5 ways for hosts to enjoy their own parties

Short on time? Here are some shortcuts to holiday entertaining.

Published: November 12, 2014 11:45 AM

When you’re super-short on time, carving out room in your schedule to entertain—especially during the holidays—can seem like extra stress. But don’t delete fun from your to-do list just yet. There are smart ways to throw a dinner or party that reduce prep time to a minimum. Just be sure to save a few hours for the actual event!
Step away from the kitchen. Skip the home-baked Christmas cookies this year and buy your party fare ready made. You can pick up everything from hors d’oeuvres to the main dish at your grocery store deli or local gourmet shop—or order out from your favorite restaurant. But presentation counts: Andrea Greco, a New York stylist and crafter, recommends a couldn’t-be-easier charcuterie party: cover your table in butcher or kraft paper, then stock up on cheeses, cured meats, baguettes, cornichons, and olives at a better deli or upscale supermarket. Display the foods on plates and write the name of the food on the paper beside it, with tips on meat and cheese pairings. Ask your guests to bring wine and, voila, it’s a party.
Look for ways to double the fun. “Turn an activity into a social event so that you get two things done at once,” suggest Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, founders of the lifestyle brand Beekman 1802. “For instance have a trim-the-tree party or invite people over to “tailgate” in the driveway while you string the Christmas lights outside.”  Or, prep once and party twice—if you need to entertain two different groups of people, have one party Saturday night and a brunch or open house the next day. David Mashburn, proprietor of the restaurant Classic on Noble in Anniston, Alabama, suggests ordering two hams, or two turkeys, slicing one, and using the other as a table centerpiece for the first party. The next day, it’s the entrée.

Go for the shortcut decor. “Think flowers, candles, and pretty table toppings—like clear vases filled with fresh cranberries and candles—to set a festive holiday atmosphere,” says Nicole Straight, marketing manager of Marcia Selden Catering & Event Planning in Stamford, Connecticut. “Call your local florist and tell them what colors you’re using around your home and on your table.” For linens, Straight recommends Home Goods and Pier 1—or, rent linens, and crystal, china, and flatware as well. “There’s nothing to iron or polish beforehand, and nothing to wash afterwards,” she says. “When you’re finished, simply put it back into the crates they came in and they’ll be whisked away.”
Hire a little help ... A bartender, servers, or at the very least someone in the kitchen handling clean up goes a long way toward freeing up your time during and particularly after the party. Ask the bartenders at your favorite restaurant if they’d be willing to work at a private party. “Don’t scrimp on the clean up,” says Nicole Straight. “The last thing you want at the end of the evening is to be left with a million dishes and platters to wash.”
… Or hire a lot. Calling in a caterer is as close as you can come to being a guest at your own party. To make the process as efficient as possible, Serena Thompson, founder of The Farm Chicks in Mead, Washington, advises: “Either have a clear idea of the direction you’d like your menu to go, or hire a caterer you trust to entirely plan the menu. If you’re indecisive or unclear, you’re going to spend a lot of time working out the details.” Also key to a smooth event: Identify beforehand what your caterer will need—the type of space, serving dishes, etc.—so the problems don’t have to be solved once they arrive. And be sure to nail down what the servers will wear, that cleanup is part of the deal, and whether leftover food will go into your fridge, or be delivered to a soup kitchen.

—Cathy Cavender

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