The holidays are a time for gatherings— community gatherings to raise funds for worthy causes; gatherings of friends and co-workers, who toast the season at holiday parties. And, of course, gatherings of family. Trimming the Christmas tree or finding just the right menorah is the fun part, but the real work takes place around the dinner table.
Sure, entertaining can be stressful, but don’t let that stop you. Whether you’re throwing a big, lavish affair or celebrating with an intimate group of friends and family, these tips and trends can help put you and your guests in the holiday spirit.
Pick a date, select a time, commit and get to planning. A dinner party can be as low-key or as lavish as you decide. But to properly prepare yourself for welcoming guests, decide how you are going to invite them. There is no right or wrong way to invite guests to a dinner party. Depending on the occasion, you might want to consider sending formal print invitations by mail, while the more common routes these days are private Facebook groups or third-party guest management sites such as Eventbrite, particularly for large events. Whichever route you take, give your guests about a month’s notice to properly prepare and don’t forget to consider seating. If you plan to use existing home seating, ensure all the guests have somewhere to sit and gather.
Embrace a Dining Style
Hosting your first dinner party is a major milestone; sure, you’ve had friends over for cocktails or thrown a boisterous house party, but those are different beasts. Dinner parties have purpose and meaning. They bring people together and encourage them to interact and engage while embracing great food, lots of laughter and even new friendships.
Food is the central ingredient, and how that food will be presented and prepared is for you to decide. Potlucks are always a wonderful way to get everyone involved and take a little stress off the host. Assign specific dishes to guests, or consider having everyone pick a dish from a list you’ve created so you don’t duplicate meals.
If you plan to take on the role of chef, plan your menu so there is enough variety for your guests to enjoy. Take your guests’ dietary restrictions into consideration. Although your lamb and eggplant shepherd’s pie will be wonderful, it will limit your vegetarian friends to salad and wine. You can cook things ahead, such as small bites, roasted nuts, and other easy appetizers or desserts such as candied spice pecans.
If you would rather spend time focusing on the details than working behind a kitchen stove, you might want to consider using a catering company.
Catering your dinner party doesn’t have to be expensive. If you don’t want them to serve at your event, find a company you can work with by simply selecting a la carte items that you can arrange to pick up and then present. If your table is large enough, pass dishes around. Alternatively, set up a buffet in the kitchen or on a side table, if needed. And don’t forget libations—including your own dinner party cocktail.
Atmosphere is what makes a dinner party a party. Your tablescape doesn’t have to be over-the-top, but it should look as if you put some thought and effort into it. Candles are inexpensive, readily available, and a great place to start.
While you want to incorporate your personal style in events you host, it’s always imperative to take some direction from the time of year and the reason for gathering. As you choose your décor, lean toward colors that blend with a season and tell a story that will bring your dinner party to life. Holiday events organically lend themselves to bold and rich hues of red, burgundy, brown and orange. Summer events playfully interact with brighter hues of yellow and pink.
The most fun part of entertaining is decorating the table. The new form of design is designing for the way we live now. It’s inspired by a global vision with plenty of local touches and blends of various elements. Forgoing “the complete china set” and embracing a slightly random assortment of dishware and china feels more personal and looks just a as polished as a traditional set, as long as there is a unified color scheme.
Enjoy the Moment
When hosting a dinner party, the most important ingredients are not only the ones you put in your dishes but also the atmosphere you create and the wine that accompanies the meal. Not everything will be perfect. Maybe you were planning a sophisticated evening, and then someone found your laptop and started sharing YouTube videos. Go with the flow. True hospitality is subtle. You don’t realize you’re getting it until after you’re feeling it.
Planning ahead always gives you more room to bask in the moment. After you’ve nailed the details, focus on yourself. Make sure to take time to dress the part and have your camera ready to forever capture your fabulous dinner party.
Anna Noriega is an event and wedding designer and the founder of award-winning Alorè Event Firm, based in Miami. She has worked with celebrity clients, has been featured on TV shows and writes for numerous high-end wedding and event publications. Follow her at @norianna13 and @aloreeventfirm. Anna’s hair and makeup was courtesy of Danielle Messano at Mirror Mirror Beauty Studio.
Catering: Thierry Isambert Culinary and Event Design
Location: Deering Estate
These recipes will give your holiday events a festive touch.
Stoking the Fire Cocktail
3/4 ounce rye whiskey
3/4 ounce ruby port
3/4 ounce orange liqueur
2 dashes of orange bitters
Shake ingredients together and pour. Garnish with an orange wedge and a candied blueberry.
Candied Spice Pecans
6 ounces shelled pecan halves
2 ounces brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon dry jerk spice
Heat a small nonstick sauté pan on medium. Add pecans and sugar to pan and stir gently, allowing the sugar to melt. Once the sugar has started to melt, add jerk spice and stir frequently to avoid burning. Once the mixture reaches light caramel color, remove from pan immediately. Allow to cool to room temperature and separate clusters of pecan halves.