With the festive season upon us, hosting a party at home may seem like lots of work on top of everything else you have going on at this time of year. But with a little pre-party prep and expert know-how, you can turn your home into an excellent party venue…
The guest list
Ideally, you should invite people three to four weeks beforehand, or at least send around a ‘save the date’. ‘There’s nothing better than having an invitation land through your front door,’ says Hannah Sheppard, Events Director at Clownfish Events. ‘Although there are so many channels you can use to invite people nowadays, opening up a quality envelope with a beautifully produced or handwritten invitation makes the event much more special.’
Try to invite different groups of people, who might not have met before, but be prepared to make those initial introductions. ‘Get the conversation going around common interests and nominate a few of your more extrovert guests to support you,’ says Hannah. ‘You could give everyone a badge explaining their connection to you, which helps as a conversation starter.’
Decide on a theme
Basing your decorations, canapés, cocktails, party games and invitations around a theme will not only make it easier to organise, but also help elevate your party.
Hannah loves a ‘detox’ theme – perfect if your guests will be driving. ‘It’s a great choice for parties where there are several different generations together,’ she explains. ‘Try lighter food choices such as fish-based or vegetarian options, like homemade dips with crudités. They’re cost effective and easy to make in advance. And there are some very trendy seasonal mocktails, including pomegranate virgin negronis and cascara fizz [a delicious iced tea with cranberries].’
After something with a bit more glitz? ‘For New Year’s Eve, look out for our napkins with playful captions, flaming prosecco stirrers to create some excitement in your drinks and of course, Prosecco Pong, which has become a firm favourite to break the ice and get the party started,’ says Sarah Moughtin, Partner & Assistant Buyer, Stationery.
First impressions count
Your hallway is the first thing guests will see, so clear the clutter ahead of the day and have a plan of where you’re going to pop everyone’s coats. Ideally you want to be the one opening the door, so make sure you have a tray of welcome drinks.
‘I love to create theatre with balloons,’ says Sarah. ‘My favourite are Northstar’s foil balloons – you just insert a straw and blow them up really quickly to create a word. You could have “hello” by the front door and “yay” or “party” dotted around. They create maximum impact for minimum input.’
‘Think about music carefully,’ says Hannah. ‘Go for warm-up tracks when people are arriving and chatting, before switching to dance tracks later on. You could ask guests to send you their requests, to make it really inclusive.’
Lighting can be tricky to get right as you need to create mood while still being practical. ‘Small table lights can be interwoven round party food to create a sparkling spread,’ says Sarah. ‘If you want something a bit more playful, you’ll find table lights in the shape of little prosecco bottles in store.’
Hannah agrees. ‘A Christmas party has to have twinkly lights,’ she says. ‘And spend time creating a nicely lit entrance – you want guests to feel as if they’re walking into a welcoming space from the moment they arrive.’
A successful party involves delegation, whether you pay the teenagers to take coats upstairs and serve drinks, ask friends to bring plates of canapés or get someone to top up the nibbles trays and collect empties. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – people are happy to chip in and it means you’ll enjoy your party as much as your guests.
The perfect menu
Unless you’re having a dinner party, most people probably won’t eat much – but they’ll appreciate a few canapés. Be clear on your invite – ‘drinks and nibbles’ will suffice. ‘Serve food in waves,’ recommends Hannah. ‘Have some nibbles ready at the start to welcome people, then have a break, then serve more as the evening progresses. People will get peckish later and you can offer something different to help soak up the alcohol.
‘When thinking about canapés, it’s fun to make them symbolise a four-course meal. Go for starters like fish-based crackers or satay prawns with dipping sauce, then a main course of chicken chorizo skewers with olives, mini fish and chips or tapas-style meatballs. For dessert, try profiteroles, chocolate-covered strawberries or pineapple with yoghurt then serve a giant cheeseboard to finish.
‘Warm drinks like mulled wine and punch are very now,’ continues Hannah. ‘Last year, hot toffee apple cider was popular at the Christmas markets, so I can see that being a trend this year. There’s something about getting to a party on a cold night and being offered a warming drink – it instantly throws you into a Christmas mood. You could do accompanying nibbles, like toffee apple bites.’
Cocktails are a sure-fire hit, especially gin-based ones. Make up a few recipe cards (or write down ingredients on a blackboard) so guests don’t go too far astray. Alternatively, set up the necessary ingredients on a sideboard or bar trolley, and let guests be their own mixologists.