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Hosting a Holiday Party @ Home


'Tis the season to entertain at home with a few friends (and a few cocktails, of course).  But, sometimes the idea of planning a little house party sounds better than actually doing it.  Have no fear. We have put together a few tips for hosting a stress-free soiree.   

The key to your success is all about the planning!  Do all the preparation in advance so the night is smooth and full of fun for you and your guests.

The Lead-Up:

Determine the guest list and format of the event: Will you have a formal sit-down dinner or casual cocktails and canapés? What does the guest-list look like? Will it be 12 of your closest friends around a cozy table or 40 friends for drinks and nibbles? This decision will determine the rest of your planning. 

Regardless of the format of the event, be sure to send your save-the-date at least four-weeks in advance, sooner if your event is at a private club or restaurant which requires guest numbers and deposits.  Weekends fill up fast with lots of social engagements.  Be sure to get yours on the calendar first!

Plan Your Décor:

Set the tone with beautiful holiday decorations!  We are smitten with the new My Mind’s Eye partyware collections, exclusively imported by Swoon Soirees.  With beautifully coordinated partyware pieces, (and a lifestyle shot to follow), it will look like you've hired an event planner but without the extra expense.  (It will be our little secret.)

To take the stress out of decorating your event, decide the look and feel of the event in advance: sophisticated and swanky or cozy and classic? Consider the Glamorous Holiday Affair collection for a more sophisticated look. The collection features a glittery gold and cream palette, swanky cocktail stirrers from California Lustre, a boutique designer in California, fancy pinwheels from My Mind's Eye, and chunky gold garland to name a few goodies.  For a more traditional look and feel, The Holiday Collection is perfect with its red and green color palette and just a hint of gold foil to be stylish, yet still classic. This collection features fun paper chains, red glitter-kissed circle garland, show-stopping party fans, and a beautiful Stag standing art centerpiece.

Don’t overlook the small touches that will turn your “meal with friends” into an “unforgettable evening”.

For a sit-down dinner, focus on creating a beautifully set and styled table. Always start with a crisp tablecloth or runner to lay the foundation. I find that it’s easier to actually make a tablecloth than to buy them in HK. A quick trip over to Sham Shui Po’s fabric market and a little iron-on fabric tape (found at Ikea) can result in the perfect table accessory. If time permits, a 1/2-day trip up to the 5th floor of Shenzhen’s LoWu mall can result in a beautifully finished tablecloth.   Bring your own fabric or buy some from one of the numerous fabric stalls in the mall.  (Just remember that certain fabrics will bleed the first time you wash it.)

Add something special to each place setting, whether it’s a personalized place card, an amuse-bouche on a spoon, or a silly conversation starter tied with a ribbon. Delight your guests with something unexpected.

Decorate with candles, the perfect party accessory: they are inexpensive, readily available at Ikea, H&M, Zara Home, or Japan Home Center, etc. and create an amazing ambience.

If space permits, prepare a separate sideboard for displaying desserts, coffee cups, dessert plates, silverware, etc. This creates more visual interest and signals to guests that they have a wonderful evening in front of them. Best of all you are already organized with everything you need for each moment of the evening.

You can never go wrong with fresh flowers. The style of the event will dictate the formality of the arrangement. For a sit-down dinner, arrange flowers in a menagerie of low jars. For cocktails and canapés, a single statement arrangement would be fabulous.

Set the "Bar" High:

Prepare a signature cocktail in advance; pair wines with your menu; and have a beautiful after-dinner digestive available to close the evening.

If space permits, create an ad hoc bar. Set out your sparkling stemware, a bucket of ice with chilled champagne, specialty drink ingredients (particularly for the after-dinner digestif), a candle or two, and a small vase of flowers. If necessary, guests can then help themselves as you put the finishing touches on your dinner preparations.

We are in love with bar carts right now. Locally, idecorate has a series of beautiful carts that are the perfect accessory for a stylish hostess.  

How much alcohol? A very important question! Epicurious has a great article on the rule of thumb for each type of drink. Have a little read to ensure you don’t over or under do the spirits and other beverages.

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Mood Music:

Music sets the tone for your event. If you have time, consider your tunes for three settings: cocktails, dinner, and after dinner drinks. Your choices can change the energy and mood of the moment.

What’s on the Menu:

If you are self-catering, one could argue that hosting a sit-down dinner may be easier than cocktails and canapés. Pre-plate the salad course; prepare your soup bowls in advance; and serve the main and sides family style. Cozy could be the call of the day!

If cocktails and canapés is the desired format, there are a number of variables to consider

  • duration of the event (serve more canapés and nibbles the longer the event), 
  • demographics of your guests (men eat more than women), 
  • age (younger eat more than senior), and the 
  • type of drinks served (some suggest fewer canapés with wine and more with cocktails). 

Rule of thumb:

  • The general rule of thumb is 4 to 6 pieces per guest per hour for the first hour and perhaps 2 to 4 pieces thereafter. 
  • Plan for fewer hors d’oeuvres if they are passed and more if they are placed on a table. 
  • Ideally, serve a mix of hot and cold nibbles. 
  • For a stress-free event, plate the cold nibbles and set the table early. 
  • Add a variety to your menu. Generally, plan for 8 to 10 types of nibbles and consider offering lighter fare after the more wholesome menu items. 
  • A mix of both vegetarian and meat nibbles may also be appreciated.

Whether you are planning a beautiful home-cooked meal or a small, catered affair, serve for the season: fresh and fabulous in the spring; light and lovely in the summer; and cozy in the fall and winter. And, of course, check in advance if any of your guests have a special dietary restriction and plan accordingly.

For a less stressful event, consider hiring a server(s) and bartender. You will not regret your decision!

Delight with Desserts:

Offer both small sweets — like a plate stacked with macarons or chocolate truffles served in a vintage milk glass candy dish, for example — and something more luscious. A nod to the seasonality of your menu creates a seamless experience from start to finish. If you are hosting a cocktail event, consider several types of bite-sized desserts. 

Even if you are not an accomplished baker, everything looks better on a cake stand (a good investment even for the occasional hostess) or served in a jar or a little glass. Find classic milk-glass pedestal stands at Swoon Soirées or the basic variety at Ikea. To reduce your stress on the night, have your dessert bar already beautifully displayed and ready to be enjoyed.

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Let the party begin:

Tables set. Candles lit. Music on.  As your guests arrive, offer a signature cocktail or aperitif to create a warm welcome and set the tone for casual conversation. And as an experienced hostess once said, never leave guests standing alone, even if they came as a couple. If you need to dash away to check on something, casually introduce your guests to others before a gracious exit from the conversation.

Enjoy yourself. You’ve done all the work in advance. Now, it’s time to party!

We’ll toast to that!

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