Take Five: Christmas Confidential

So, the festive season is here once more and you're panicking because, well, you've decided to throw a dinner party. Fret not; we're here to help.  

First of all, breathe. Then, remember that at the core of any sort of party planning is well…planning. And lots of it.

It's all about preparation and pre-empting. What I'm about to share with all of you is not necessarily Christmas-specific but it will definitely help you plan (and throw) an awesome party - Christmas or not. 

First things first...

  • Send a proper invite – the invites set the tone and also give the guest a chance to state any dietary requirements or allergies. Once everyone has RSVPed, you can then start planning the party because it’s only after you know who is on the "confirmed list" can you start to craft the menu and seating arrangement. 
  • Think of a concept or theme – Go for simple ones, like “White” Christmas, where everyone comes wearing white, or, for something a little bit more comfy, an "ugly Christmas sweater" theme (just for the fun of it). This can be a way to connect everyone attending.
  • Seating Arrangements aka the game of Musical Chairs - I have learnt that the seating arrangement can make or break your night. Place cards instantly make the party more formal and while this takes the pressure off guests, it is on you (the host) to navigate through this minefield. Top tip: Plan the seating arrangement way after the RSVP date - at most two days before the event itself - as this will allow you to accommodate last minute additions and subtractions.

Now, there are those obvious land mines you need to manoeuvre, so you have to always plan strategically. My suggestion is to think along the lines of how conversations will flow.

For instance, if your friend loves cooking and your cousin is in F&B, it’s a match made in heaven! Or you can always do your friend a favour and seat her next to that guy she thinks is cute.

At our dinner parties, we usually prefer separating the couples (I mean, they see each other all the time anyway, right?) and close friends to make sure new conversations can take place.

Now, I know that for many small talks are very painful, especially with complete strangers. So, it is always good to place people familiar with one another diagonally across so that they can get the conversation going while including the less familiar ones in the conversation. 

Quick Tips

Now that those things are in order... 

Whether you’re going all out or you just want to share a hearty meal with close friends and family, there are some things you have to consider to make sure your guests are well-fed and you are left stress-free.

The Menu

Before you even start crafting your menu, be sure to check for any allergies or dietary requirements. As guests may also feel bad telling you, it’s always good for you to reach out and ask them first. There’s nothing worse than slaving away on a dish and later realising that one of your guests is allergic to it. 

You’re likely to know if they are conservative or more adventurous eaters, so while you’re crafting your menu, just bear that in mind!

Always go for "tried and tested" recipes but add a gourmet twist for the occasion. For example, prepare different types of sauces, like a port or red wine reduction sauce and a blue cheese sauce, to accompany the usual roast beef dish. Make sure that your menu includes dishes from each food group, i.e. Protein, Vegetables, Carbs and Dessert (yes, dessert is a food group!).

If you're afraid things might go awry, go for a chicken dish. Trust me, you can never go wrong with chicken! Not only is it wallet friendly, it is also super versatile and well, it can be funny to watch someone try and carve a chicken. I've attended one too many dinner parties and have seen many #epicfails of people attempting to carve chicken. 

Some of the best (and most practical) dishes to include in your menu are those that can be prepared beforehand (or the night before). They include desserts and barbecued or grilled dishes that require overnight marinating. 

When it comes to drinks, be sure to have non-alcoholic beverages like sparking grape juice for those who don’t drink. That way, they can still join in on the toasting! 

Once the menu has been decided, make a checklist of all the things you will need and never assume you will remember it. You will ALWAYS forget something, so write it down! 

And now, the day has come...

Choosing the right floral center piece for the table is as important as crafting the perfect menu – Too high, and you risk talking to the flowers all night long; Too low, and the setting ends up looking a little sparse and sad.

The key thing to remember is that it’s all about balance, and playing with the highs and lows to create an aesthetically pleasing but 100 per cent practical center piece.

If you have the time (and the props), you can even arrange the flowers to go very high and then work in other flowers or props that cascade down. This is definitely my favourite type of center piece - It makes a strong statement but still very much elegant.  

Setting the table can be pretty daunting. I mean, is it not enough that we have to figure out which fork to use, and now we have to worry about where to place them?

Well, never fear. Today, a quick Google search will provide you with all the answers - complete with step-by-step guide, infographics and pictorial guides. Just look at the pictorial guide we found from our online search. Easy, right? 

The Music

While it is important to have good music, this subject is very... well, subjective, and it depends on your taste, the crowd and the overall mood you want to create.

Here's something I'd like to share - a Christmas playlist put together by DJ Say Grace.

The Schedule

This is something that many people overlook, or tend to forget. It's always important to imagine the flow of the evening - from when your guests first arrived to when they walk out of your place. This will help ensure that the party goes off without any problems. 

At our house, we tell our guests not to remove their shoes and then lead them to the living area, where we have set up some small bites like nuts and crackers. This is the “reception” before the actual dinner. We also pop the champagne, or whatever drinks that’s prepared, the moment the first guest walks in.
— Shan Wee, The Shopper

Important note: One should never leave a guest empty-handed. So, a reception area is essential for any successful dinner party. Think of it as the welcome table – so it should have snacks, some alcohol, and, of course, water (that's presented in a pitcher with some cut fruits and cucumbers inside to give it a more festive touch).

If your guests brought gifts, show them to the welcome table first before taking the gifts and placing them in a separate room.

Once all the guests have arrived (Ok, most guests - latecomers are not appreciated, so start the dinner 30 - 40 mins after the arrival of the first guest), lead them to the dining area, help them find their seats, and  start the dinner. Voila! 

Final word of advice...

Christmas is really the time to bring all your loved ones and close friends together and catch up on each other’s lives. It is also about having fun. This means that you need to have fun too. So don’t be too stressed out!

Plus, every family has their own tradition and so the tips I’ve shared should be taken as a guide before adding your own touches.

After all, it’s the personal touches and details that will make it your successful party
— Shan Wee, The Shopper