28 November, 2009

"On Entertaining . . . "

Greetings all,

Well, I hope everyone has greatly enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday. And that the turkey was moist and delicious. And that the pumpkin pie was yummy. And that everyone gobbled up all of the stuffing. Because now, the serious entertaining season is upon us.

I usually host several parties here at the house over the holiday season . . . and thought I'd share some of my favourite ideas for the makings of a great party.

1. The plan. And this is where one almost always goes astray. The best idea is to keep it simple. One of the most important aspects of any successful party is a calm host - and overshooting your 'skill set' is a sure-fire path to disaster.

The one thing that I always think about - I truly want my guests to enjoy the experience of being in my home. I think one of the disadvantages of being an interior designer is that the bar is set kind of high when I'm entertaining . . . and although I love that challenge, I also keep my limitations in mind. Though I'm a good cook - I'm not a great one - so, I hire a caterer for most of my events. I'm fairly fastidious but, I always schedule the cleaning service for the day of (or the day before) a party. I also like to have a few 'staff' people on hand as well. Just someone to help answer the door. Or re-stock the bar. Or help with the food or the caterer. But - basically, an extra person or two will help free up my time to spend with my guests and to enjoy my own party.

2. The invitations. I love printed invitations. Stop. the end. I love the way they feel. The way they look. The ritual of hand-addressing envelopes.

3. The decorations. Now THIS is part of my 'skill-set.' I'm a big fan of the 'multiple.' If I'm going to use votive candles - I'm going to use 100's of them. If there's an arrangement of white roses on the table - I try to use several dozen roses. Several - like maybe 10 dozen. Last year, when I was *especially* crazy, I used almost a dozen Christmas trees in the house (this is used only as an example - it was lovely - but, it was tons of work!)

4. The menu. One of the annual events at the house is a large cocktail party for around 50 to 75 guests . . . and I love experimenting with the menu.

I often start by planning out a menu as if it were a more formal sit-down dinner - and then adapt everything so that can be passed as hors d' oeuvres . If the dinner was to start with a lobster bisque - I've used the same bisque, but passed on trays - in antique shot glasses - maybe with a little crustini balanced across the top. Maybe there's a miniature bread pudding. Or a tiny bit-sized shepherds pie. But, make sure you don't have too many items that require last-minute attention. A few things that need to be warmed . . . but the bulk of the menu should be room-temperature.

5. The prep. I'd much rather run around like a madman for the three days prior to a party - and spend the afternoon OF the party getting a manicure. I take an inventory of the bar a week in advance - fill in any voids - and get the whole thing set up at least three days in advance. I try to have all the decorations in place (other than the fresh flowers) at least a week before. And flower arrangements the morning before.

And there's nothing like a long, warm bath prior to your guest's arrival. I always keep in mind that I'll need to be at my most charming for several hours - and I need to be up to the task. Relaxed. Confident. Prepared.

6. The doorbell. I'm standing in my doorway. In my favourite shoes. With a big smile - and a fresh manicure. Greeting special friends. Putting coats in the hall closet. Great music streaming from the stereo. Appetizers in the oven.





ps. it's also great if one of your friends is a professional photographer. The images are from a small cocktail party at the house last year.


maison21 said...

you definitely have the party prep down to an art! me? i like to be panicking and still getting dressed when the doorbell first rings. too much leisure time pre-party just means i'm having the bartender make me cocktails for too long, so i'm half in the bag when guests arrive.

kidding. kinda.


tartanscot said...


You're drunk. I'm manicured.

To-may-to, To-mah-to.


The Antiques Diva™ said...

I couldn't agree with you more... excellent tips on party planning. For me planning is everything - and while I might be psychotically organized a week in advance of the party - during the night of the fete I'm a picture of calm. Hiring staff (or even 1 person to help here & there) is brilliant. If I dont have my housekeepers come the night of the party to lend a helping hand, I'll assign guests various tasks - for example, if I'm doing a 6 course dinner, I'll ask a different guest to assist in the kitchen between each course so I dont have a rush of "helping hands" getting in the way. I find American guests often want to help and by letting them know in advance that "I'll need your help between the 2nd & 3rd course" helps them to relax and enjoy the evening while still feeling useful!
Oh, Tartanscot I could go on for ages (and in fact probably all ready have) but alas, I need to run... we had a 7 course dinner chez moi last night and unfortunately a few clean up duties are calling. Which reminds me, why didn't I hire someone to come in and help for "day after" clean up?!
Toma, aka The Antiques Diva

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Great, great advice T.S. I so agree with #5, that's me. I don't function unless I'm under pressure & the clock is ticking. I am a perfectionist when it comes to entertaining. I give it 110%. It's a reflection of who you are & how much you care about your guests. There is no doubt that your parties are top-notch! Let the parties begin ~

Mrs. Blandings said...

So beautiful and I'm sure your guests enjoy every minute. Sounds like you have planning down to a science - I'll send the boys over sometime to "help." It keeps things interesting.

LadyeLisa said...

Scot-- Your parties are always brilliant . . . the prep shows in every detail: the warm glow of candle-light on the lush decorations, the delectable nibbles of food, the happy chatter of your guests. From the moment we enter, we are immersed in your hospitality. One of the best gifts of the season!

Kathy said...

I love blog-land at holiday time, seeing everyone's decorations and getting lots of tips and ideas from the experts and your blog never disappoints. We host Hogmanay here every year (Hubbies a Scot) it always turns out such a great evening but I am exhausted by New Years day, not from all the dancing/drinking but from all the work involved,lol.
Happy holidays, i'll keep popping in, Kathy.

A Tailored Teen said...

Please post lots of pictures of your decorated home. I need some inspiration for getting mine done this week!!
Love, love, love your blog!
A Tailored Teen's mom.

Michael Mattison said...

Beautiful write-up. If I weren't already "in the spirit", I would be now.
Looking forward to further holiday-themed posts.
Have a great week,

Shani said...

What a lovely plan. Your parties sound (and look) divine! I am also a fan of printed invitations... it kind of hurts me to see how much people have gotten away from that. I feel that a printed or hand-written invitation evokes the feeling that the guests are that much more welcome!

Happy Holidays to you!


Ideezine said...

A host with the most to toast! Perfect plans are planned for. Every detail checked off the list. Parties are so important this year because everyone of feeling strained.

There is much to celebrate it's called life and friends Cheers!


red ticking said...

i am running out to my mailbox right now! x pam

katiedid said...

Beautiful party!!! Beautiful photos. It all looks so cozy and festive. I need you to help me with MY house!!

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