Don’t invite stress to holiday parties
Follow these important steps to make your gatherings carefree
It would be so easy to give holiday parties if it weren’t for the guests.
Guests who fail to RSVP, then show up with friends. Guests who arrive late and stay past your bedtime. Guests who clean out your shrimp cocktail but won’t touch your pasta salad. Guests who knock over drinks and nearly set their sleeves on fire reaching over your candles.
And the worst guest of all: the one who’s busy the night of your holiday party and can’t make it.
But you can outsmart them all and host a party as carefree for you as it is fun for them. Here are some tips for Party Management 101, from the invite to the “Goodnight!”
Timing: Send the invitation for a holiday party too early and people forget. Wait too long and everyone’s booked.
Kaity Eagle, a marketing specialist with InvitationConsultants.com, recommends sending invitations “no later than one month before the party. November and December are busy months.”
Sunday evenings are a good alternative to busy Friday and Saturday nights. Yes, everyone has to go to work or school the next day, but if you schedule your party for late Sunday afternoon or early evening, you could end up with a crowd.
Friends might welcome a way to relax after a busy weekend of shopping and chores, especially if you offer a dinner buffet and save them the trouble of preparing a meal.
Invites and RSVPS: Paper, electronic or phone invitations? So many options, and yet so few result in RSVPs.
The paper invite makes an impression, but it’s more work for you. It also may suggest an unintended formality or level of fuss for your party.
On the other end of the spectrum is the phone or text invite. That may be a little too casual and easy to lose track of, especially if you’re sending them several weeks out.
Electronic invitations – Evite, email, Paperless Post, Facebook and other sites – have become the default for many people, and may yield the most responses in our no-RSVP culture simply because responding requires just one click.
But there are always a few who never RSVP. Some have no intention of coming; others may show up unannounced with uninvited friends. And a few will pledge their attendance, then never show, or cancel last-minute.
How’s a hostess to cope?
Jennifer Gullins of the Boston-based Saphire Event Group suggests pinning down commitments from a few BFFs: “It’s OK to take a pulse on your core group of invitees well in advance. … This will ensure that you already know a good handful will be attending even before sending out the official invite.”
Should you make follow-up calls to those who don’t respond? Debi Lilly, entertaining expert for the Safeway supermarket chain, says a gracious call or email to sincerely say, “I wanted to make sure you got my invitation” is always appropriate.
Another way to go is to send out a single email reminder a week before the event to everyone you haven’t heard from. If that too is ignored, they’re probably not coming.
Patricia Mendez, who offers tips at ezentertaining.net and wrote a book called “Easy Entertaining for Beginners,” says it’s prudent to assume that a few surprise guests will show up.
“If you have 12 that RSVP, then plan for a few more just in case – 16,” she says.
She also suggests inviting a third more people than your space fits: “If your space will fit 12 to 16 people, send invitations to 20 to 24.”
Food: Food that’s good at room temperature is easiest on the host, though it limits the menu.
See what prepared foods your supermarket is offering before you splurge at specialty stores; you might be surprised by the selection and quality of cold party platters and easy-to-bake frozen hors d’oeuvres.
Safeway’s Lilly says it’s easy to dress up frozen puffs with fresh herbs, fruit slivers, a drizzle of balsamic cream or shaved parmesan.
“The trick,” she says, “is to elevate them.”
And remember that variety is a virtue. I used to offer pasta salad as a side dish for potato pancakes until someone pointed out that it was just too many carbs.
Fruit platters with berries, toothpicked pineapple chunks and melon balls, on the other hand, proved much more popular, as did chicken wings.
Many people have dietary issues these days, so consider offering something for the vegetarian and for the low-salt, low-fat crowd.
Lilly also advocates a self-serve drink area with a couple of fun choices in labeled pitchers so you’re not stuck making cocktails all night. Keep a few dishtowels or rolls of paper towels in easy reach for the inevitable spills.
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