Planning a flawless holiday dinner takes a touch of know-how, a pinch of savoir-faire, and a dollop of courage. Want to make this year’s gathering worth remembering? Don’t wait until crunch time arrives and the stress bubbles over. Start planning now. At Keener Management, we want all the residents who call our Washington, D.C. luxury apartments home to have a joyous, fun-filled holiday season. That’s why we’ve collected these expert tips for holiday party success.
The Big Picture
What kind of event do you have in mind? Do you want your guests to whip out their evening dresses and formal suits, or would you prefer they showed up in jeans and t-shirts? Are you looking forward to a sit-down dinner or a free-for-all cocktail party? Will you invite family, friends, colleagues, the entire building, the whole neighborhood? Focus on the big picture first, then worry about the details.
Planning starts with lists. Lots of them. There’s the guest list. The menu items. The shopping lists. The to-do lists. Start jotting down ideas at least a month before the dinner
(yes, a month!), and then refine them as you go. Don’t forget to list the possible dates and then ask key guests if they’re available. Once you’ve set the date and time, then you can broadcast the particulars to the whole group.
Now you’re ready to start inviting people to your apartment in DC for an incredible night of eating, drinking, and merrymaking. Here’s your chance to make a fabulous first impression. How are you going to get the word out? Through email? Snail mail? Facebook? An invitation app? Which platform gives you the best chance of reaching everyone (and getting a response from as many people as possible)?
Whatever method you choose, be sure to notify the group at least three or four weeks in advance. We all get busy around the holidays. Before you know it, calendars fill up and RSVPs dwindle.
When it comes to holiday party success, the seating arrangement can be just as important as the guest list. Does your boss love snorkeling as much as your girlfriend? Sit
them next to each other and watch the bonding occur. Does Aunt Patty still hold a grudge against Uncle Louis? You might want to seat them on opposite ends of the table lest a joyous occasion become the stuff of family nightmares.
Here’s another word to the wise: Avoid placing two quiet people side by side. Instead, try seating your shy friend next to that other friend who can’t stop talking—the extrovert might be able to draw out the introvert.
Whether you’re throwing a cocktail party, or just want your dinner guests to break the ice before they start in on the main course, appetizers are a great way to kickstart the night. There are plenty of great appetizer ideas out there. Which dishes you choose depends on your tastes and your cooking skills. If you are going to serve hors-d’oeuvres, find recipes you can make ahead of time and then refrigerate. That will save you precious time when D-day (by which we mean Dinner Day) rolls around.
What sets a dinner party apart from a cocktail party? For starters, the menu. First, decide what type of meal you’re going to serve (buffet style, family style, potluck style, a
three-course meal, a series of tapas or hors-d’oeuvres). Then, create a list of great ideas. Be sure to include appetizers, main dishes, sides, and desserts. From brandied ham with roasted winter vegetables to crisp goose with dried cherry-sourdough stuffing, you can find plenty of traditional holiday food recipes that are (relatively) simple to make and scrumptious to eat.
The Menu (Part II)
Now that you have a list of recipes, it’s time to whittle it down to the best candidates. For best results, stick to old favorites, or at least dishes you’ve tried once before. Never try a brand-new recipe unless you’re begging for nasty surprises and last-minute crises (you mean I was supposed to marinade that beef for eight hours!?).
Also, take your guests’ dietary restrictions into account. Do you have vegetarians, vegans, or those with celiac disease at your table? You don’t have to cook separate meals for each guest, but you should provide a few options.
Now it’s time to grab the holiday food. Shop for ingredients two days in advance. That will give you some breathing room in case you miss something or get pressed for time when the big day arrives.
If you need to special order fresh turkey or ham, talk to your local butcher weeks ahead of time so you don’t get left off the pre-order list during the holiday crunch. Want to make your job easier? Buy some pre-made appetizers, sides, and desserts. As long as you’re preparing the main dish, no one will judge you for using a few crutches (well, almost no one, but they don’t need to know).
Prep early. Do all the sous-chef work—the cutting, the gathering, the measuring—long before the guests arrive. Pull everything out before you start cooking. That way, you’ll know if you need to make an emergency trip to the market.
Also, if you have everything ready and laid out, the actual cooking won’t be as much of a chore. Prepare well, and you might even have time to tidy up, sip a glass of wine, and flash a genuine smile as your guests file in. At the end of the day, the more prepared you are, the more relaxed you’ll feel, and the happier everyone will be.
When it comes to table decorations, less is more and small is better. Stick to low-cut flowers and unobtrusive centerpieces rather than plump bouquets and tall candles that block the view and hinder the conversation. Tasteful accents can also make or break the arrangement. Think jars filled with fresh cranberries, votive candles, and napkins tied with twine and adorned with rosemary sprigs. Have a separate buffet or dessert table? Some holly or pine boughs add a nice touch. Add little decorative touches throughout your DC apartment to set the scene and create a nice holiday ambiance.
Want to host an unforgettable night? Details matter. Background music can take any party to the next level. Just make sure it stays in the background. Your guests shouldn’t have to compete to be heard. Keep the volume low and skip songs that have lyrics, at least during dinnertime. The ambiance also depends on the lighting, and nothing says tasteful like a few well-placed candles.
Finally, be sure to snap some great holiday pictures before the guests leave and the decorations come down. You’re doing a lot of work to make the night memorable. You might as well have pictures to prove just how unforgettable it was.
When it comes to entertainment, there are as many options as there are dinner parties. You can put the evening on auto-pilot and simply enjoy some great conversation, or you can spice it up with games and activities. Think board games, card games, role-playing games, guessing games, trivia games, truth-or-dare games, etc.
You can also ask your guests to bring a story that revolves around a certain theme (e.g., bad dates, craziest travel experiences, etc.), or have each person jot down a favorite moment and let everyone else guess who wrote it.
Dinner parties should be fun. They should be merry-making and finger-licking occasions. Of course, reality has a way of falling short of our expectations. No matter who you are or how many parties you’ve thrown, the stressful part can sometimes overshadow the fun part. Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of the purpose: to gather people together over a shared meal so they can enjoy some good cheer and lively conversation. Start with realistic expectations. No party is ever perfect, so take it easy and relax!
Want more great pointers for getting the most out of your apartment rental in DC? Stay tuned to our blog for great tips, awesome ideas, and news about our luxury apartments in Washington, DC.