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Hostess with the mostest

Throw a fabulous holiday bash with these hostess dos and don'ts

Want to throw an unforgettable holiday party? We talked to Sarah Shuken, an entertaining expert based in Toronto, about how to become a hostess with the mostest. Here’s what to keep in mind when you’re planning your next holiday bash:

DO send out invitations about one month in advance. E-vites (invitations sent out via email) are perfectly OK for a larger informal gathering. If you’re having a more intimate soiree or a formal dinner party, send a written invite. Make sure to ask people to RSVP and include your phone number or email address. Specify ‘evening chic’ or ‘dress festive’ if you want people to forgo the jeans and don their party best.

DO use place cards at a dinner party. It helps put people at ease, and, as the hostess, you know who will hit it off—and who won’t. For a special dinner, you can even print out menu cards and put one at each plate, along with the person’s name at the top.

DO set a mood. Lower the lights a bit, and light some candles (remember that lots of candles can generate heat, and scented ones can be overpowering). Clear tables of small objects so people can put their drinks down. And remember to chose small flower arrangements.

DON’T forget to choose your bar carefully. It’s a good idea to have red and white wine, a couple different kinds of beer, and one special cocktail (choose one to go with your party’s theme). Make sure to have non-alcoholic drinks like mineral water and soda. Consider renting glasses—it’s classier, easier, and you won’t have to wash them! Estimate about five glasses per guest for a four hour party.

DO plan your space. Clear out an entire hall closet for coats, or position an empty rack where it won’t get in the way. Have room for boots and overshoes (this is a Canadian holiday party, after all!) People need room to move around and mingle, so remove a chair or two from a room.

DON’T serve complicated food. You want to spend your time with your guests, not your kitchen appliances. Avoid food that has ‘leftovers’, like shrimp tails or satay sticks. If you’re having a dinner party and one of your guests has food allergies, it makes sense to avoid that particular food. (At a cocktail party, however, your guest can simply ask you what a certain munchie contains). If one of your dinner party guests is a vegetarian, be accommodating but reasonable. Serve a delicious veggie appetizer, soup and salad, then a meat main course. You can pop a meatless entree (for example, an individual veggie casserole) into the oven at the same time.

DO send your guests home with a small treat (grown-ups like goody bags too!) Remember to have a cab phone number ready and some cash on hand if a guest isn’t in a state to drive, or be prepared to have someone stay overnight.