A holiday celebration is always much more meaningful when shared with people you love and respect.
Planning an event requires consideration for those in attendance. It’s the host’s ultimate responsibility to make their guests are comfortable by thinking ahead for every possibility, leaving nothing to chance. The following are seven key ingredients for hosting a successful holiday gathering.
An Interesting Guest List
Instead of inviting the same people year after year, a savvy host knows the importance of adding some variety to the guest list. Include people who are new to the group and will add some interest and variety to the conversation. A smart guest will do a little research on social media or through a web search in advance if they know a particular person will be in attendance. It’s always flattering to hear something positive from someone who read about you in the paper or online. Mention something specific and watch the other person’s eyes light up.
A Prepared Conversation List
No one wants to experience the discomfort of a conversation gone wrong, such as in the direction of contentious politics or a religious disagreement. Attempt to steer the discussion in the direction of conviviality and smooth waters by coming up with some premeditated talking points. While sitting around the table, ask guests about their favorite holiday, best memory, oldest friend (not to be confused with age) and family traditions.
A Lovely Ambience
Every small detail matters. A beautiful entry, a clean and debris-free walkway, an inviting foyer, the scent of cider or a softly scented candle as you enter the front door create a warm welcome. Music playing in the background from a seasonal playlist, a place to store coats and rain shoes, and a glowing fireplace instantly makes a guest feel at home. Light your party with strategically placed lamps, avoiding the glare of overhead bulbs. Simmer a pot of cinnamon and cranberry on your stove to fill your home with the smells of the season. Remember the “MLT” rule: Music, Lights and Temperature should all be taken into consideration when planning a successful event.
A Delicious Menu
A sophisticated host knows the dietary restrictions and food preferences of his or her guests before planning the food choices. Always ask up front so there are no last minute surprises. If a host does not ask, a courteous guest will let the host know in a gentle and polite manner. They will also offer to bring a dish to share with the table. Say something like, “Joanie, I’d love to join you for Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, Blake has a serious nut allergy. I would be happy to bring a wonderful casserole and side dish to share with the rest of your guests.”
A Beautifully Set Table
Unscented votives, place cards, seasonal foliage and pretty dinnerware (mix and match is fine) command immediate attention when approaching the table. Knowing how to properly set the table is another important skill. Think of B-M-W (bread, meal, water) when placing your bread plate, water and wine glasses. Provide an additional salad plate or bring the salad in on a separate tray. Knives and the soup spoon is set on the right of the place setting and forks on the left. Use our place setting diagram to be sure you’re getting it right.
A Comfortable Seat
Nothing is worse than taking a seat at the table and feeling as if you are balancing on a jagged rock. Do a test run of your chairs and make sure they are all in good repair. Check the seat cushions for wear and tear and the legs for sturdiness. I was recently at a dinner party where a tablemate started sinking in front of our very eyes. His chair had a wobbly leg and it broke in the middle of the meal. He slowly descended to the floor and both he and the host were mortified. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Music, Lighting and Temperature
A friend of mine is convinced of the “MLT” success rule and I tend to agree. Harsh fluorescent lighting, music riddled with interruptions and an environment which is too hot or too cold can ruin the mood of the party. Lower the lights, put on a carefully-curated playlist of dinner music and set the thermostat to the standard temperature between 68-70 degrees.
Just like a holiday recipe, a celebration’s success depends on the perfect combination of attention, time and quality ingredients.
For more of Diane’s etiquette tips, you may enjoy Holiday Etiquette: Tips for Being a Good Guest or Host. Read her posts on Inc., subscribe to her articles on HuffPost, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Buy her new book, Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.