location that is not your home! Consider a seated dinner for 32 at Le Sel, a mid-sized mingle at The Bridge Building or Ruby, or an all-out bash at Houston Station. With dozens of Nashville event spaces of all shapes and sizes, your options for party throwing are endless. For venues organized by size, check out our “Ultimate Guide to Nashville’s Event Spaces.”
Expert advice: “Holiday parties and other gatherings are much more enjoyable when held somewhere other than your personal home,” says Max Goldberg, co-owner of Strategic Hospitality. “All you have to do is show up. A quality event will be planned ahead of time by a knowledgeable sales person that can accommodate all of your needs and take the stress off of you. Take the night off, and let others do the work so you, too, can enjoy the fun!”
2. Save your inner artist for cookie decorating.
Don’t expend all of your creative energy on invitations. Ink Nashville and The Paper Place will help you select (and create) the perfect invites for your holiday party. And put down the pen, because Valorie Ward Cole Calligraphy is a master calligrapher. Guests will be overjoyed to see more than just bills in their mailbox.
Expert advice: “After a day of reading emails and staring at our computers and smart phones, there’s nothing like coming home and finding, among the bills and catalogs in the mail, an invitation to a holiday party. Much like a hand-written thank you note, a custom invitation to an event shows the personal touch that the party is meant to create, as well as sets the tone and creates excitement for what to expect,” Amos Gott of Amos Events tells us.
3. Get out of the kitchen.
You can throw a Trader Joe’s holiday party for around $250, put together the perfect charcuterie board at home or you can call Kristen Winston and leave everything up to her! No matter how you decide to tackle feeding your guests, make sure you are still able to enjoy the party and get out of the kitchen.
Expert advice: “It is important for the host/hostess to enjoy their guests and participate in the party, so the goal is to avoid spending too much time in the kitchen. My advice is to choose a manageable menu and do as many things as possible ahead of time,” Kristen Winston of Kristen Winston Catering tells us. “Choose a menu that does not require too much à la minute cooking. The more that can be done in advance, the better. If you are cooking an entrée meat at the last minute, choose accompaniments that are already cooked and only require heating. Don’t choose more hot items than you have oven space to accommodate.
“Make a thorough list of all the things that need to be done. Do everything that is not perishable the day before the party. Prep as many ingredients as you can the day before, such as washing lettuce, chopping vegetables, juicing lemons, and making marinades/sauces. That way, you only have to do the final cooking and not as much prep work the day of the party. If it is a one-dish meal, make it the day before and put in the fridge overnight. The flavors will likely improve!
“Getting organized and ahead will make your stress level lower and make the party more enjoyable for everyone.”
4. Don’t stress over decorations.
Instead of stringing lights, hanging homemade wreaths and building snowmen, let floral arrangements act as your décor. Rebel Hill Florist, FLWR Shop and Flower Mart are responsible for some of the loveliest arrangements in town and will be more than happy to help you in selecting the perfect greenery.
Expert advice: “If you have a theme, choose your colors,” Becky Albright of Flower Mart suggests. “There are lots of flowers that are more long lasting than other flowers. So plan to meet with your designer (florist) two weeks prior to your party to find out the availability of flowers and the colors. Specialty flowers take two weeks to order, and containers (vases, etc.) need to be selected.”
5. Don’t over-spend on alcohol.
Local shops, such as Midtown Wine, Spirits & Beer and Harvest Wine Market, will help you select affordable, delicious wines and spirits. Remember, you can treat your guests to a lively time (induced by wine) without breaking the bank!
Expert advice: “No matter what else you decide to serve during the holidays, find a red and a white that you like in the less expensive to moderate price range. Buy a case of each ahead of the holidays to have on hand as your house wine. That way, if you have a surprise drop in, last minute get together or run out of something during a party, you always have plenty on hand,” Laura Nevins of Harvest Wine Market recommends. “We would also recommend the same with a sparkling wine. They are very versatile and can be used as an aperitif to welcome guests, paired with a menu course or used in cocktails. If there is something extra special to celebrate during a gathering, you’ll have celebratory bubbles on hand! This simple planning-ahead step can save you a lot of stress during the holiday season!
“Also, a few weeks in advance of the holidays, make sure you have the following in your pantry for cooking: sherry, port, brandy and marsala. These are ingredients in your dishes, so they should be good quality. They don’t have to be the most expensive, but if it doesn’t taste good enough to drink, it shouldn’t go in the pot!”
6. Give your party a theme.
If you are having trouble reining in your many party ideas, pick a theme. Try Hot Chocolate Party or Pie Party, go with a color scheme or encourage costumes. Be thoughtful about your theme and choose something that is sophisticated but fun. Incorporate the theme into your food or décor, and get creative, but don’t go overboard.
Expert advice: “The holidays can be crazy busy, and weekends book up fast with holiday parties hosted by family and friends. I love hosting themed dessert parties where guests can drop by before or after other events,” Katie Jacobs of Styling My Everyday tells us. “Make them kid-friendly so no babysitters are required, and the entire family can join in. Host a pie party or cookie swap where everyone shares a recipe, or put together an interactive dessert bar, like a hot chocolate party, encouraging guests to mingle and have fun sharing their creations.”
7. Make the perfect playlist.
Although this is our last tip, it may be the most important: make a perfect playlist! It allows for lulls in conversations without the painfully awkward silence, and it will keep the evening flowing. When it comes to music, the host is in charge, and we are here to make sure you are up to the task.
Expert advice: “Know your guests and what kind of vibe you’d like to set for the party,” suggests Ana Lee, afternoon jock and PSA Director for Lightning 100. “I like the idea of sprinkling in familiar and classic tunes with lesser-known deep cuts or even lesser known artists — mixing it up with new and old songs. For me, it’s all about the flow. So not only is the sequence important, so are the transitions. Some streaming services allow you to control the cross-fades between songs, a great feature. (The only downside to this particular streaming service for a party playlist is no Prince!) It also doesn’t hurt to ask friends what music they’ve been into lately.”
We asked Ana Lee to craft a party playlist. While envisioning a winter evening get together, she put together this playlist, which begins with what she calls “chill vibes.” This will help get the party started as guests arrive, drinks start flowing and people start chatting and mingling around. About an hour in, the tempo picks up before turning into a full-on dance party. Ana mixed in some mid-tempo songs, which allow guests to take a breather or refresh their beverages. Enjoy!
“Music really sets the tone for the party so it’s important to decide what kind of party you want to throw,” she reiterates. “If this playlist were for an afternoon outdoor summer party, it would sound totally different … ahhh, off to make another playlist!”
Listen to Ana Lee’s playlist on Spotify by clicking here.
For even more holiday party-hosting tips from Southern taste-makers Danielle Rollins and Annette Joseph, click here. Here’s to this being your year to having the best holiday party ever! We’ll be looking for our invites in the mail …