Holidays are wonderful for so many reasons: it’s a time to honor traditions, gather with family and celebrate with friends. They’re called “holidays” because they aren’t “everyday” – it’s a special occasion that calls for special measures.
And that is exactly why I love the holidays so much: it gives us a reason to do something different, something special, mix it up and take a different approach to the ordinary. Entertaining, whether it’s hosting family for a special dinner, throwing that fun cocktail party or holding an open house, is something that you don’t do everyday. And while there’s definitely more work involved, I find it so gratifying to be the one holding the hostess honors, as you get a chance to set the stage, choose the players and watch the sparks of laughter fly, camaraderie blossom and magic unfold…
Ah, but how, when and where to begin? It all starts with planning. Planning is the most important part of putting on any event, and making lists is one of the key action steps to pull it off successfully. Following is my planning strategy for hosting a dinner party, but please note that every event is unique and comes with its own set of variables. Use the below countdown as a general guideline to help plan and execute your next event:
One Month Prior (or as early as possible)
You want to throw a party! Is there a theme or reason to celebrate? Daytime or evening? Formal or casual? Cocktails with appetizers, or a brunch, lunch or dinner? Standing and mingling or seated at a dinner table? Assigned seating or not? Food served at the table or on a buffet? What’s your menu? Catered or prepared at home? Many guests or a few? These are the details to iron out when you decide to host a party.
3-4 Weeks Prior
Create and send out your invite. For a dinner party, 3-4 weeks out should be fine. Electronic invites are all the rage now and easy for the host to create, update and send messages to guests. It’s even easier for guests to RSVP, include a comment and add the event to their electronic calendars.
2 Weeks Prior
If hosting the party at your home, start setting the stage for the occasion: take a good long look at the areas where your guests will be and remove tchotchkes, clear clutter, think about furniture rearrangement and do a deep cleaning. I enlisted the help of my dear friend Margie Kratz, former photography director for New York Magazine, with a keen eye for the aesthetic, to come stage my home. It’s so helpful to have an outside eye take a fresh look at your space!
1 Week Prior
Finalize your menu. If you are going to cater your party, confirm your food order. If you are going to prepare your own food, think about how easy you can do it. This event should not be your opportunity to make that fancy new dish; instead, go for the tried and tested, especially something that can be made far in advance and kept warm in the oven until guests arrive. This is also the time to create a grocery shopping list and outline a food prep plan.
2-3 Days Prior
Now is the time to set your table, lay out serving dishes and see if you’re missing any vessels, utensils, glassware or barware that you may need to buy or borrow from friends. Setting the table helps you map out your tablescape, determine the size of floral arrangements and see where candles and other decorations can go.
1 Day Prior
Buy your flowers! We have a fantastic flower mart in downtown LA and Margie took me on my maiden voyage to this magical place to purchase flowers for my holiday party.
Margie created a stunning floral arrangement for the entry, a lovely centerpiece for the table and added various smaller arrangements around my home.
This is also the time to rearrange the furniture and get your home as party-ready as possible. I even lit candles the night before to make sure that everything looked as we had envisioned. Margie delivered!
As for food, prepare as much today as you can so you’ll have less to do tomorrow.
Day of Event
Finish all food preparation according to your food plan, and as early in the day as possible. This also means setting up your bar, preparing your hors d’oeuvres, laying out appetizers on trays, arranging your cheese plate and portioning condiments for the buffet, keeping items in the refrigerator until 1 hour prior to the party.
Now it’s time to get dressed and ready. Light candles, open a few bottles of wine (serve a glass for yourself!) and be ready to welcome guests when they arrive. It’s show time!
I hope this countdown helps you plan your own special occasion. And may your holiday gatherings be very merry!
I want to come! What a fabulous gathering with so little stress since it’s well planned!
You are always welcome, Ellen! Happy Holidays to you and your family!