As members of the hospitality industry for more years collectively than we’d care to admit, my husband and I entertain frequently. We’ve celebrated (read: hosted) the usual birthdays, anniversaries, Fourth of July parties, as well as our share of winter holiday extravaganzas. As my cousin says, “It’s so nice to visit your house so I don’t have to fight the crowds at Macy’s to see this many holiday decorations.”
This phenomenon truly has taken on a life of its own — a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. We enjoy decorating, friends and family enjoy visiting and bringing new items for us to display, and so on. I’m sure you can see where this is going — kind of a never-ending cycle, so much so that we now need to “alternate exhibits” annually, similar to a museum with its collection.
Through these experiences, as you might imagine, we’ve learned some lessons relating to holiday events, often the hard way. As a holiday gift, here are a few tips and true stories to help you enjoy the season.
1. If you’re hosting, you also need to enjoy the event.
Perhaps the greatest lesson was the result of a comment made after one of our holiday soirees: “This was a really great party, but too bad we didn’t get to see Karen and Michael.” How to accomplish this with 50 to 75 people in a home normally accommodating only two adults and a dog? See the following lessons for the answer.
2. If someone asks, “What can I bring,” answer dessert.
It’s one less course to worry about, desserts can be made or easily bought without costing a fortune, and space can be reserved just for special treats! Suggest folks bring their goodies on trays or plates that don’t need to be returned — this avoids rushing to wash dishes before guests leave. (Although it’s not really a green initiative, sturdy plastic cups, plates, and silverware are also great options.)
3. Be prepared to guide guests who want to help to an appropriate activity.
The most wonderful question a host can hear is, “How can I help?” Rather than stoically going it alone, it is amazing how friends and family can assist — and most truly want to join in. It’s part of the festivities! For example, my husband always invites a foodie to be his wingman to assist with the meal prep, either replenishing, garnishing, slicing, etc. Most folks are willing to return to a pre-set self-serve bar area to refresh, pour, or mix their favorites. (Be sure to have such non-alcoholic offerings as sparkling water, soda, juice, non-alcoholic beer, too.)
For your true, trusted friends — you know who they are — you can ask them to throw a log on the fire once in awhile if you have a fireplace. Be sure not to choose someone who will stack four logs at a time and simply never return to check on the resulting bonfire. Another true-friend task is to appoint someone to let you know when the TP is low in the bathroom. (We always have two full rolls available in each bath, but if someone likes to “squeeze the Charmin,” you need to know.) Ditto with towels: When they get too wet, you need to have fresh, dry extras handy nearby. This can be checked with the TP. Note: Some tasks should never be delegated. No one likes coat duty, so if you don’t hire catering staff, this one is on you!
4. Always have gluten-free, nut-free, and shellfish-free options available.
To return to food momentarily, just a quick reminder: Many folks have allergies of which you may be unaware. (These are the big three, although there are more.) One evening, we were serving lobster ravioli and shrimp cocktail when one guest let us know of his shellfish allergy — let me amend that — his deadly shellfish allergy. Needless to say, my husband spent a wonderful hour outside in the 30-degree weather trying to grill some frozen chicken to accommodate this guest. Label questionable items, if possible. You don’t want the holiday lights to be coming from an ambulance rushing someone to the emergency room.
5. Think through the party’s mood.
Ambiance should be discernable the moment someone arrives. Are the outside lights on? If it has snowed, is everything melted away? Once inside, is someone at the door to greet everyone and take coats and potential gifts or desserts? If you have the TV on, is it something everyone will enjoy? A holiday classic, perhaps (think White Christmas on a loop) or use a DVD of a fake fireplace as a backdrop — very neutral. Is music playing in the background? Make sure you have the CDs ready or Pandora set to a holiday selection. When we’re feeling “flush” we hire live entertainment — it truly makes the event and people ask each year who will be playing. If you’re using real candles, are they in safe locations? One year, we had a Menorah lit when a friend noted, “You realize the candles have dripped onto the buffet and it’s about to catch fire, right?” Now we strategically place jar candles on coasters and use battery-operated candles in other areas. Safety first!
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