What’s the secret to being a great holiday hostess? Is it the décor, the drinks, the food? Those elements are all part of the puzzle, but really those aren’t the important things. The key to being the best possible holiday hostess is in how you make people feel.
Your goal as hostess should be to create a memorable experience for your guests. Think about the best parties that you’ve ever attended. What do you remember about them? As a guest, did the experience make you feel pampered? Were you comfortable? Did you have the chance to meet new and interesting people? Did your surroundings and the people make you feel like a million dollars?
A great party is all about feelings. “See and be seen,” is all well and good, but if people don’t feel comfortable, the party will feel inhibited. Ultimately, a good party is all about people, and as hostess, the highest priority should be to make your guests feel absolutely at home.
When you throw any kind of gathering, you are going to invest a lot of time and energy into making it perfect. However, you never want to make your guests feel like they’re entering a party that’s caused you, the hostess, any kind of fuss. Witnessing any kind of hassle will take away from the relaxed, welcoming, festive feeling. Everything that you do should present your home, or your venue, in a way that makes everyone feel like it’s an absolute pleasure for you to host them. To ensure that guests feel completely at ease, make sure they are sheltered from any behind-the-scenes frenzy, so that they see only the final results.
Eliminating any signs of stress so that you really can be ready and at ease requires careful advanced planning. You really do need to have everything accounted for in advance, with two very important lists that you can cross reference: a checklist and a well-planned schedule that includes time for you to get yourself ready. When the first person arrives at the door, you want to be ready and looking your best. When you yourself are completely ready, you can relax, and your guests will be able to relax, too.
Holiday Hostess (or Host) Checklist:
- Entertainment (if applicable)
Example Holiday Party Schedule:
1 day prior
- House cleaned and decorated
- Errands completed
- Most beauty appointments should be the day before the event. If you won’t be working with your hands in the kitchen yourself, for example, have your manicure done the day before
Day of the Event
- All food and beverage prepared (if not catered) at least 2 1/2 hours before the time of the event
- Catering and bar staff will outline an appropriate timeline as part of their contract. Make sure that the spaces are all prepared for their arrival at least one hour before they are set to appear
- Set aside at least 2 hours during the day for yourself, longer if you have additional hair and makeup appointments. Everything must be ready, or able to continue in progress, while you are absent. Make sure that you’re back in your home or at the venue at least 1 1/2 hours before the event start-time. Get your hair and makeup done in the afternoon before doing any finishing touches. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to be rushed to prepare yourself as hostess
Ideally, before the first guest arrives, everything should be prepared and so well-ordered that you have a lull, and feel almost bored before the first person knocks at the door.
From the moment the first person walks through the door, you’ll greet them in all of your charm and glamour, and it should feel like the red carpet is being rolled out just for them; their coat should be taken, they should be offered refreshments, given somewhere comfortable to sit, and they should be introduced to people to talk to as they settle in.
As hostess, it’s important that you always make sure that guests aren’t left alone, without any company and conversation. Make it easy for them to connect with new people. Your job is also to ensure that everyone always has a glass in hand and is offered plenty to nibble on. Too much alcohol without food can turn a party from festive to embarrassing very quickly, so make sure that everyone is well-fed throughout the gathering. Also, make sure to offer non-alcoholic drinks, since not all of your guests may want an alcoholic beverage.
After dinner and dessert is often when the best conversations happen. Make sure that everyone feels that they can stay as long as they want to and that the night is still young. If you yourself are beginning to feel tired, rev up the coffee maker to re-energize, touch up your makeup, and do what you need to do to catch that second wind. You want your guests to leave at the end of the party remembering what a great time they had and how wonderful they felt. If part of their memory is also wondering, “How does she do it?” then that’s a nice little bonus, too!