Tips on serving up the perfect holiday party

It’s the time of year again when colder temperatures usher in new and welcome change. The chill in the air brings with it heavy wool and the crunch of the leaves beneath our feet sets the soundtrack to a new season. The patio furniture gets begrudgingly packed away, and the woodstove a good cleaning.  Holidays start to pile up, and as they do, so do the parties, everything from casual gatherings to black-tie affairs. Hosting a holiday party should be stress-free. After all the mark of a good party is everyone having ‘a time’, and part of that enjoyment is spending time with the host. The more time you spend away from the bar, the more successful your party will be. 

Plan ahead, know your crowd. Choose a flexible date and time that works for you and your guests. If family and friends are attending you probably have an idea of what they drink but if unsure you can always do a little work to find out. Are they cocktail enthusiasts? Wine aficionados? Beer geeks?  A welcoming glass of sparkling wine is a nice way to greet your guests but keep in mind that some people don’t drink.  Keeping some sparkling water chilled for those guests’ champagne flutes is a great way to make abstaining guests feel special too. Having diverse beverage offerings is an easy way to be inclusive and make sure no one feels left out. 

Glassware and ice are two ingredients you never want to run out of during a party. Make sure you clean and organize your freezer in the weeks leading up to your event. You can fill ice cube trays daily and empty them out into ziplock bags. If you have space, you can freeze large blocks of ice to keep your punch cool or to cut into individual cubes from (if you dare). Alternatively, lots of companies sell ice but most are too small to be cocktail friendly. Ideally, you want larger cubes with some surface area so they won’t melt as quick and will keep your guest’s drinks chilled without over diluting.

It’s important to choose your glassware as carefully as your holiday attire. Make sure it fits the mood and you’ll have people complimenting it all night. Your standard wine glasses, beer mugs, and highballs will always get the job done but if you’re looking to really impress there are easy ways to take things to the next level. Secondhand thrift stores often have a large selection of unique and affordable glassware, including full punch bowl sets and antique teacups. The options for stemmed glasses are many, including flutes, coupes, goblets, and more. Mason jars work great for beer if you don’t have enough glasses on hand already. There are even local companies that rent glassware, taking that load off your shoulders. And remember how you cleaned out your freezer? Well, you can store your glasses inside to enhance your guests’ experience.

When it comes to serving cocktails, do yourself a favour and pre-batch your drinks. It is incredibly easy to bottle a margarita, martini, old fashioned, or Manhattan in advance. To batch, you just take your basic cocktail recipe and scale it up, making sure to account for dilution and the number of expected guests. If you have any empty liquor bottles, clean them well and set aside to fill with your batched drinks. You can make these days, even weeks, ahead and store until needed in your fridge or freezer. You will find the longer the drink rests the more the flavours mellow, taking on new and different characteristics.

A good host is thoughtful and prepared, relaxed and easy-going,  setting the mood for the event. They read the room like a novel, knowing when to flip the page. They spend time with each guest, and enjoy a couple of drinks but never becoming the most intoxicated. They’re too busy making sure the drinks are flowing and there are enough snacks to go around. And when it’s time to go a good host sees their guests safely off. Most importantly, a good host is part magician, seamlessly pulling off the impossible and with a smile.