Caught up in the festive mood, you decided to host a holiday party this year. But now you’re wondering, how do I do this? Take it from Natalie Mayhew of Fern & Maple: with just a few simple steps, you’ll put your guests at ease and your party will be enjoyed by all. Read on to see what advice Natalie, a Portland-based event planner and party stylist extraordinaire, gives to anxious clients asking how to avoid hosting mistakes. (Hint: it’s the thought, not the extravagance, that counts.)
Set the tone with a warm welcome. Think about what it’s like when you go to someone else’s house. “It’s so much nicer if the host welcomes you at the door and they bring you in and introduce you around to everyone,” says Natalie. “So that’s a start. Don’t just show them in and leave them on their own immediately. Bring them in and introduce them around to the other guests.”
Let guests help themselves to drinks. Set up a bar cart or table with drink options. After introducing guests, take them over and show them the options for mixing their own cocktails or drinks. This frees you up and puts guests at ease. “You can always enlist someone to help you make sure the ice bucket is filled and everyone has drinks.”
Allow for dietary restrictions. Natalie always asks about this on the invitation and follows up with guests. “I always have options if someone has restrictions,” she says. “I’ll offer salads with no dressing on them and you can apply your own. Or I’ll serve sauces separately, so people can help themselves.” Guests will appreciate this ability to customize, and you won’t need to make last-minute adjustments during the party.
Be prepared (with gifts). Natalie keeps a gift cupboard stocked with small gifts, tags and labels. “For holiday parties, a lot of times, people will bring a gift. So I like to have a few small items that I can give in return. A bottle of wine in a nice gift bag, or something little and ready to go.” If you pre-wrap these spare gifts, label what’s in them and have extra gift tags to sign.
Don’t forget the younger set. Natalie always has something ready for the kids to do, to keep them busy. “I like to set it up just like they’re having their own dinner party, and give them activities like coloring or crafts.”
Favors are always a nice touch.“They don’t have to be expensive, but just a little something thoughtful on the plate is always nice. Even if it’s a handwritten note, So glad you could be here. Something warm and homey. Or something cute like a small nutcracker or cookie cutter, or a little pumpkin candle.”
Prep ahead of time as much as possible.Set the table the night before. Plan the menu so that food can be cooked in advance and reheated. “Make sure you have time for your guests,” says Natalie. “And just keep it simple. It’s not a night to try out a complex new dish. Guests don’t want the host to be in the kitchen the whole time - they came to see you!”
Most of all, don’t worry about things being perfect! With Natalie’s expert tips and some advance planning, you’ll set a festive mood simply by enjoying the time with your guests. Now that’s a perfect host.