An Affair to Remember
HOW TO HOST THE PERFECT HOLIDAY PARTY
Entertaining any time of the year takes careful planning, but with big guest lists and high expectations, holiday season parties are an entirely different animal. To make sure your big night goes smoothly, we enlisted a few of Naperville’s resident experts to share their tried-and-true party-planning tips culled from years of pouring drinks, serving food and setting the scene.
“If you have an open plan kitchen, still be preparing something when guests arrive,” said Nicola Davis, culinary manager for Nando’s Peri-Peri, which opened a Naperville location earlier this year. “It puts people at ease that they can be comfortable in your home—this isn’t going to be a stuffy dinner party.”
Inevitably, guests will congregate wherever the food and drinks are, which can make for a crowd around the kitchen island. “Move the beverage bar out of the kitchen or dining area and relocate it to another inviting area of your home that has some seating such as the living room or a den,” said Maureen Buckley-Rogers, general manager of Walter E. Smithe Furniture’s Naperville showroom. “I recommend having small appetizers and sweets in multiple rooms. This will encourage small gatherings throughout your home and keep most guests out of the kitchen.”
To make sure guests have enough room for their plates and glasses, you may need to temporarily stow some of your everyday tabletop accessories. “Remove lamps and clutter on some of your tables and use battery-operated candles on your consoles and sofa tables,” Buckley-Rogers said. To avoid damage to your furniture, table runners and coasters can do the trick.
Above all, remember that it’s important for you to relax and have fun at your own party. “For me, having a comfortable, relaxed host and place to gather with friends and family is the best way for your guests to feel it was the best party they attended this holiday season,” Buckley-Rogers said.
It’s time to break out the ice buckets! “They’re a great way to display chilled options in an interesting way,” said Tylor Field, divisional vice president of wine and spirits at Morton’s Steakhouse. Fill the buckets with ice, water and some salt, which helps the water get colder faster. Then add your beverages to chill.”
“My favorite thing is to have a signature cocktail,” said Andrea Smith, sales and special events manager at Fiamme in Naperville. Try putting a holiday twist on a classic cocktail, like a cranberry mojito. “A mojito is more of a summer drink, but cranberries bring in the red berries combined with bright green mint make for a picture-perfect holiday-hued drink. Angela Dana, Naperville resident and owner of Rosebud Restaurants Inc., is also a fan of the signature cocktail. “Everyone has their go-to, that one drink that they love, and I think it kind of pushes them to try something new,” she said. It also provides an opportunity to simplify your drink offerings by making it your only spirits-based option alongside beer and wine.
Davis recommends setting up a self-serve drink station so guests can crack open a beer or pour a drink for themselves. “This gives people something to do when they arrive, and hopefully not stand awkwardly around,” she said.
Looking for a way to make a basic drink selection feel fancier? “Garnishes can up your bar game with an easy wow factor,” Field said. “Beyond stuffed olives and lemon wedges, items like superfine sugar, peppers, floral ice cubes, edible flowers and fresh herbs can make the most basic cocktail more special.”
Get guests involved with a DIY dessert drink bar. “If you’re going to do a peppermint martini, break up peppermint sticks and have that be your sugar rim,” Smith said. “Or we did, one time, (Small Town Brewery’s) Not Your Father’s Root Beer, it’s an alcoholic root beer, and we made root beer floats with it.”
For a large party, a universal wine glass for both whites and reds is totally appropriate, Dana said. “I don’t think people are going to say, ‘I need a balloon glass for red.’ Unless you’re a wine aficionado or you’re serving really expensive wine—then go for it.”
Don’t be afraid to forgo fancy glassware altogether if it fits your personality. For example, at a recent party, Dana remembers the hosts using classic red Solo cups and matching shot glasses to serve their own homemade cherry moonshine.
Have a few rounds of appetizers ready when guests arrive. “It gives you a bit of wiggle room to get the main meal ready,” Davis said. “Hungry guests are not festive guests!” An assortment of cheese, charcuterie, olives and nuts are easy to snack on and prepare ahead of time.
Consider serving an appetizer that can provide a talking point for party guests that have met for the first time or don’t know each other well. “For instance wings with different heat levels ranging from lemon and herb Peri-Peri all the way to hot, even extra-extra hot Peri-Peri,” Davis said. “Guests can ask each other, ‘How hot can you take?’”
Dana suggested working with a restaurant or caterer to turn your favorite entree into a party-friendly app. “We will pare down a lot of our entrees to smaller portions,” she said. “So some people like the chicken Vesuvio; we’ll do skewers with that.”
For a change of pace from a buffet-style or sit-down dinner, try a family-style meal. “I think that way it brings in that sense of warmth and everyone sharing the same thing,” Smith said. “We do it at all of our parties here at the restaurant and I like the idea of giant overflowing bowls and everyone gets to share. “
For a buffet-style meal with multiple choices, keep in mind that you don’t need as much food as if you were serving separate entrees. “A rule of thumb if you’re doing separate entrees, for pasta, you would want for two to three people what your normally serve for one, because everyone’s trying everything,” Smith said. “So what you’d normally think is enough for one, count it for two instead.”
Everything old is new again when it comes to holiday decor. “What I’ve seen is people are going back to old-school stuff,” Dana said. Think candles, swags and classic ball-shaped glass ornaments. “Try filling punch bowls with ornaments.”
Linens can transform your everyday furniture into elegant serving pieces. “For one event we did, I draped the host’s coffee table that was by their couch, and their island in their kitchen, we draped that with a linen,” said Dana.
Sticking with one color scheme is a simple way to make your holiday decor look cohesive and sophisticated. Rather than the classic red and green, think all white, deep crimson or offbeat metallics such as copper, rose gold or pewter.
If you don’t have, or don’t like holiday tchotchkes, seasonal floral arrangements are a festive option. Dana suggests asking your florist to add evergreen bows or pine cones to small or large arrangements for a wintry touch throughout your home.