This article appears in Holiday Cookbook 2017.
We all have a friend who makes entertaining seem effortless, from the impeccable invitation and the flawless meal to the perfect playlist and signature cocktail. For most of us, though, putting together a can’t-miss holiday party is a lot of work. Feeling a little rusty? Take some tips from the experts: “It’s the host’s top priority to make their guests comfortable. A savvy host plans in advance for every detail,” said national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.” Some of the most common host mistakes include not having enough food for an unexpected “plus one,” failing to offer nonalcoholic beverages along with the holiday cocktails, and forgetting to ask about dietary restrictions, Gottsman said.
Make time for yourself
“The biggest mistake is that people forget to give themselves enough time. They plan the roast, the vegetable, the cocktails, the music, the entertainment. They do everything for their guests and then forget to leave a good 15 minutes for themselves to get ready. You should allow yourself a few minutes to relax so that when the guests walk in you’re not still in prep mode,” said Lizzie Post, host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast and co-author of “Emily Post’s Etiquette.”
Don’t skimp on the ice
“Don’t be cheap; buy extra ice. Ice goes quickly and a lot of times people don’t buy enough. It’s cheap and it’s easy,” said Lulu Powers, the Entertainologist, who writes the Life at Lulu’s column for House Beautiful.
“My secret weapon: Have someone help you. If you’re having more than 15 guests, have someone to help you with all the little tasks like washing dishes and asking guests if they need a refill, so you can enjoy your own party,” Powers said.
Wine by the numbers
“Avoid running short on wine for a party by planning on five servings per bottle and about three glasses of wine per guest,” said Gladys Horiuchi, director of media relations for the Wine Institute. Also, “save your best bottle of wine for a more intimate dinner party rather than serving it at a large party so that all your guests can all enjoy it,” she said.
For instance, using scented candles at the dinner table can overpower the aroma of the main course, Gottsman said. The airspace around the dining room should be reserved for the scents wafting from the dishes. Anticipate guests’ needs. Offer a space for recharging phones as well as ample place for coats, bags and shoes, said Manhattan- based entertaining expert Francesco Bilotto.