It’s the details that distinguish a good holiday party from a great one. Is there a collection of bottles on a folding table, or an elegant drink station featuring a specialty cocktail menu? These are just a few signs that your event is a step above the rest. If you want to treat yourself and your guests to an elevated holiday party experience, it will require some extra planning; but there’s plenty of potential for a rich and rewarding payoff. And there are indeed ways to find a happy medium for a high-end party without splurging during an already expensive time of year.
Now, DEPARTURES presents six elements of the evening to consider when planning the perfect holiday party people will remember for years to come:
Have a signature holiday cocktail.
And don’t make it eggnog. By December, people tend to have holiday beverage fatigue. Instead, opt for something cider-based, like a cinnamon and rosemary old fashioned. The cinnamon and rosemary will give the drink unexpected holiday flair, with an earthiness and December spice most won't find at their local bar. To prepare, you’ll need honey, fresh rosemary sprigs, cinnamon sticks and powdered cinnamon, angostura bitters, orange, and of course, bourbon. For a smooth bourbon that will stand up to this cocktail, opt for a bottle of Woodford Reserve ($27). For the non-bourbon drinkers, you can also have a martini making station, and some rich, warming winter red wines, like a slightly spicy Cab Franc. If you’d rather not have your guests serve themselves or play bartender all night, you can even hire a bartending service for the evening.
Assemble an hors d’oeuvre spread that would impress Ina Garten.
Crudites aren’t going to cut it if you want this party to feel extravagant (though you won't need to prepare a full meal or bring in a caterer to keep your guests well-fed). If you’re hosting a party in November and want to pay homage to Thanksgiving, by all means, roast a turkey and fix the trimmings. But if you’d just as soon not spend three days in the kitchen, focus on hot appetizers that can fill beautiful serving platters. For finger foods, lean toward mini quiches, bacon-wrapped scallops (which are extremely easy to make but feel like a delicate treat), bruschetta, and prosciutto with melon. You’ll also want to arrange a table with a hearty charcuterie, cheese, olive, and roasted vegetable spread. Again, it’s all in the details, so adding fig jam, cornichons, or Spanish almonds to the cheese and meat platters will add a rustic French element. And don’t forget to source stunning trays to mount this appetizing feast on: We recommend this warm-but-eclectic Williams Sonoma Hammered Copper Double-Wall round tray ($79.95). Or, you prefer something more subtle, this Scarlett Serve Platter ($49) from Pottery Barn. If you do choose a bartending service, hire additional staff to serve the appetizers and help clear dishes during the party.
Make sure your décor actually enhances the space without looking busy.
The quickest way to transition from classy to tacky is to over-decorate. Remember that your serving platters, glasses, and plates are all part of the overall feeling of the room, so take care when making your selections. These Kate Spade holiday appetizer plates ($43.99) are just the right balance of minimalism and holiday cheer. Instead of decorating with paper goods, focus on plants that will bring life into the room; buy fresh flowers in holiday colors like red, gold, blue, or white. If you’re looking for a simple but cohesive color scheme, go minimalist with black, white, and gold trim. If you’d like to include an element that celebrates your preferred holiday, whether that be a menorah, a Christmas tree, or simply a decorative wreath, go for it, but don’t feel like it’s a holiday party requirement.
Make your wardrobe preferences (politely) known.
An elevated party calls for an elevated wardrobe. This doesn’t have to mean black tie, but there’s nothing wrong with saying your fete won’t be an ugly sweater party. When you send out your invitations, note that cocktail attire is recommended. This way there’s no ambiguity; no one’s sending frantic texts the day before wondering what to wear.
Provide a ride home.
This is a move that puts your party a cut above the rest. Give your guests a ride home, whether just as a party favor or as your holiday gift to them. If you’re throwing your event in the Northeast, for example, the weather isn’t going to afford your guests a leisurely walk home, or even a palatable metro ride. Since they'll undoubtedly opt to take a car anyway, use Uber Events to give your guests a ride pass link or promo code that transports them to and from your party. You won’t have to worry about metro stations closing or your friends and family getting home safely. And you’ll look like a supremely gracious host.
Give out a chic and memorable party favor.
Assemble a haute gift bag filled with holiday treats your guests will actually use. Instead of stuffing the bags full of trinkets, just put in two or three items that will add some holiday cheer to their life over the next few weeks. Fill simple red or white gift bags with chocolate-covered macarons from Laduree ($16), a tin of Harrod’s hot chocolate ($13), and an individually wrapped Undercrown cigar ($9.60). Tie them with a gold ribbon and add a personalized noted on your favorite stationery to remind your guest how much celebrating the season with them means to you.