Party Tips for the Holidays
By Sherri Ferris, President and CEO
Protocol Professionals, Inc.


Successful business often begins with a successful event. Detailed planning is a smart way to assure success during the busy holidays. Whether you are planning a breakfast for the wife of the UN Secretary-General, lunch for the President of the Dominican Republic, a formal dinner for the Prince of Jordan (all challenges we have faced) or just a casual holiday gathering with business colleagues or friends, the following tips for entertaining may be useful:

Traffic flow:

  • Don't put the bar, reception line or food near the entrance. Pick a spot your guests wouldn't normally go to. Identify dead space and make something happen there, e.g., coffee bar or pasta station.
  • Place food in several locations to avoid congestion and provide plenty of properly sized napkins.

Presentation ideas:

  • Between two individual glass plates or between one glass plate on top of a brightly colored silk draped tray, arrange leaves and rose petals in an attractive pattern. It makes a beautiful presentation for passed hors d'oeuvres.
  • Place herbs or orchids in a clean clay saucer. Top with a glass plate upon which a salad or appetizer is placed.
  • Line serving platters with ti leaves or banana leaves sprayed with Pam.
  • Buy stainless steel individual bowls from a restaurant supply house - one size larger than the other. Weight down or tape together. Fill with water & freeze. Unmold and serve cold soup, sorbet or shrimp in them. They will last approx. 30 min. when placed on a napkin-lined plate.
  • Serve pot stickers in a giant bamboo steamer.
  • Use clean, lined terra-cotta planters for silverware or chips.
  • Create various levels on a buffet table using wrapped phone books, boxes, any sturdy object wrapped in fabric napkins or cloths.
  • For attractive hors d'oeuvre trays use mirrors, colorful tiles, or clean stones from your garden or tile shop.

When choosing the right quantities...think about your guests comfort:

  • Placing several food varieties on the same buffet-serving platter is preferable so your guests can find something they like
  • If the food is passed, don't serve anything that is drippy, larger than bite size, anything that requires a knife to cut or pasta noodles, especially if your guests need to stand to eat.
  • Make sure you provide plenty of cocktail tables for guests to place their drinks upon at a reception and have the area bussed frequently.
  • Since most guests are reluctant to dip into a communal sauce bowl, it's better to drizzle the sauce on the food item first.
  • If you serve something with toothpicks, provide a refuse bowl on the serving platter. A candleholder, small glass or shot glass works best. If the food is passed make sure the waiters offer napkins and wait for the guest to place the used toothpick in a receptacle before moving on to the next guest.
  • If you have insufficient refrigerator space, place blue ice or a package of frozen corn under a platter & wrap these items together. The food will stay cool for hours.
  • If you're short on help, serve only red & white wine and a specialty drink such as margaritas, hot spiced cider, martini bar vs. full bar. A good autumn non-alcoholic punch is apple cider with lemon juice and ginger juice with a splash of sparkling water.
  • Unless you provide three glasses per person, tie a nametag on each glass. Using real glass or china is always nicer than plastic. For a three-hour party, plan 2 1/2 glasses of wine per person (four for a dinner party).
  • If you are the guest, don't forget to bring a hostess gift of wine, candy, flowers or a holiday food specialty item. It is not polite to ask that the gift you bring to your hostess be consumed while you are present. If the hostess chooses to do so, that is fine.
  • If you are a guest in the home of a European, send flowers the day before; don't leave immediately after dinner; don't clear the plates immediately, and don't ask to take home the leftover cheese ball you brought as a hostess gift. It's gauche! Europeans have different customs and traditions than Americans.
  • Remember - a happy guest receives something to eat & drink upon arrival!!!

Place card ideas:

  • Use a small wrapped package with a name on the gift tag. Put a truffle inside
  • Write the guests name on a holiday ornament, attach greenery.
  • For a wedding or baby shower, use small watering cans with the name on a plant ID stake placed in the can.

Buffet tables:

  • Buy fabric at a fabric store to overlay a plain cloth i.e. Indian sari, colorful organza, crumpled red velvet, trimmed with greenery from your garden.
  • Choose food items that have sauce and will hold well over time in chafing dishes.
  • Instead of a whole salmon, display individual salmon filets drizzled with dill sauce squeezed from a plastic tipped squeeze bottle and garnished with cut lemons.
  • Put expensive items i.e. caviar at the end of the table, where they are served by an attendant on buckwheat blinis with melted butter. For a different and delicious presentation, serve the caviar on potato chips (heaped in a silver bowl and served with a white-gloved waiter) with dollops of sour cream or crème fraiche. Placing a dab of caviar on a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche on a tiny boiled and halved small potato also makes a fine hors d'oeuvre. Remember that the enemies of caviar are heat and air.

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