Holiday parties are, more often than not, only sort of fun.
Corporate blowouts of yore have given way to mildly festive, just-as-awkward after-work “drinks.” Hosting friends and family usually equates to a slow-build of stress that bursts into a flurry of activity and then leaves you with endless cleanup.
So because you can’t (or shouldn’t) Scrooge your way through the holidays by denying every invitation, it’s better to adjust your perspective. Instead of simply showing up, show up with a plan.
According to Michel Clarke, who has his hosting blueprint down to a fine-art, preparation is king. Whether that means a cocktail that can be batch-made, a DIY drinks station or just letting quality ingredients speak for themselves, it should all be about making the role of host simple, yet special. No matter how casual, serving a group of four to 14 in one’s home takes effort. But with a little bit of planning, you can be a hero.
The key to putting on the Christmas event of the season is creating an illusion of space. Your house should feel bigger than usual with each room set up for a different kind of socialising. Around the food, people must move. In the living room, they want to sit and catch up. In the kitchen, they want drinks. In the living room, the kids want to wrestle. And in general – sometimes people need a little distance. Remembering these tendencies and setting-up accordingly will ensure the day flows.
The Drinks list
We all know making your guests feel welcome in your home is crucial, and this gets taken care of immediately by offering them a drink upon arrival. To lighten the load, try pre-batched bottled cocktails so all you need to do is open and pour, such as the Twisted Shaker range.
Hand-crafted recipes and twists on classics, from an Espresso Martini, Margarita or Old Fashioned – the 200mL and 700mL sizes make them perfect for sharing. If it’s a cocktail party you’re hosting, then the golden rule is to try not to spend all night in the kitchen mixing individual drinks for your friends. Homemade cocktail jugs or punches are great as everyone can pour their own, which adds to the party atmosphere.
Another great host tactic is to set up a makeshift bar so your guests can DIY their own drinks. Michael’s go-to: the margarita, which also translates to “party-starter.” The cocktail is prepared with just enough theatre to set a “you’re in fun hands” tone to the evening.
Your menu doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should show some spirit. Dishes that can be done in advance and frozen until party time are a big time and stress-saver.
Treat the menu as a whole and stick to a theme so the food complements in flavour and texture. A good host always has antipasto platters on hand too, this way your guests will be busy for the first hour grazing and taking photos.
Cured meats, condiments, breads, olives and anything you don’t have to cook but look great. When it comes to pairing your bites and drinks, the overall theme here is to choose foods that complement, but not compete with, the flavours of the cocktails or wine being served. You want a drink that naturally fits with the food, extends its principal flavours, and keeps your senses invigorated, anticipating the next bite or sip.
Pull your playlists together
Don’t be the host who keeps running to their phone to search for new tracks – make a playlist beforehand long enough to last the evening, or if in doubt – ask a musically inclined friend to share their favourites ahead of time.
The general theme is best served with two groups of music, one for the cocktail hour and another to play during the lunch or dinner. For cocktail hour, choose music to add to, and be a part of, the festivity. Think upbeat tempos for a light and happy mood. For the sit-down part, the music should be more about complementing the meal than directly entertaining your guests.
Last but not least – stick with what you know
While flexing your culinary prowess may be tempting, now is not the time to experiment with something new. Planning on dusting off the pasta maker your mum gifted you last year? Save it for a solo night. When cooking for a group, think minimal effort/high reward dishes and drinks.