Once the clock strikes Thanksgiving eve, the holiday season is upon us and there’s no letting up until the New Year’s ball drops.
Friendsgivings, cookie swaps, holiday brunches, cocktail parties—it can quickly become a lot. And it either excites you so much you pin recipes with abandon or it gives you such anxiety you debate feigning the flu instead of hosting this year’s family feast.
The biggest difference? Experience. But since you’re unlikely to clock in the Gladwellian 10,000 hours worth of holiday hosting anytime soon, we’ve thought we’d offer up advice from our collective experience.
We distilled down our dinner party knowledge to these ten tips for how to entertain elegantly (without adding any stress). So, go ahead and send out that invite, because you’re going to master the holidays this year:
There’s no bigger buzzkill than arriving at a party finding the host or hostess frenzied. Avoid that by keeping the first course simple. Mind you, simple does not mean boring as proof by our go-to appetizer right now: pork rillettes bites.
A quick side note about rillettes: they are a form of pâté, but to call them that is a disservice as they’re really more like a socially acceptable way to eat pulled pork in a dinner party setting. They’re most often made with pork but can also be made with duck, rabbit, or even salmon FYI.
Anyway, either make or buy the rillettes and then your first course is just a matter of assembly. Arrange appetizer plates with an assortment of toasts, a portion of rillettes, pomegranate seeds, some seasonal fruit, and then serve with phenomenal mustard like this Maille Black Truffle and Chablis Mustard.
We’re all about using storebought appetizers or even doing something that, like the rillettes toasts, is partially homemade and partially storebought. But, for more homemade ideas, check out these elegant appetizers that work for everything from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve.
Have A Conversation-Starter Condiment
The key to the pork rillettes bites is the condiment because, with one dab of this Maille Black Truffle and Chablis Mustard, you have all sorts of complexity — thanks to the combo of black truffles, wine, and Dijon.
At our most recent dinner party, we ended giving the mustard as party favors because, the minute we served it, our guests became obsessed and they were thrilled to take it home.
You could do the same thing with a preserve or sauce from a local store so you’re supporting local and providing an icebreaker all at once.
Buy Wine By The Case
Hear us out: when you buy wine by the case at a quality wine store, they’ll often give you a case discount. But the real reason we do it? We tend to use similar seasonal flavors across our holiday season cooking, so we can use similar style wines at each.
At an event like Thanksgiving, we budget a bottle per person—assuming we’re serving only wine and that, from appetizers through dessert, our party lasts about 4 hours.
We tend to have about 18 guests so that works out to 18 bottles or a case and a half. In order to have a choice, we buy a case of French Brut Rosé or Italian Franciacorta for bubbles, a California Sauvignon Blanc or Austrian Gewürztraminer for the white, and a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir or French Grenache blend for the red wine.
Embrace The Bar Cart
Especially, if your guests aren’t into wine or if you’re hosting a cocktail party, a bar cart is a holiday entertaining must. The bar cart not only serves as ground zero for all your drinks but can also streamline service by editing the contents to cover a few specific drinks.
Bonus? If you place it outside of the dining room, it will encourage guests to wander around your house so they don’t spend the whole night stuck at the dinner table or loitering around the kitchen.
Break Out The Great Stuff
The holidays are full of glitz and glam so add a little of that spirit to your menu as well.
This is the time to break out the good quality, special occasion bottle of wine or a showstopping ingredient (think: king crab legs, caviar, foie (if that’s your thing), or that black truffle mustard we mentioned). If you have access to great seafood, consider serving this Scallop Crudo With Jalapeno Citrus Sauce or these Oysters With Pomegranate Mignonette Granita.
Of course, this isn’t realistic if you’re doing a huge party but it can really accentuate the experience for a smaller gathering. Trust us: your guests will remember a standout ingredient much more than your heirloom silver set and it will help you punctuate the moment.
Prep Your Pantry For Last-Minute Entertaining
The key to last-minute party planning without extra stress? A well-stocked pantry (and wine fridge or bar cart) so you can entertain at a moment’s notice. This time of year, we keep the kitchen stocked with snacks we already enjoy but that can double as party hors d’oeuvres.
The easiest way to go about it is to buy with your favorite cheese and charcuterie board in mind–as in, you’ll want some seasonal fruit (grapes and persimmons last long and work well on a cheeseboard), a few pickles, some Cerignola olives, Marcona almonds, a few salumi, and a great cheese or two.
Choose Multi-Purpose Florals
That idea of seasonality extends to our florals too. Buying in-season greenery is not only more affordable but also means it will all be fresher. Right now, we’re embracing the Pantone color of the year (greenery!) and doing green arrangements that have small pops of color.
To do so, start with one main plant (evergreen or eucalyptus look and smell great) then add in a few colorful pieces like billy buttons, thistle flowers (pictured above), proteas, or even some Italian pepper boughs. You can then arrange it in vases around the space or even place it down the dinner table as an organic take on a table runner.
Be On The Move
If your party is a book, each course is a different chapter. Encouraging guests to move around your house makes the party more dynamic. Start with appetizers and cocktails in one space then move to the dinner table for the main course and then do dessert in a more laidback space like a living room or around an outdoor fireplace.
Get A Go-To Decor Theme
Let’s be real: you’re likely not going to have the same friends over and over again so you can choose one decor theme and reuse it. The name of our decor game right now is neutrals with a pop. As in we choose a go-to neutral (ours is zinc grey) then we personalize each party with an “accent” color like the on-trend blush pink, a brushed bronze, greenery, or a mix of all three.
Make The Mood With Music
To us, it isn’t a party until there’s music. No matter the style of party, you want the same thing: a playlist that goes from mellow to upbeat to relaxing and never too overwhelming. In an ideal world, we’d have a deejay on retainer, but in reality, we use streaming services.
Not sure where to start? A dinner party almost always works with jazz or a soulful artist like Charles Bradley. For cocktail parties, we liven it up with a station inspired by The Internet or Lion Babe. Here is a playlist we’ve used as of late for happy hour get-togethers.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Want to make sure you remember all these tips? Pin this to your Pinterest board so you can reference it whenever you’d like!