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Martha Makes It Look Easy
Yes, of course—she has buckets of money and a staff, for heaven’s sake. And yet, hosting an unforgettable holiday party is something anyone can do, even those of us who may be time- or money-challenged, or both.
The most important thing to remember is that (most) guests are gracious, are thrilled to be invited and don’t come to judge you. The second thing: Plan early and thoroughly. The third: Take advantage of every tip, trick and idea you can get from people who put parties together like it’s their job—because it is—notably, event planners, caterers, chefs and florists.
So . . . you’ve got an idea who you want to invite. Check. You agree you need to plan. Check. But who has the time or inclination to survey a who’s who of party pros? Not you—which is why we did all the heavy lifting.
First Things First
Get out the calendar. If your holiday party will take place, as most do, on a weekend evening sometime during the seasons of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or New Year’s, you need to lock in the date as soon as possible. Caterers are insanely busy at this time, so the sooner you book them, the better. “During the holidays, our calendar fills up months in advance, but we will do our best to work with customers. If they can give us even two weeks’ notice and have an idea what they want, we can help them put on a most excellent party,” says Carrie Cronin, owner of Tallulah’s Catering in Hartford. Because social calendars fill up quickly as well, guests will also appreciate a heads-up so consider sending a “save the date” e-mail.
We hate to bring up the “B” word so early on, but no matter how well-heeled you are, you probably have a budget of some kind—and it helps to ballpark that number, so when you go gaga over the orchid centerpieces your florist wants to fly in, things don’t get out of hand. “We completely get it that many people don’t have the means to give big, elaborate parties,” says Cronin. “What we try to stress is that you don’t have to have everything on the menu, or a full bar. Have your party—just cut back on the glitz.”
Settle on the Type of Soirée You Want to Have
Will it be an intimate dinner party for six, or a casual “payback” party with buffet and brews to which you’ll invite everyone who’s had you over in the last year—plus neighbors, who might be miffed once they see cars parked on the lawn?
“For me, the best thing is simplicity,” says Kristie Bishop of KB Events, based in Woodbury. “Get a fire going, start great conversation . . . let your party flow and don’t worry about adding too much to it. If you’re comfortable and the house is comfortable, the party will be great. Stay on the less chaotic side, because it’s such a chaotic time of year.”
Determine whether your party will have a theme. There’s something to be said for children’s birthday parties, where a “story line” often drives the look and feel of a gathering—from invites to favors. But themes aren’t just for kids. “I really like working with a theme,” says Lori Hoagland of Dish in Sandy Hook, who often caters parties in private homes. “It helps you build the menu, figure out how the place should look, even how your guests should dress. I like everything to coordinate.”
A few years ago, Newtown couple Ria and Pat Barreto hit on the idea of a Mexican fiesta as the theme for their holiday affair. “I’m of Mexican descent, and we have a great margarita recipe, so the idea was really a no-brainer,” says Pat. Once they settled on the theme, he says, the planning was even more enjoyable, as they pored over possible menus and found Mexican cut-paper decorations online. Ria made the invitations herself, they lined the driveway with luminaria and draped strings of chili lights over the windows. They cooked some dishes, catered some, ordered tamales from Texas, and asked some reliable friends (good cooks all) to bring appetizers, sides and desserts. A good friend volunteered to work the blender, so tasty margaritas flowed all night. Remembers Pat: “Everything came together well and to this day people tell us what a good time they had. The best part is that we did, too!”