We are happy to present the 6TH post of our 2015 Holiday Entertaining Tips series. This week, Linda Sample shares her thoughts on potential issues (disasters!?) to your holiday parties.
Chapter 6 has been affectionately dubbed “Cautionary Tales” by Keith; so this could go in several different directions. I considered talking about some of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ issues that happen and how we can prevent/and or handle them in such a way that guests are oblivious. I love to chat about the importance of thinking on your feet and letting nothing interfere with a wonderful guest experience.
However, we are talking about Holiday Parties now, and we are in New England, so there is a lot to consider. Rather than focus on the negative, I chose to look at logistical aspects that can make or break a good time. We’ll chat about safety, comfort/environment, and food. All are equally important to the success of a party and keeping your guests happy!
We are in New England and SUPPOSED to be enjoying snow and cold temperatures at this time of year. This may not be the case this year, but today is the official first day of winter, so there is still plenty of time for “real” winter to show its face. In fact, we got a taste of those chilly temps on Saturday!
When I walk into a home to do an assessment for a job, I pay attention to lots of details. How do people enter, where do they park, do they need to walk up several stairs, where should coats go?
Weather is always the big unknown. In the event of snow/ice/freezing conditions, you want to pay particular attention to PARKING. You want it to be as easy as possible and may want someone to just get the parking started; once guests see a pattern, they will follow suit. You need to make sure that there is clear access to your home, which means shoveling/ clearing out. Ice is often worse than snow – stock up on rock salt or kitty litter (in a pinch). Once your guests get from their cars to your door, do you have a place for lots of wet boots?
I have already mentioned the importance of FIRE SAFETY. In this day of candles on every corner, I suggest investing in some great battery-operated candles, which have come a long way and are very realistic.
Take care in using your fireplace when you have lots of people over and make sure you have enough space for guests, so they do not have to be on top of the fire – or in it!
I see the SPACE issue come into play a lot. We all tend to over-extend ourselves when we are throwing a party. We get excited and feel festive and tend to invite lots of last minute neighbors/friends/co-workers, that we see in passing (we’re not even considering their partners). So, be realistic about your space, and do not overestimate its’ ‘social size’.
Walk thru your home and look at surfaces and OBSTACLES and decide if keeping a 17th century family side table next to the sofa is worth keeping out for ‘the masses’. If so, be prepared to do “Coaster Patrol” all night, and try to keep your anxiety level down. Look out for the kids Legos and toy cars too – they quickly make a hallway into a skating rink for a guest trying to navigate the crowd with a plate of hors d’oeuvres and a drink in each hand.
PETS are family, but not necessarily when there is a crowd of unknowns in their space; so I suggest putting everyone at ease by keeping them out of the soiree. I do have multiple experiences with dogs who took center stage by helping themselves to meats, spaghetti and cake.
Go ahead and turn down the thermostat! Once you get a lot of body heat inside, you will find you can drop it quite a bit. No one likes sitting in a sweat box of a party.
There is nothing as disconcerting to the first guests as arriving to the sound of nothing. Make sure you have some background music playing when guests arrive – holiday CD’s, jazz, anything warm and mellow.
Know your audience. Know what is accepted and/or taboo for certain ethnicities and stay generic with respect to color and décor. While stark white decorations and linens may be a beautiful winter feel for you – to some cultures, those are the signs of a funeral!
Remember, you are hosting this gathering so you can all spend time with one another and celebrate the warmth of the season. This is what is important.
First and foremost – don’t run out of food! You need to make sure you provide sufficient quantity of food to ‘cover’ the duration of your bash. It is always a good idea to keep back-up stationary items that you can add in at the last minute, if necessary. Cheese, olives, marinated/pickled veggies, hummus, interesting cracker snacks – all of this is readily available and should be (I consider it to be) a staple for everyone, whether it is Christmas or summer. You never know when that one guest will linger….and linger……
You need to be very concerned regarding safe food temperatures (link). When we do events in warm weather, we are very cognizant of a 4-hour rule about temperature and, unfortunately, often can not even donate food to a soup kitchen after the food has been around too long. In the winter, we luck out and can use Mother Nature to keep things cool by placing them outside, too!
Of course, if you’re serving alcohol keep everyone’s safety in mind. If you’re not hiring a bartender to keep on eye on everyone’s intake, perhaps have some extra blankets and pillows on hand if you know you anticipate some heavy drinkers in the crowd. Better to have a few overnight house guests than face the possible alternative consequences.
I will end this Christmas week post with a reminder to have FUN! Often, all the preparation and planning that go into a party becomes stressful and I hope it will NOT BE. Unless you are entertaining your future in-laws or boss, where the goal is totally different and NOT holiday based, relax and enjoy yourself. We are all people and it is just food. Breathe and allow yourself to savor the blessings of the season.
Cheers and Happy Holidays!