Hosting a holiday party without a hitch is a skill I’ve yet to master. So in preparation for the holiday season, I chatted with Cindy Shanholtz, owner of Effortless Events of Chicago, to get armed with all the necessary party planner information.
“If you get organized, you can really master this stuff,” she said. “lt’s all about making sure everyone is comfortable and feels welcome as soon as they enter your home.”
Shanholtz said to decide on the type of party you want to have, and make sure it matches your personality.
“If you hate sit-down dinners, then don’t do a formal dinner party because you’re trying to impress someone,” she said. “Class is not about how much money you have, it’s how you make people feel.”
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Here are Shanholtz’s tips for pulling off that fabulous holiday bash:
• Don’t put “regrets only” on the invite.
“I can’t tell you how many people are lying in bed the week before a party thinking, ‘How many people are really coming?’ It’s too hard to keep track if you ask for regrets. Ask for an R.S.V.P. – even if it’s super casual. That way you can stay on top of the numbers.”
• Think of new ways to serve old favorites.
“People love comfort foods served in interesting ways – like soups served in shot glasses or in espresso cups,” she said. “And don’t make everything the same temperature. Do some cold items, some warm and some room temperature. Stagger it.”
• Partner with a charity.
“I love coming to a party knowing I’ve brought something for someone else,” she said. “Tell your guests that they can bring food to donate to the food bank or bring something for the women’s shelter. It’s a nice way to give back and it makes guests feel so good. I always suggest it.”
• Don’t forget the bar.
“You don’t have to do a full bar to have a great party,” she said. “You can have beer, wine, soda and one or two specialty drinks. And remember it’s usually one pound of ice per-person to use in the drinks. You’ll likely serve two drinks per-person for the first two hours, then one drink per person each hour after that.
“I also recommend a house cocktail – something you can pre-mix and leave in pitchers. And I love a bloody Mary bar or a champagne bar with different kinds of nectars. It’s interactive. People get competitive and it can be a great way for guests to socialize.”
• Lighting is everything.
“Everyone looks better in candlelight,” she said. “Buy votives and not tea lights because votives last longer. And always use unscented candles around food. You can use scents in other rooms.
“I also suggest changing a few light bulbs to amber-tinted bulbs. They are so flattering.”
• Rent stuff.
“There’s something to be said about having your plates and wine glasses arrive clean and then putting them in the bin dirty and you don’t have to worry about cleaning them,” she said. “And coat racks are easy to rent and they keep things a little more civilized so people aren’t trying to find the coat that slipped off the bed.”
• Make guests feel special from beginning to end.
“I like to see the hosts greeting people at the door with either a seasonal drink or glass of champagne,” she said. “It gets you right in the spirit and ramps up the energy of the party right away. And at the end of the night, I like to set up a hot chocolate bar with to-go cups for when people leave. People want to feel taken care of from the moment they walk in, to the moment they go back to their car.”