There’s a lot that goes into planning and pulling off a holiday party. There’s the guest list to write, the food to prepare, the cocktails to mix and that’s all before family and friends arrive. So where do you start? How much can you prepare ahead of time? And is it okay to ask friends and family to help out? In anticipation of the holiday party season we sat down with event planning extraordinaire, Liz Blankendal of EETTAFEL to learn all we could about planning and executing the best Holiday Party ever!
What is the maximum number for a sit down dinner?
That’s a great question! I think a really great number for a sit down dinner is 8. It’s not an exhaustive number but I think it allows you full flexibility to be creative without being stressful. You can of course host as many family members and friends as you want but I think 8 is ideal. Just keep in mind that the more guests you have, the more work will be involved.
At what number do you move to a buffet style dinner?
I think around the 15-20 mark is when buffet style is most appropriate.
What can one do ahead of time to prepare so that on the day there’s not as much to do?
The key to hosting effortlessly really is the preparation! I’m a true believer that 90% of the heavy lifting should be done before Christmas Day or whenever your party is. In terms of what can you do to prepare? I think, start off with a list. What’s your end goal? What do you want the day to look like and then work backward. So what kind of food are you serving? What ingredients do you need? How many days in advance can you prep the vegetables and marinate the meat? In terms of the table, what do you want it to look like? You can begin purchasing different assets for the table or borrowing things from family and friends weeks ahead. So really and truly, focus on planning and you can’t plan enough or too far ahead.
What is your take on including kids at the Christmas dinner table? Should they be seated with the adults, or is it better to create a separate kids table where they can enjoy themselves?
I think if you’re going to go for a full formal dinner, then having a separate kid’s tables is great because it allows kids just to be kids. It also means that parents don’t have to stress over making sure the kids are behaving themselves at the table or using their utensils correctly. In the same breath though, I think it could be a good experience for older children to learn how to sit at the table. If the kids are 10 and under though, have a separate table with coloring books and casual dinnerware, the kids will be happy and so will the adults.
Is it okay to ask your friends and family to bring a dish?
I think it depends on the format. If you’re doing a formal sit-down dinner, I would say the hosts should take care of everything. If you’re doing family-style or potluck, then that should be made clear to you guests from the beginning and should be stated on the invite.
And say you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, what canapés are you serving your guests?
Nowadays many people have food allergies so you have to serve a variety of canapés so that everyone has something to eat. You should serve something with meat and I think a minted lamb lollypop is great. Likewise, a crostini with brie and jam is always a safe bet too. A good idea too is to create a grazing table with meats, cheeses, crackers, fruits and other bits. It’s practical because everyone gets to choose what suits them and it’s really creative and looks great.
Serving Christmas dinner family style, has become really popular in recent years. If you’re doing it that way, should you set up a food station separate from the dining table, or is it okay to put all of the food on the dining table and pass it around?
I’m an advocate for the latter. I think it’s really nice to see all of the food laid out in front of you as part of the tablescape. If you’re doing it this way though, make sure you have really nice dinnerware so it looks appealing. I think putting the Christmas Dinner directly on the table is a great way to generate conversation and it keeps people eating which also makes the actual dinner last longer.
What are some simple but effective ideas for place settings?
I think adding a charger and napkin ring to each place setting is an elegant way to elevate your table without going crazy. As far as place cards, you can DIY something easily or buy something small inexpensively. Those three things will really add a lot to your table.
When is the best time to get your invites out?
As early as possible! Seriously, as soon as you know your dates, send out an invite. Your guests will appreciate the time to prepare and keep in mind that around Christmas everyone is inundated with invitations to various parties so it’s a good idea to get your event on the calendar as early as possible.
And are paperless invites okay or should we be putting more effort in and sending out more traditional invites?
I think paperless invites are perfectly acceptable, and certainly they make it easy to manage your guest list but if you have guests of a certain age who find technology difficult, it might be a good idea to make a exception for them and send them a physical invitation instead.
How do you estimate how much food you’ll need?
That’s a very good question because you don’t want to run out of anything but you don’t want to overbuy either. A good rule of thumb is that every person will eat 1 1/2 servings of each dish on the table. So for every dish, multiply the number of people you have coming by 1.5 to find how many servings of each dish you’ll need.
If you do end up with leftovers, send each of your guests home with a takeaway box. You can find takeaway boxes for sale inexpensively, and after dinner fill each with mini portions of the dishes you served. Your guests can take them home and enjoy them the next day. You can even customize the boxes to have them say something like, “The Smith Family Christmas”.
Is the Holiday Open House still a thing or did that go away with the pandemic?
No, I think it’s slowly coming back! I think the pandemic certainly put the concept of an open house on ice for a couple of years but now that the pandemic, dare I say is in the rear-view, has excited everyone to get back out and celebrate with friends and family, so I think you’ll begin to see them more and more.
And in terms of being invited to a holiday party or Open House, what should one bring for the host/hostess?
I think a bottle of wine or champagne is always the go-to, right? But I think you can take it to another level and make it more personal. So really consider who your host is, what you know about them and what they like. If they’re into cooking, maybe take a trip to International Imports and get them something small but practical for the kitchen, something they’ll be able to use everyday. The key is to tailor a gift to the person hosting without going overboard.
Last question! And you might laugh at this one… Do you have to choose a theme for your party or is Christmas enough?
Oh! Christmas is enough! It’s such a beautiful time, don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Stick to the holiday in its true form and work with what you have.