A holiday party, as fun as it is, can become a nuisance rather than the festive evening it was intended to be. The holiday season brings work events, family reunions, cocktail soirées, neighborhood functions, fundraisers and a lot more obligatory affairs that can overwhelm one’s social calendar. As guests attend one event after another, how can you, the hostess with the mostess, make your holiday party stand out? We talked to the experts and asked how to throw a better holiday party. Here’s what they had to say.
Southern tastemakers and overall fabulous women Danielle Rollins and Annette Joseph share their advice on what to do and what not to do when it comes to creating a meaningful, memorable holiday party. Danielle and Annette are entertaining experts who wrote the book on the topic. No really, both women literally wrote wonderful books about entertaining with style, ease and expertise. Danielle’s book, Soirée: Entertaining with Style, invites readers into her world of entertaining, teaching them how to create their own events from invitations to a party timeline. Annette’s Picture Perfect Parties is an engaging, how-to book for throwing fabulous, memorable events all year round … plus there are 100 recipes to try that’ll carry you through an entire year of entertaining.
Now that you’ve just ordered the books online and are about to send out your end-of-the-year event invites, check out what Danielle and Annette have to say when it comes to throwing the ultimate holiday party!
Guests attend so many parties during the holiday season. How can someone make their party stand out?
Danielle: I like having a cocktail party during the holidays. A glamour throwback, dress up to the nines, for a little break in the holiday hustle with a glass (or three) of holiday cheer — especially with embroidered cocktail napkins, the “fancy” crystal, silver and plenty of sparkle of course!
Annette: My entertaining rule is that guests come to see you. If you’re an attentive host, then your guests will enjoy the parties you throw and want to come every time you throw one. Make every guest feel special, and no one will want to miss one of your parties!
What makes a “good” holiday party?
Annette: 1. A relaxed host, meaning guests are at ease. Remember, guests can sense your vibe if you’re disorganized and flustered, and in turn, it makes them feel ill at ease. My party mantras are: Never let them see you sweat; fake it ’til you make it; and never tell a guest what has gone wrong (they don’t want to know).
2. Great cocktails. The bar is the first thing guests will hit when they enter your party — make sure it’s well organized, and if there’s a bartender, guests shouldn’t have to wait a long time for a drink.
3. Great food. Nothing is worse than running out of food or having too little to eat at a party. Feed your guests and have an abundant amount — it gives the message that you love your guests and want to cater to their every need.
4. A curated guest list. Make sure you have guests who will mingle well. It’s your job as the host to introduce guests and make sure you keep the conversations going if they stall.
5. A killer playlist. Music sets the tone. Nothing kills a party more than a humdrum playlist. I like to start with something upbeat and crank up the tunes to get the party dancing!
Any décor/arrangement ideas besides the classic red and green?
Danielle: While I love the traditional red/green color scheme, I rarely use it. Instead I decorate using the colors in my house. I buy lush velvet ribbon in a rich persimmon, turquoise or tobacco to accent the greenery, and I use plenty of natural elements, pine cones, feathers, pomegranates, clove-studded oranges, big bowls of lemons and such. I did a collaboration with Weston Farms to create my own greenery called “Danielle’s Lark,” which is available to the public this year. It is so beautiful that you don’t need much more! The wreath and greenery combine an exclusive Southern Magnolia, rare ombré Hinoki Cypress and East Coast Native Long Leaf Pinecones. The products from Weston Farms are made fresh and dry beautifully, to be enjoyed for years.”
What if you have a small home? How can your party still be fabulous?
Annette: If your home is small, that’s a plus in my book! When people are forced to stand close to someone else, they are more likely to chat. Some of the best parties I’ve been to took place in tiny homes, and some of the worst parties in large homes. Being close is a good thing; it forces you to be social.
The size of your home has nothing to do with your party being fabulous. It does have everything to do with your party planning, however. You must be organized, lay out your food all over the place so guests move around the space and can get food and drinks with little effort. Plan your menu accordingly with pick-up items and food and drink stations.
Danielle: Bigger isn’t always better. There’s less to decorate, so go for a concentrated, high-impact look. If you don’t have room for a tree, put one in a terra cotta pot on the tabletop. In my book Soirée: Entertaining with Style, Miles Redd and I hosted a dinner in his mirrored dressing room, using fabric draped over portable Coleman camping tables and mismatched chairs gathered from all over the apartment. There’s always space to create happiness!
What are some great dishes to serve, especially since it seems more and more people have eating restrictions? Any tips on cool ways to serve food for the holidays?
Annette: I get asked a lot about what to do about peoples’ food sensitivities when I speak to large crowds about entertaining. I always say, “You should be very mindful of peoples’ food sensitivities and plan the menu accordingly.” It’s very important, and as a host, it is your duty to take care of all your guests’ needs.
In my book, Picture Perfect Parties, I have a multitude of holiday party recipes to choose from. Some of my favorites are gluten-free recipes, like my mini raspberry pavlovas. A variety of soups are always a great choice and easy to make ahead — I love a soup party. My “Comfort Food” chapter has a great party menu for a casual holiday gathering. I always have plenty of veggies on hand for those vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free folks. I love to make an assortment of dips and tapenades for guests to dip fresh veggies into. A cheese platter on a giant old cutting board is always inviting. I love individual mini servings, and I use glasses and small bowls for food (it is easy to pick up and eat).
Are signature cocktails still a thing? If so, any drinks you’ve served that were a hit?
Danielle: I love a good cocktail! It shows some originality and thought was put into a party as well as the perfect ice breaker. A little goes a long way, so it’s good to have other options to switch to later. I’m partial to a French 75 for the holidays, but they pack quite a wallop, so it’s a 1-2 drink at the most, precursor to champagne. And champagne always has the right amount of festive!
Annette: I like signature cocktails — the Paper Plane and an amended Moscow Mule were hits at my last big party (my daughter’s engagement party). I think clever signature drinks can be a conversation starter, so I think that they will always be a thing.
What’s the one tip you swear by, that every hostess and hostess-in-the-making should remember?
Annette: I have two tips: Make guests feel special, and being a good host takes practice.
Danielle: If you’re relaxed and have a good time, your guests will, too! Follow the advice of Elizabeth Taylor: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.”
A big thank you to Annette Joseph and Danielle Rollins for sharing their tips about throwing the ultimate holiday party!
Are you a party animal 365 days a year!? Then check out some of our great recipes sure to please at your next shindig!