Event Planners Share Tips For A Memorable Holiday Party

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A cocktail-style party really allows for guests to interact with each other and enjoy each others’ company. (Photo by Vik Photography)

The holiday season can bring with it high expectations that can be a buzzkill, but one surefire way to combat the seasonal blues is to throw a party.

So, why not do something really pleasant for Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s (or all three), and celebrate the season to be jolly? Whether you’re planning a casual and intimate DIY get-together or an elegant soiree, keep these two things in mind: This season, no rules apply, and make it fun and fabulous. And for a seamless experience to avoid getting overwhelmed, let someone else do the catering, serving and cleaning up.

“For us, holiday season means cocktail parties,” says Samantha Payne-Markel, an event producer with Southold-based Grace & Grit. “We find that a cocktail-style party really allows for guests to interact and enjoy each other’s company.”

The party can open with a stationary display offering local farm veggies, homemade hummus and tzatziki dips, assorted local/imported cheeses, sliced baguette, honey, and nuts. Follow that with passed hors d’oeuvres.

Tip: About halfway through the party, move on to something a bit more hearty. Once guests have had their fill of apps, serve small plates laden with delicacies, or add extras such as a raw bar, taco bar, or carving station. For dessert, keep it light and fun with passed milk-and-cookie shots or a pie bar that serves local farm pies.

The party should be as unique as the host or hostess. According to style icon Iris Apfel, it’s important to embrace your special style and make it your own. So, zhoosh up your tree, fire up that menorah, and throw on your fancy caftan (It’s all the rage with celeb hostesses).  

Consider enhancing your décor with a few DIY accents, like home-crafted wreaths and garlands. Hang dreidels from your chandelier. Plate food in creative, appealing ways, and place food platters strategically throughout the house for easier access. A rolling bar can add a stylish touch and make serving drinks a breeze.

Those who prefer a theme party can incorporate hip, au courant styles into the existing décor. Think boho chic or retro/vintage. Then just add accessories that reflect that vibe.

For boho: large floor cushions, exotic embroidered couch pillows, and tablecloths/runners. Add a Moroccan flavor with hookahs for guests’ smoking pleasure. For a retro feel: Choose an era and add customized special touches such as vintage tree ornaments. Use lacy linens, pretty china, ornate serving dishes, fifties-style cocktail glasses and barware.

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A hot toddy is a perfect holiday party beverage. (Courtesy Joe Coleman, Lead Mixologist Grace and Grit)

And don’t forget about those holiday spirits!

“The experience of having a skilled bartender at a holiday party is going to be icing on the cake,” says Grace & Grit’s lead mixologist, Joe Coleman. “Think of all the wonderful things we eat around the holidays and how much better it would be to pair with a fun craft cocktail.”  

A few DIY tips: When setting up a home bar, Coleman suggests a large variety of spirits. And don’t forget about mixers. He says knowing your guests is important. If someone is a wine drinker, make sure to have a few good bottles and ask the local store what pairs with the party menu. Also, have a nice ginger beer, good sodas, a bottle of bitters, nice olives, etc.

“If your guests know you can make a drink, you’ll be a slave to the bar all night,” says Coleman, who is a fan of the classics and keeping it simple. “Batch a cocktail for people to pour themselves.

“For the fall/winter season, I like a Kentucky buck (mix bourbon, ginger beer, angostura bitters and lemon),” he continues. “It’s a diverse drink because for the non-bourbon drinkers, you can sub the bourbon for vodka, and lemon for lime, to make a Moscow mule. If you’d like a craft version you can blend sugar, water and fresh ginger to make a ginger syrup. Add spices like cinnamon and use fresh soda water.”

Other trends: For spiked ciders, pour fresh hot cider in a coffee urn and add rum with cinnamon sticks. Or, for a nice hot toddy, use good coffee, nice Irish whiskey and top with cold, fresh-whipped heavy cream.

Now’s the time to make some magic this holiday season.

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Tuna tartar in a sesame cone. (Photo by Vik Photography)

Hors d’oeuvres ideas

  • Mushroom, goat cheese and arugula pesto flatbreads
  • Potato latkes with apple cinnamon chutney
  • Slow-smoked pulled pork with house slaw on potato bun
  • Grilled lamb chops with mint pistachio pesto
  • Local butternut squash soup shooters
  • Smoked Peconic Bay scallops with pickled jalapeño