Holiday host guide: The modern way to throw an elegant dinner party

Holiday host guide: The modern way to throw an elegant dinner party

Photography: Maya Visnyei | Produced By: Renée Reardin


Holiday host guide: The modern way to throw an elegant dinner party

What every host needs to know to throw a stress-free soiree, all wrapped up in one pretty little package.

A dinner party is made special when infused with the host’s personal style, thoughtful details and a laissez-faire vibe. Be well prepared, opt for the fuss-free route when possible and embrace the unexpected, and you’ll be sure to have a memorable fete.

Here's what you need to know to pull it off. 



The Tablescape

Think outside of the typical holiday colour scheme and have fun with unexpected hues. Rely on fancy dishes, silver and gold touches and the right blooms to give the table a merry feel.

  1. For a warm and lavish look, marshal a parade of blooms down the centre of the table and pepper with candles.
  2. Mix contemporary dishes with Grandma's best for an opulent tablescape that feels decidedly festive.
  3. Play with prints and opt for untamed floral arrangements to give the table a more relaxed vibe.


    Prep now, stress never

    Ensure the affair is as stress-free and flawless as possible by sticking to this simple timeline:

    Four weeks ahead: Send out invitations (we like Paperless Post), as calendars fill up quickly during the holidays; ask guests to RSVP with any dietary restrictions.

    Two weeks: Follow up with any guests who have yet to confirm; ensure your home is ready for visitors. (Do you have enough coat hangers and ice cube trays?)

    One week: Plan a menu based on guests’ dietary needs; write a shopping list.

    Two days: Clean your home; do the grocery haul.

    The day before: Pick up flowers and care for them (trim the stems; place in sunlight) so they’ll be in full bloom by the time guests arrive; set the table (add the flower arrangements tomorrow); prep any make-ahead food.

    The day of: Prepare the food; arrange the flowers; set up the bar.

    Five minutes before: Light candles; cue the playlist; pour yourself a cocktail and enjoy a couple of moments to yourself.


    Tips for happy hosting

    Your soiree needn’t be like the cookie-cutter ones you’ve attended before. Here, etiquette expert Nancy Kosik shares eight ways to create a treasured night full of comfort and joy, all while maintaining order so the party keeps its cool.

    1. Respect guests' dietary needs by offering a variety of dishes and drinks, from the apps to the nightcaps, provide vegetarian and gluten-free options, and include a non-alcoholic option.

    2. Be ready on time. "If you're looking to create a fun and relaxed environment," says Nancy, "be a fun and relaxed host." A gracious laid-back host will establish the desired vibe.

    3. Incorporate an element of surprise. "If you are aware of your visitors’ favourite things (food, drinks or music, say), include them in the evening, and mention whom you had in mind when you chose them,” says Nancy. “You can be sure your guests will feel special.”

    4. If you make one rule for the evening, it should be this: no phones at the table –– they'll kill conversation.

    5. Ensure guests are in good shape throughout the evening (offer non-alcoholic drinks) and have a safe way home when they leave.

    6. Make cocktail hour a full hour, so even those who are late are able to enjoy a drink. Spend this time introducing any unacquainted guests to each other. "Suggest something they might have in common to spark a connection."

    7. Talking about current events makes for lively and interesting dinner conversation, so don’t be overly sensitive if someone brings up (gasp!) politics or religion, but do be prepared to reroute the discussion if things get heated. “Have topics in mind prior to your event, as it’s difficult to come up with ideas when emotions are high,” says Nancy.

    8. Cleaning up can ruin the vibe, so clear dishes from the table but refrain from washing them in the presence of company. "The ultimate host organizes the space and considers timing so that no assistance is needed."


    Setting the scene

    Don’t underestimate the power of ambience. The feel of your fete is as important as the taste of the food and the look of the table. Dim the overheads, light some candles and fire up your (carefully curated) playlist to foster an unforgettable mood.


    Bluetooth Gramophone 2.0 Music Player, $250 US, gramovox.com | Cashmere Fringed Throw in Mink, $399, zarahome.com | Cire Trudon Scented Candle in Solis Rex, 270 g, $95, net-a-porter.com.

    Hear: Go for a well-mixed playlist with a variety of musical genres and play them on a great sound system — like a gramophone.

    Feel: Cozy throws are wonderful for cuddling up après-dinner.

    Smell: A festive spicy scent strikes a warm relaxed mood while digestifs are being poured.




    Cocktail hour

    Effortlessly fancy champagne cocktails conjure up images of Old Hollywood glamour and are fitting aperitifs or digestifs for a festive celebration. These three classic not-too-sweet drinks are quick to mix, making them party favourites.

    1. French 75: Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes and add 2 ounces of gin, 1⁄2 ounce of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of simple syrup; cover and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with 3 ounces of champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.
    2. St-Germain champagne cocktail: Pour 1 1⁄2 ounces of St-Germain liqueur into a cocktail glass; add 3 ounces of champagne and 1 ounce of soda water. Garnish with a sprig of lavender.
    3. Moët ice: Place three ice cubes in a cocktail glass; add Moët & Chandon Ice Impérial champagne and garnish with a few frozen cranberries.




    The grand finale

    The dessert course can elicit high pressure, but here’s an expert hack: Opt for a store-bought treat and add a personal spin to it. We topped this String of Pearls cake by Toronto’s Dufflet Pastries with blooms to create a sweet ending that looks like we fussed over it as much as the main course.


    The morning after

    Once the last piece of cake has been eaten for breakfast and the longing to do it again has set in, follow up with a handwritten note to each guest, expressing your gratitude for their attendance. The gesture marks an elegant conclusion to party season and a lovely resolution for the new year — text less, write more love notes.

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    Holiday host guide: The modern way to throw an elegant dinner party