Whether you’re hosting a soirée or attending one as a guest, the holidays can be stressful. So leave it to these pros to take some of the pressure off and remind you what to do (and not do) when it comes to throwing a festive fête.
Decorating with fake snow.
When it comes to holiday decor don’ts, founder of The Design High Highlyann Krasnow says to skip using fake snow or tinsel because “it’s wasteful, messy, and can potential harm family pets if ingested.” As for what to do to incorporate more personal touches, Krasnow likes making ornaments: “We say yes to glue guns during the holidays. It’s a great way to decorate with your family and personalize!”
Taking on too much.
You don't have to make everything yourself according to Claudia Sidoti, HelloFresh Head Chef and Head of Recipe Development. “Try focusing on 3-4 star dishes that are easy to prepare, then supplement with some prepared items like nice cheeses, pre-made crudite and dips, charcuterie items and good quality desserts. I love the two holiday appetizers that we are offering, Creamy Shrimp Bruschetta and Pork Wonton Money Bags. Not only are they easy to prepare, but they are crowd pleasing and delicious.”
Overstocking the bar.
According to Dan Davis, the “Wine Guy” from Commander’s Palace, the more ingredients you have at the bar, the more creative your friends will be with their cocktail requests. “If you hide the Crème de Violette before anybody gets there, it is far less likely that you will be asked to make an Aviation Cocktail. In fact, hide the shakers, the maraschino liqueur, the sweet vermouth, and basically anything you wouldn’t find on the bar at a wedding reception,” he says.
Going overboard with the design scheme.
“Less is more in any design,” says Paula Bolla-Sorrentino, co-owner of the Il Gattopardo Group. “You can convey a decadent mood, a luxurious seating, or an elegant environment without overwhelming the space and I always try to stay monochromatic and create more natural looks through the usage of gold, rust, mercury glasses, white, and wood with seasonal greens. And please—no blinking string lights!”
Losing track of your budget.
“It’s very easy to get off track with finances, and that mistake will cost you,” warns Bolla-Sorrentino. “Play with ornaments, fruits, pinecones, wood, and rocks and transform older or tired pieces with antique gold spray paint.”
Not serving a signature cocktail.
“It’s always a good idea to have a welcome cocktail ready when guests arrive,” say Silvia co-owners Betty and Doris Choi. “This helps set the mood and alleviate any long winded ‘what would you like to drink’ conversations. Any type of sparkling wine (Cava, Prosecco or Champagne) paired with a seasonal fruit juice works well.”
Leaving poinsettias in tacky foil wrap.
According to Rebecca Gardner, Founder and Creative Director of Houses & Parties, this is a big no-no. “Put the plants in baskets or terracotta pots instead,” she says. “We sometimes crunch wildly colored construction paper around the plastic pots for fun as well.”
Having scented candles on the dining table.
Gardner advises against this because the scent mixes with food and can be upsetting.
Not having enough food or drinks.
“After the first of the year, people put the brakes on,” says celebrity event planner Larry Scott of Lawrence Scott Events, “but the end of the year is almost like the finish line—you always speed up.” Scott suggests skipping the grilled salmon with asparagus and going for the heartier, richer foods that are not only filling, but also put guests into the holiday spirit. “It’s a family time, an emotional time, a time for reminiscing. People will gravitate towards comfort food like turkey, mashed potatoes, and lasagna.” As for drinks, Scott suggests picking one kind of libation—and sticking to it and to always have more red wine than white.”
Honing in on one specific holiday.
“It’s important to play to your audience—and if that audience is comprised of a diverse group of friends, family, or coworkers, that means making sure everyone feels included,” adds Scott. “When I entertain, I make sure there’s something for everyone. Not everyone is Catholic, not everyone is Jewish. Today, most people have more mixed crowds at their parties and inclusiveness is important.”
Being ill prepared at a restaurant.
“Study the menu before going out and take note of special items when ordering for you and your date,” advises Chef Slade Rushing of Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans. “You will not only impress that special guest, but also your server at the restaurant.”
Shucking your shellfish too soon.
When it comes to serving oysters at holiday parties, Flex Mussels owner Alexandra Shapiro suggests ordering your shellfish in advance, but picking it up last minute. “And if you’re serving oysters, shuck them as close to serving time as possible. Keeping them in the shell will help keep them fresh and free from bacteria growth.”
Caring too much about wine prices or scores.
Ed Feuchuk of Tank Garage Winery says don’t be that person trying to impress your in-laws with a really expensive bottle of wine and won’t shut up about it. “There is an entire world of reasonably priced, interesting wines out there that don’t submit for scores. With just a little research, you can find something (ahem: Chrome Dreams) that blows them away on its own merits.”
Gifting a basic wine.
"A bottle of wine is maybe the most conventional gift you can give around the holidays, but that doesn’t mean yours has to be,” adds Feuchuk. “Instead of giving a mainstay like Chardonnay, gift a cool skin-fermented white blend, like our Rattle & Roll, to truly wow your recipient with depth and character.”
Spending the entire night in the kitchen.
“What's the point of all that planning if you're not going enjoy any of that time with friends and family,” says celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss. “Opt for a meal that doesn't need too much babysitting and where you can prepare most components in advance.”
See more holiday entertainment tips:
Holiday Hosting Hacks for First-Time Entertainers
The One Gift You Should Never Give—and Why
Bold, Colorful Ideas for Non-Traditional Holiday Decor