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10 Expert Tips for Holiday Party Planning

October 01, 2013
Planning a holiday party can be overwhelming, so we turned to the pros. Kimberly Kennedy, author of The Art and Craft of Entertaining (Atria Books), and Denise Vivaldo, author of Do It for Less! Parties (Terrace Publishing) share ideas for the perfect holiday party.

Write it down.

The ultimate lifesaver of every party I've ever given - my party planning journal. Designate a notebook just for your parties. Throughout the year, jot down ideas, cut out pictures, paste in recipes, etc. And then keep a log for each event detailing the date, guest list, table style, menu, music and favors. Afterward, record your impressions of the party: memorable conversations, culinary successes and disasters, feedback, etc. This reportage makes for great reading in years to come and will also inspire you to do more entertaining. Write it down.

Use e-vites.

Save money by bypassing printed invites. I'm talking invitations by email—everyone is doing it and no one takes offense (if your guests have email). Check out the free invitation site It allows you to track your RSVPs as well as log comments from invitees. is another online invite site with fun images you can use. Use e-vites.

RSVP, please.

You'll save money just by pinpointing in advance exactly how many guests are coming to your party. Nothing drains your party budget faster than overbuying food and favors for guests who do not show up. RSVP, please.

Be your own florist.

Flowers add a nice touch to any party—in the entranceway, at the bar, on the coffee table, on the buffet—but they don't have to be expensive. Save money by making your own arrangements or enlist a small potted plant, which you might already own, as a centerpiece. Experiment with a sunken flower look or create a poinsettia display in your entranceway. For simple bathroom flair, float one or two beautiful blossoms in a small glass bowl. Be your own florist.

Light like a pro.

Consider the needs of your event. Try experimenting with colored lighting: both pink and yellow bulbs cast warm, soothing glows. For evening holiday parties, go all out with candles. For instance, for a sit-down dinner party, I like to place peppermint or pine scented candles on the mantel. If your family has small children, make sure all candles are out of reach of the little ones. Light like a pro.

Turn up the holiday music.

Ask your guests to recommend their favorite holiday Pandora station and set the music on low throughout the party. You’ll still have festive background music but it won’t interrupt your conversations Turn up the holiday music.

Simplify your hors d'oeuvres.

Appetizers are just pre-dinner munchies, and they don't need to be expensive or difficult to make. Try making our Olive Tapenade, or spread store-bought tapenade on your favorite cracker or matzo. Buy prepared crudités (fresh vegetables) at your grocery store and rearrange them in your own shallow bowl—try standing them upright with a cup of White Bean Dip or Spicy Hummus in the center. Simplify your hors d'oeuvres.

Garnish like a chef.

One rule: garnishes must be edible! Decorate spring plates with edible pansies, roses, lavender, nasturtium or chive blossoms. Make sure you buy from the produce department of your grocery store, or use only organically grown flowers. (Florist flowers are sprayed with pesticides so never eat them!) Parsley is another garnish that gives life to mashed potatoes, stews and chops. Garnish like a chef.

Be disaster ready.

It's all about having backups. If your special appetizer burns, pull out cheese and crackers. Pasta made in a second can replace burned entrées. If a cake fails, packaged cookies or sliced fruit can substitute beautifully. Never be caught unprepared. Be disaster ready.

Smart leftovers.

When the food is great, people love to take leftovers home. Make sure you're ready with a full stock of the Limited Edition Ziploc® brand Holiday Bags and Containers. I’ve found that soups and gravies travel spectacularly well in the Limited Edition Ziploc® brand Twist `n Loc® Holiday Container. They’re great for leftovers too! Smart leftovers.

Old wine, new trick.

Save dollars on pricey condiments by turning leftover wine into a tasty sauce! Pour half-empty bottles of wine into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until the wine reduces by three quarters. Most of the alcohol will be boiled out, and the flavor will be intensified. Cool, pour into ice cube trays and place in the freezer. When fully frozen, store in a Limited Edition Ziploc® brand Holiday Freezer Bag for future use. Reduced wine adds lovely depth to sauces, gravies, soups and dessert syrups. Old wine, new trick.