Addie Graham-Kramer is an expert at making hosting a low-stress experience. Through her work over the past two years as president of The Event Company, and her previous decade in corporate event planning, she’s used to creating fabulous fetes that appear effortless. However, you don’t need a party planner to have a great time with friends and family this holiday season. Graham-Kramer shares a few tips for the at-home host.
How should I invite guests?
Addie Graham-Kramer: Outside of sending traditional designed invitations or a lackluster email to your friends about your upcoming holiday cocktail party, invite them through Evite.com. It’s an online invitation tool with fun templates to fit your theme and many of them are free!
Do you have a few suggestions for music?
AGK: Music sets the tone for your party and puts guests in the right mood for one amazing night ahead. Create a playlist that will run continuously for at least six hours so you don’t need to be changing up music or be taken away from your guests. This should not only be comprised of traditional and contemporary holiday music but also everyday music that your guests would enjoy (folk, adult hits, country, etc.).
Give me a few suggestions for creating a festive atmosphere.
AGK: The atmosphere of your holiday cocktail party is created through the sounds, smells, sights, tastes and touches that your guests embark on.
Sounds: Make sure that your music is not overly loud.
Smells: Having mulled wine simmering on the stove sends warm holiday scents through your home.
Sights: Candlelight creates a relaxed ambiance.
Tastes: Foods that are full of flavor create conversation.
Touch: Making sure that your guests have plenty of room to move around and places to sit so that they aren’t rubbing elbows makes them feel more comfortable.
I’m not an expert crafter. How can I decorate without blowing my budget?
AGK: Create one focal point for your décor and add small elements surrounding this. One easy holiday décor element that we incorporate into various at-home parties includes creating a natural table runner on the main food/beverage station. This can easily be done by using evergreen branches from your local greenhouse, fresh whole cranberries and candles. Putting down the plush evergreen branches down the length of the table and placing it in the middle to create that table runner, sprinkling whole cranberries throughout the branches, and layering candles in varied sizes add not only dimension to your party space, but also a romantic light for an evening cocktail party. Putting the candles into clusters of gold or silver mercury glass vases or candle holders enhances the festive theme of the holiday season.
What about food? I don’t want to go overboard, but I want people to be reasonably impressed with the spread.
AGK: Select a menu that you can prep ahead of time and perhaps even freeze and bring out the day of the party. Some of my go-to hors d’oeuvres that can be prepared at least 24 hours ahead of time include baked spinach artichoke dip, caprese skewers, brie with cranberry orange spread, and bruschetta.
Mini brownie bites can be baked, stored in an air-tight container and frozen 5-7 days before the event. Take them out of the freezer a few hours before your party to thaw, frost with chocolate ganache and top with a fresh raspberry for a quick holiday dessert.
How much food should I make?
AGK: The time of your party will determine how much food to plan for. If it’s during normal dinner hours, then I would plan for people to eat at least 2-3 servings of each item and having more filling hors d’oeuvres for party-goers to choose from. Guests typically will fill a dinner plate if it is before 6:30 p.m. If you’re hosting your party after that hour, then plan for guests to eat smaller bites because most will have eaten dinner prior to coming. At this party start-time, put out smaller dessert plates for guests to fill and your menu will go a lot further.
How should I stock the bar?
AGK: Create two signature cocktails that fit the theme of your party. These drinks can be prepped 2-3 hours before your party and put into large carafes or festive pitchers. Keep the ice cubes out of the drinks until you’re ready to serve them to prevent the cocktail from becoming watered down. I would also suggest stocking your bar with a few bottles of your favorite red and white wines, one light beer and craft beer. Leave the liquor for your signature drinks so that you can control not only costs but also the mess. It’s that simple!
My guests won’t all know each other. Do you have a few suggestions for ways to keep the conversation going?
AGK: Introductions by the host/hostess is important as soon as guests arrive. If everyone knows each other’s names, that will help to keep the conversation going. Of course, traditional nametags work, but I prefer not to at in-home parties.
What is the number one thing holiday party hosts should keep in mind?
AGK: Make a list or timeline of to-do’s and stick to it. So many times you’ll want to add new things and try to find ways to make your party better than the last, but don’t add to the stress. Stick to your plan. Stay on task with your timeline and don’t forget to add in an hour to get yourself ready and relax a bit before the doorbell rings with your first guests.