How To Be The Perfect Party Host |
Getting it right as a party host is just as important as being the perfect guest, especially at Christmas. Thankfully, we've rounded up all the top tips to help you brush up on your hosting skills, just in time to create wonderful memories with families and friends this festive season...
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Planned Parties Make The Best Parties

A spontaneous pot-luck dinner party in the middle of the week is great, but a little planning could really help your Christmas drinks party stand out from the rest. First, decide on the venue. Katherine Hudson from the Arabian Tents Company suggests hosting larger events at home by extending a marquee into your garden: “You would be surprised at how many people you will be able to fit. You can heat it, floor it, light it and dress it as you please – the perfect way to keep that intimate feel whilst increasing capacity.” Budget permitting, consider a caterer or a bartender to set your event apart and help create a Christmas menu, including your own cocktails. Take a look at our list of the best London-based caterers here.

Think About The Guest List

Rachel Muse, private chef and director of caterer Talk Eat Laugh, says it’s important to remember that parties are first and foremost about socialising with a specific group of people. As the host, it’s up to you to pick a good mix to come to the event. “Before the event, you can also brief guests to explain whether this particular event is going to be more or less formal than usual, which should help them understand what behaviour will be tolerated or called out.” 

The Art Of The Invitation

It’s still important to include all the right information in the invitation: the date, the place and the occasion, as well as how to respond and by which date. But don’t worry too much about formality: these days it’s perfectly acceptable to circulate invites via WhatsApp or email. Just make sure the details are clear, like dress codes or what guests should bring with them. Timings are also a crucial element, with etiquette expert William Hanson suggesting the day of the week makes all the difference: “If it’s a weekday party, I would probably say come at 7pm for 7.30pm but at the weekend I would say 7.30pm for 8pm.”

Check for Allergies

In the modern world – whether it’s nuts, gluten, fish or dairy – allergies have never been more common. As part of the RSVP on your invitation, encourage guests to notify you of any dietary requirements. There is a point at which to draw the line, however. Vegan demands or a complete ban on gluten might be overly restrictive, for example, so make it clear what concessions you’re willing to make.

Choose What To Wear Carefully

A dress code is an easy way to add glamour to any party. Just make sure it’s properly outlined in the invite. When it comes to your outfit, stylist Milda Chellingsworth says party hosts should prioritise comfort. “Avoid tight-fitting mini dresses or very low v-necks, as these could be very hard to wear with confidence and serve a canapé. I recommend wearing velvet at this time of year, while a jumpsuit will allow you to move with confidence.” Finally, try to give yourself time to be ready before guests arrive, so you can make sure the food and drink is ready to go, fix unwanted draughts or turn down any loud music.

Go The Extra Step To Welcome Guests

It’s always worth making the first five minutes of a party the most memorable. “I like to offer people a drink when they come in and also the WiFi code” writes actress Reese Witherspoon in her entertaining lifestyle guide Whisky in a Teacup. Overnight guests might appreciate a basket of ‘essentials’ to cure the next morning’s hangover, while a no-shoes policy might encourage you to hand out complimentary slippers, which guests can then take home. Don’t forget: it’s part of your job to encourage mingling, especially when there isn’t a huge overlap in friendship groups. Introduce people – chances are you’ll know what they have in common before they do.

Be Considerate With Gifts

If your guests have good manners, they shouldn’t arrive empty handed. As well as practicing your poker face when gifts are underwhelming, don’t stash that bottle of expensive champagne away. If they’ve brought bubbles or something more specific, ask them if they’d like you to open it so they can have some. When it comes to wine, treat it more like a gift. You shouldn’t have to adjust your plan for what to drink with dinner. Just don’t forget this one golden rule: put flowers in water immediately, and preferably on display for others to enjoy. A final word of warning. It’s poor form to make people who came with nothing feel bad, so make sure you only open gifts in front of those who brought them.

It’s Up To You To Introduce People

Don’t forget: it’s part of your job to encourage mingling, especially when there isn’t a huge overlap in friendship groups. Go around the room and be sure to introduce people – chances are you’ll know what they have in common before they do – and remember to give them a talking point before tending to other guests. “Didn’t you just get back from France, Lisa? Jane is heading there next month…” Easy as that.

Give The Seating Plan A Rethink

Tradition tells us not to seat guests next to their significant other. But Lara Asprey, relationship expert and founder of Asprey’s Introductions, believes the rule no longer applies. “Many couples spend all week apart working and go to a party to spend time together and share the experience. I always get the sense when couples are split up, it’s because the crowd is slightly questionable and I should brace myself for ‘organised fun’.”

But don’t be tempted to seat yourself next to the best conversationalists. Instead, spread them throughout the room so the chat doesn’t fizzle. If there’s someone you know isn’t great at small talk, consider taking one for the team and place them at your end of the table.

Always Have A Backup Plan 

Things are bound to go wrong, whether it’s smashed glasses, dropped desserts or unexpected no-shows. Try to have a plan B, such as emergency food to top up the canapés or an extra case of wine so the evening doesn’t run dry. As long as these are items you’ll eventually use, it won’t feel like a waste – and it’s a terrible look to run out. Guests are always going to be at their happiest and most comfortable when there’s plenty to go around. Here’s our pick of the supermarket party food on offer this Christmas.

You Can Tell Guests When To Leave

Want to get rid of guests who Just. Won’t. Leave? Specifying a party’s finishing time in the invite is often a dead end, so try gathering empty glasses, assigning clean-up chores or offering people their coats to encourage their departure. If that doesn’t work, rope in a sympathetic friend to help usher others out as they leave or – in extreme cases – you could pretend to be coming down with something. At this time of year, it’s bound to force lingering party guests out the door.

Remember To Thank Guests For Coming

It’s an absolute must to thank the host, but don’t forget to thank guests for coming too. You might be the one laying on the generous spread, but they could be travelling a long way or paying for an overnight stay to attend your party. Party invites are plentiful this time of year too, so be grateful that they came to yours. 

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