With a little planning, a little help and a lot of resolve, holiday entertaining doesn’t have to mean you’re too stressed out to enjoy your own party.
Sometimes, said Michelle Morton, a professional organizer and busy mom of three in Raleigh, N.C., it’s all about attitude.
“This is not the time to perfect being ‘perfect,’” she said. “This is all about surviving with a smile on your face and at the end of the day making sure you enjoy it as well. If it doesn’t make you happy, and you’re doing it out of obligation, then cross it off your list.”
If you’re a go for hosting, try these tips for maintaining your sanity:
CHOOSING THE MENU
Mary Giuliani, a high-end caterer and event planner in Manhattan, does 60 to 75 parties from Dec. 1 to Dec. 22 each year. “‘Mad Men’ and all the ’50s and ’60s retro stuff is chic again,” she said. “That means potlucks are cool. Plus, these days, everybody wants to be a celebrity chef.”
But, she cautions, know your crowd. “If you’re certain your guests won’t enjoy showing off their favorite casserole or the latest recipe they found online, don’t do it.”
Try a dessert party or serve mac-and-cheese with toppings instead, suggests Giuliani, with one signature drink as opposed to an open bar.
Chef Jan Birnbaum, co-owner of EPIC Roasthouse in San Francisco, suggests preparing food you’ve made at least several times.
“The best way to have fun with your guests and friends is to make the meal doable,” Birnbaum said. “Preparing a dish that you have never done before will guarantee a less than fun day for you.”
Morton has found success breaking to-do lists into categories and prioritizing each task, then syncing the tasks with her electronic calendar. “I feel much better when I write things out,” she said. “When I walk around with it all in my head I can’t think, I can’t focus, I can’t sleep.”
Don’t head off to the market without a list, and plan to shop well in advance, Birnbaum adds. Fresh ingredients will stay that way purchased two days ahead.
And don’t forget to designate help. Putting on a party alone is foolhardy. Birnbaum said ask yourself a few key questions when planning, like who will set the table while you’re finishing off the meal? How much time do you need to shower and dress? Have your help arrive at least several hours in advance.
Whipping the house into shape for a party is always stressful. Giuliani suggests stocking up on votive candles to “give a little warmth without going crazy,” especially if you forgot to leave time to buy and arrange flowers.
Dana Bowen, executive editor of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, says avoid buying decorations intended solely for the holidays. “Look around your backyard for pine cones or tree branches and turn them into centerpieces,” she suggests.
Or try a tip from design guru Nate Berkus and reuse scraps of wrapping paper to cover your vases for a more festive feel without spending money.
At the table, especially if you’re on a budget, get funky with a mix of vintage from thrift stores or flea markets, Bowen said. “Vintage china and silverware is a great idea, and you can get it for pennies. I walked out of a bag sale with two armfuls of champagne flutes that I pull out every New Year’s Eve. Who wants to drink from plastic cups.”
Loulie Walker, an event planner for the rich and famous in Manhattan, is also a mix-and-match fan. “For tableware, take an anything goes approach, such as family heirloom china next to big-box store plates, and mixing up linens and glassware,” she said. “This also makes it easy to add an extra setting at the last minute.”
Wine pairings are fun, but they’re not everything. Giuliani said choose one wine for holiday hosting and buy it by the case to save money. Kathy Bertone, who wrote “The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host; Becoming the Perfect Guest,” notes hosts can count on visitors showing up with plenty of wine, anyway.
Ken Forte, president of the Harlem Wine Gallery, a small wine shop-art gallery in Harlem, says assume most of your guests will drink one to three glasses. Don’t succumb to pressure to buy outside your price range and don’t sweat the glassware.
“Although the current craze for specific wine glasses for each varietal may work for you, it is perfectly acceptable to drink from the glasses you own,” he said. “If you don’t own enough wine glasses to serve all your guests, consider renting or borrowing additional glasses.”