Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are right around the corner, which means it’s time to get serious about party planning. Before you know it, you’ll be running out of time to throw the perfect party, and you’ll be so stressed by trying to make last-minute arrangements that you won’t have time to enjoy the holidays.
San Francisco event planner Kimberly Bakker, a busy mom who understands trying to balance work, parenthood, and a social life, is coming to your rescue to make sure you have a few solid tips under your belt for pulling off the perfect holiday season events while still having time to kick back and relax too. She specializes in throwing private family events that people talk about for years. Her tips will power you through your next gathering with grace and style.
Create a List
A list is going to be your party lifeline. You’ll need one for who you’re inviting, the to-do items you have to accomplish before the big day, and, of course, the menu. Having several lists can be better than having one long one.
It may feel old-school, but a list will help keep you on task and make sure you don’t forget a crucial thing you meant to do for your party planning. Bakker routinely uses a highly-organized daily list to get through her day and busy schedule.
Where you put that list is up to you – it can be a document on your computer, a file on your phone, or written out as your grandma would have done it on a simple piece of paper. Use whatever is the most convenient and easily accessible to you.
Be a Gracious Host
A great host may make planning and throwing a party look easy, but it’s not. It’s a demanding position and it can be trying on your patience. But one trick that can help, Bakker said, is to take a moment to step back and enjoy the party, your company, and the fact that you’re able to celebrate another milestone, whether it’s a New Year or another Christmas.
When you feel pulled in a hundred directions or things aren’t going the way you want, put on a smile and deal with the issue in the most gracious manner you can. That’s the mark of a great host. It sets the tone and the attitude for the entire gathering.
Pay Homage to Your Past
Bakker is a big fan of using heirloom pieces from her own family whenever possible, including using her great grandmother’s tea sets and fine silver. If you have any items that have been handed down in your family, your holiday parties will be a great place to showcase them. Family members will love seeing those pieces still being used or displayed, and it will feel like your departed family members are there in spirit.
You don’t have to have fine china or fancy silver to make this tip work for you. Even something as simple as a special Christmas tree ornament can be used as a centerpiece. It will give a warm, loving feeling to those who see it and recognize it as something that belonged to a relative. You can also have the joy of teaching the youngest generation in your family about that heirloom, who it belonged to, and what that person was like. Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere. They want to know their roots, and they love to hear about their relatives who came before them.
Set the Stage for Conversations
While holiday music is fine to play at gatherings, it shouldn’t be the focal point. Music should be played at a relatively low volume because you don’t want it to detract from the whole point of the party, which is getting people together to share conversations and make memories.
Help Manage Challenging Personalities
Many families have a couple of people who just can’t seem to get along no matter how hard they try. Or perhaps they do relatively well until special circumstances are introduced. If you have two family members who are extremely competitive, for instance, perhaps you’ll want to avoid any games involving competition at your party.
If you’re looking for an activity to fill some time at the party and to get the conversation started, maybe instead of a game, you can ask everyone to write down their favorite family holiday memory. That will foster warm feelings instead of bringing out the more hostile competitive side of your guests. With family memories, everyone will feel like a winner.
If you know you have two relatives who are like oil and water, it’s fine to ask another relative to help you minimize the interactions of those two. If they’re spotted with a heated conversation brewing, you or this other relative can run interference, asking one of them to give a hand in the kitchen.
Ideally, all your relatives will get along and this won’t be an issue, but in the real world, many families are a bit fractured. Planning how to best handle those sticky circumstances will make your party run much smoother.
Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate
It can be tempting to try to do everything on your own, but a seamless party will require some extra hands. When people offer to help, don’t wave them away – take them up on it. Things will be much less stressful for you and run smoother if you have a few people you can count on to handle some of the tasks that you can’t get to in a timely fashion.
Don’t Play Bartender All Night
If your parties are looked forward to by friends and family because of your fancy signature cocktails, you can still pull that off without feeling like Tom Cruise in Cocktail all night. You don’t have to be glued to your home bar to make guests feel they are still getting an upscale drink.
Choose one or two alcoholic punches and either mix them up ahead of time and serve them in a fancy punch bowl or drink dispensers. The drinks will still impress your loved ones and you’ll have more time for interacting with your guests. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.
Don’t forget to have plenty of non-alcoholic drink selections on hand for children and designated drivers though!
Pay Attention to the Lighting
Instead of bright overhead fluorescent lights, you can make things feel cozier and more intimate by using softer sources of light. Start a fire in your fireplace, light some candles, or put some twinkle lights on your deck. Implementing multiple smaller sources of lights can make things feel warmer.
This is a small detail, but one that will give your party a special feel. A golden glow is always more welcome than a blinding overhead light that isn’t flattering for pictures.
Before you create a menu, look at your budget. The holidays are notoriously hard on everyone’s pocketbook. And while you would love for money not to be a factor in your menu and décor choices, obviously it has to be a consideration.
You should only spend what you feel comfortable with. Don’t overstrain your budget because it will only add to your stress. See what you can spend and work with the menu from there. You can base part of your menu around the sales items at your local grocery store.
Make As Much Food Ahead of Time As Possible
Prep as much food the day before the party as you can. Desserts can be made the day before, or even weeks before in the case of Christmas cookies – all you have to do is store them in tins or airtight containers in the freezer and take them out to thaw the morning of the party. They’ll taste perfectly fresh and it will be something you can check off your list well in advance of the day of the party.
If your dishes are using fresh vegetables, do all the dicing the day before. You don’t want to have to spend all that time chopping items the day of the party. You won’t have time to get everything done.
Leave Enough Time to Get Yourself Ready
The last thing you want is for your home to look elegant and your settings to look immaculate and have that overshadowed by your guests arriving to see a disheveled host. You should look as put together as your home does.
Pick out your outfit before the day of the party, right down to the accessories you’ll wear. Make sure your outfit is ironed already if it needs to be. You shouldn’t have to fuss with any of that while getting ready. You’ll simply put it on and do your hair and make-up.
The key is making sure you pencil in enough time so you don’t feel like you’re shortchanging your own appearance.
Having a high-quality camera at your disposal and a flair for photography will enhance your gatherings. Try to find time to take some photos of your settings before the guests arrive. That will help you commemorate the event, and also may help you take an objective look at your settings and décor and see if there is anything you want to tweak before the party begins.
Taking pictures at the event is a must because you’ll treasure those photos of your family and friends sharing happy times. Photographs can be our most precious memories, so you want to make sure to take some. But also remember to put the camera down after taking your shots and enjoy your time together – don’t be stuck behind the lens all night or you’ll miss out on everything.
Give Gentle Hints When the Party Is Over
It’s perfectly appropriate to have both a start and finish time on your invitations, especially around the holidays when your time is scarce anyway. But if you aren’t sure what time you want the festivities to wind down or you don’t feel comfortable putting an end time on the invitation, there are other ways to signal a party is ending for the guests who don’t seem to notice almost everyone else has left.
If you have used the candlelight suggestion from earlier, you can start subtly blowing out candles as a reminder that it’s getting late and it’s time to leave. You can also start a few light clean-up duties, such as collecting any stray dishes or garbage that people have left on the table.
Another graceful way to let someone know it’s time to leave is to hand them a party favor if you have any or box up leftover cookies or dessert for them. They’ll take the hint when they have goodies in their hand.
Have a Mix of Elegant Foods and Kid-Friendly Choices
Love to wow your friends with your creative and adventurous food choices? Be prepared then that many children in attendance will stare at your food choices suspiciously and will likely refuse to eat them. And keep in mind, a hungry child will turn into a grumpy child in record time.
If you’re serving more elegant foods, that’s fine. But make sure you have a good assortment of kid-friendly foods on hand that will satisfy the pickiest of eaters. You might not think serving chicken nuggets is a great idea at a party, but if it keeps your littlest guests happy, it’s a wonderful party addition.
Having a crock pot full of kid foods like nuggets and tater tots will make your hosting duties easier and will give the parents in attendance at your party a break from hearing their kids complain about being hungry.
Don’t Worry So Much
Remember, at the end of the day; it’s party. It’s a place to have fun, and that includes you. Instead of beating yourself up about the tiny things that went wrong, tell yourself the truth – nobody else probably noticed. All they’ll remember is that they had a great time with the people they care about.
About Kimberly Bakker
Kimberly Bakker is the owner of KQB, a boutique marketing firm based out of San Francisco. Kimberly brings a unique skill set that includes experience in major event planning, public relations, business affairs, knowledge of the restaurant and entertainment industry, understanding the complexities of working with the San Francisco government, and personal connections to many of San Francisco’s most influential leaders in business and government
Up Next: Highest Amount In Lottery History