‘Tis the season for holiday parties. To make yours jolly and bright, try these 10 tips from Food Network Magazine editor and University of Delaware alumna Erica Cohen Finamore (’11). She has countless tips and tricks, culled from years of magazine-editing magic.
Accommodate dietary restrictions
The most important part of making an event fun is making guests comfortable, which is nearly impossible to do if they can’t eat the food. Remember to ask about restrictions in advance and provide options for everyone, from vegan and vegetarian dishes to gluten-free alternatives. It takes a little extra effort, but the thoughtfulness won’t be overlooked.
When guests arrive, there are a few things they’ll usually appreciate: water, a place to hang their coat and a phone charger. Give someone the job of taking coats, leave large pitchers of water out for people to help themselves and set up a phone charging station outside of the kitchen.
Eat your apps
Just like no one wants to take the last piece of cake, no one wants to be the first person to crack into the appetizers. If you cut into your cheese board or take a scoop of your dip first, then it will feel less intimidating for guests to do the same.
Create mingling zones
Use food to create different areas around your home so that guests can spread out and talk in smaller groups. Whether you place the crudité in the den or leave the hot appetizers on the kitchen island, separating dishes gives everyone easier access to snacks and a chance to walk around and talk to new people without crowding one spot in your home.
Labeling helps you two-fold: First, you won’t have to explain new or unfamiliar dishes, and second, guests will feel more comfortable with foods they may not recognize. This is especially handy if you’re serving something from a particular region or country. People like learning about other cultures, so why not help them out a bit?
Wrapping paper rules
I began using wrapping paper as tablecloth a few years ago and absolutely love it. Not only does it come in a variety of chic and holiday-appropriate patterns, it makes cleanup a breeze. Just roll the paper the down the length of your table or buffet and you now have an instantly eye-catching tabletop. For kids, try using Kraft paper and crayons for easy entertainment.
Room-temperature dishes rock
Skip dishes that require a lot of last-minute preparation or garnish — the stress isn’t worth it. Think instead about things that can be prepped before people arrive and left out as long as needed. Crudité, cheese plates, (most) bruschetta, grain salads and green beans all fit the bill.
Make one memorable moment
Thanks to Pinterest, so many of us feel like every little detail has to be crafted to perfection and every meal cooked from scratch. But just pick one thing that people will talk about and focus on nailing the execution. Whether it’s making a signature cocktail, painting your own place cards or using a mixture of mismatching China, you want to create something that your guests will remember long after the party ends.
Paper for dessert
Not literally! But do serve on it. By this point in the night, all of your dishes are dirty, your dishwasher is full and you can’t fit another fork in the sink. Make late night clean-up a bit easier with disposable paper plates. There are so many fun and festive options. Search online for inspiration (Meri Meri, Harlow & Grey and Caspari are some of my favorites).
Don’t start cleaning…yet
Have you ever been to a party where the hosts are anxiously cleaning up at the end of the night? I was once at a holiday party where someone started vacuuming around my feet. There will be plenty of time to put the house back in order after everyone’s gone, so relax, enjoy yourself and let your guests do the same.