Appetites: The essential do's and don'ts of holiday entertaining

Dec 23, 2013

Hosting a holiday party can feel daunting, so Lynne Rossetto Kasper has some advice to calm your nerves and make your soiree a success.

  • DON'T line up chairs along the walls. Nobody will talk to each other. Better to cluster seating so people can face each other.
  • DON'T have enough seats for everyone. It will keep everyone mixing.
  • DON'T have bright overhead lighting. It's depressing and makes people look bad. Lighting is everything — we're drawn to light so use it to move people where you want them. A lamp is warm and inviting, and candles are magical. But ...
  • DON'T use scented candles — especially on the dinner table. Believe it or not, a white chocolate-ginger candle can sink your great meal in moments. Taste is all about smell!
  • DON'T have "stuff" cluttering your surfaces. Drinks and plates need space.
  • DON'T make fussy individual appetizers. Any savory tart can be heated up and cut up into little pieces.
  • DO try these easy appetizers:

  • DO have drinks set up right near the door. This will ensure everyone has a glass in their hand. Somehow a drink in your hand (water or whatever) makes it easier to mix.
  • DO serve your cocktails in pitchers. Forget mixing individual drinks. Also, limit the variety: your favorite cocktail (watered down), sodas or fruit drinks, water, maybe wine. Don't bother with a full bar.
  • DO have pitchers of water and glasses spread around. Nothing dries you out faster than a few glasses of wine.
  • DO facilitate introductions. Have fun with them, but do a little thinking ahead. Here are a couple of examples: "Meet Cindy — ask her about her hanger collection." Or: "Tom has some pretty strong opinions about new art — see where that takes you two."
  • DO make all the food ahead of time. It will relieve stress during the party.
  • DO keep the food small and fresh. Keep it small enough for one bite and have bright fresh tastes — not all heavy cheeses and gooey sweets. For a different take on a raw vegetable tray, see the recipe below for Japanese sweet-tart pickles.
  • DO put out baskets of unexpected chips. Asian rice chips that come in pastel colors, or Terra's sweet potato, beet and turnip chips.
  • DO give people a warm send-off. Put a pot of broth or any drinkable soup on the stove, ladle out mugs of hot soup as the goodbye drink.