The Consummate Host’s Guide to Throwing a Classy Holiday Party

How to entertain with grace and hospitality.
The Consummate Host’s Guide to Throwing a Classy Holiday Party
Make your next holiday party a merry, memorable affair. (Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock)
‘Tis nearly the season for caroling, cocktails, and Christmas parties, and even now, good hosts are beginning to make their holiday guest lists and checking them twice.
But how can a host ensure a party will be the talk of the town—for all the right reasons? Etiquette instructor Bethany Friske sets the stage with the four following tips.

Party Within Your Means

A great party doesn’t have to be expensive, Ms. Friske says. Pick a menu and a theme, she advises, but don’t stress about either. Use decorations from around your home or greenery from your yard.
And when it comes to food, “If you can only afford popcorn, just be willing to open your home,” she says, quoting her mother. Simply inviting others into your personal space “is a really lovely way to show kindness and hospitality to others.”

Invitation Etiquette

A fun party begins long before the actual event starts. Written invitations detailing date, time, and place should be sent “three to four weeks in advance,” Ms. Friske says, and can go out via snail mail or electronic invites. Personal text messages to “save the date” are an additional step of kindness from host to guest.
A good invitation also gives guests clues about what to expect at the party, including what attire to wear or what food to bring.
Haven’t heard if a guest is coming?
“Don’t feel badly about [following up on an invite],” Ms. Friske says, explaining that a week before the party is the best time to do so.

Setting the Tone, Literally and Figuratively

A good host aims to make a guest feel at ease, and the host who mentally prepares ahead of time to minimize stress takes the first step in setting a good tone for the party.
Ms. Friske advises hosts to first make mental timelines of when they want to start serving food or begin entertainment. Then, when guests arrive, direct them with simple instructions, such as whether to remove their shoes, where their coats will be, or how they can find the bathroom.
“You want to have at least a few seconds of conversation with each guest,” Ms. Friske says, but a good host will also connect guests with one another, introducing them and bringing up a few things they have in common.
“You don’t have to stand there; you’re just helping them get started finding a connection, [then] moving on” to your other responsibilities as host.
Finally, Ms. Friske notes that “music is really key in setting the tone at a party.” Keeping it light in the background helps fill those natural conversation lulls that happen every seven minutes.

Communicate, Communicate

The biggest key to throwing a great party is communication. Communication can be as minor as little cards on the food table indicating dairy- or gluten-free options, or as major as making your expectations (kindly) known to children who are misbehaving.
“We should never shy away from taking the lead,” Ms. Friske says, doing so with grace and respect even in difficult and uncomfortable situations.
Annie Holmquist is a cultural commentator hailing from America's heartland who loves classic books, architecture, music, and values. Her writings can be found at Annie's Attic on Substack.