Five Things That Will Automatically Make Your Holiday Party Better
There’s a high probability that you are hosting a holiday party this year.
I love hosting parties—it brings me immense joy to cook for the people I love. Plus, parties are better when you have an excuse to leave any conversation. “Oh, excuse me for one moment, I need to check on the roast.” “Do you need a fresh cocktail? Coming right up!” I started throwing parties at a young age—when I was 16 and my parents left me home alone—and I have picked up some essential hosting tricks that I always rely on. Read on for those, and remember: You’re the host, and you set the tone—if you aren’t having fun, neither are your guests.
1. Batch them cocktails
The last thing you want to do at your own party is stand around making cocktails-to-order all night. (It may seem like fun, but your wrist will hurt after a while, and unless you’re an incredible multitasker, it’s hard to make good cocktails while small-talking.) You also want to be a good host and not leave people up to their own devices. They solution? Make big, batched cocktails that people can pour for themselves.
You can batch most things. If you’re feeling fancy and boozy, make a pitcher of Perfect Manhattans or Vesper Martinis. The issue with batching high-alcohol drinks is that people aren’t used to pouring themselves the typical serving size. If you go to a bar and order a Manhattan, it’s three ounces of liquid total. Your friends, especially if you give them large glassware, will easily pour themselves double that, and very soon your party will be either very crazy or very sleepy. Plus, you’ll be out of your batched cocktails and you’ll have to start bartending—which defeats the purpose of the batch in the first place!
My favorite party trick is to mix a big, low-ABV base for sparkling cocktails and simply have people add their own sparkling wine. If the low-ABV base is over-poured, it doesn’t matter nearly as much. If you really don’t want people to over-pour, leave out instructions and a jigger/shot glass.
My favorite option is a Negroni Spagliato. First of all, Negronis are the greatest cocktail known to man. Fight me. This variation replaces gin with sparkling wine, and I cannot imagine a more delightful party sipper. Batch a pitcher or glass bottle full of equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth, then, leave out an ice bucket with some bottles of cheap Prosecco. El fin.
PSST: You can also easily make these Meryl-happy cocktails into big party batches.
2. Don’t kill yourself with the food
Work smarter, not harder, when it comes to food.
For cocktail hour or a stand-up chit-chat situation, assemble a beautiful cheese and charcuterie board that can sit out all night without refrigeration. Make things that are good at room temperature, so you don’t have to worry about hot or cold. I’m talking about savory galettes. Banh mi sliders with miso tofu. Lettuce wraps filled with flank steak.
For a dinner party, create a menu that features mostly make-ahead items—like squash and curried yogurt—with one main course—like roasted chicken—still cooking away in the oven when your guests arrive. Your guests want delicious food, but mostly, they want to spend time with you. Both things are easily achievable.
3. Find your light
You can have the cutest holiday decorations in the entire world, but your party is going to suck if people are blinded by the fluorescent overhead bulbs in your crap apartment. (I say that with love, I have definitely lived in that apartment, too.) Let’s say you only have ten dollars to spend on decorations. The best thing you can do for your party is to go out and buy two lamps at Goodwill and turn off any overhead lighting. A perfect party is only a light switch away.
This is my living room. We have massive amounts of overhead lighting, and it’s overwhelming. We skip all the built-in lights and turn this sucker on whenever people are over. Ambiance is key.
4. Sit down and make a playlist
Music matters! One bad song will change the vibe of your party immediately. It takes just a few minutes to come up with a gameplan for music, so take the time to do it.
If you have a record player, ask your first guests to pick out a record to play. Play between 5 and 10, and then switch to a curated playlist or pre-tested Spotify/Apple Music/whatever playlist. If you’re having a sit-down dinner, go for records during cocktail hour, and the playlist once everyone has sat down, so no one has to get up.
Whatever you do, don’t be a dick about the music. If people want to play their current favorite song, let them. It’s supposed to be fun, right?
5. Don’t force interaction
So, this is a controversial one, but hear me out. I have two very good friends—you know who you are—who love to do this thing where they separate couples at the dinner table. It’s a traditional “miss manners” type thing. However, the same tradition says you should seat the table by gender, boy-girl, and that seems like BS heteronormative, cis-privilege behavior to me, so screw it! I understand the idea of splitting up couples, or even close friends, to encourage mingling with other guests. However, I have found that people are at their most fun when they are comfortable, not when you force them to interact with each other.
As the host, you can make meaningful connections between people you think will get along. Take the time to think about who may get along and introduce them based on their interests. Don’t force them to stand and mingle, put out plenty of chairs so people can sit. Let them choose their own seats so when they have one too many drinks and they can squeeze their loved one’s leg under the table.
Haaalp! I need more party tips!
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