It’s that time again! The school year has begun and the holiday season is quickly approaching. For members of the food service industry this festive season promises longer work days, less sleep and customers with high demands and expectations (reasonably so). It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, all rolled into one.
To help reduce your holiday stress (and mine) I suggest to you party planners that you book your parties now. In the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” So let’s jump in and get started.
Recently I was asked by a local Pittsburgh magazine to contribute some tips and trends for planning a successful cocktail hour. After developing my “10 Tips” I realized that the list applied not only to cocktail hour but to the planning of the event in general. I thought it might be useful to share my perspective in hopes that it will reduce some of your own stress and result in happy guests.
(1) It’s not all about you. Consider that your guests’ tastes and preferences may differ from your own. Remember that not everyone is a culinary daredevil. On the contrary, not all guests are impressed by raw vegetables and dip.
(2) Incorporate stationed and passed hors d’oeuvres. Limiting hors d’oeuvres to stations can create unwanted congestion (or excessive lines). If room allows, create several stations in strategically placed locations (away from doorways and high-traffic service areas). Utilize servers by having them pass hors d’oeuvres as well. This results in guests who are more engaged and keeps people from feeling singled out as “the first to eat.”
(3) Insist that servers are educated regarding the foods they are presenting. An uneducated server detracts from the special feel of the evening. It may also cut back on the number of hors d’oeuvres consumed which could result in unhappy guests (or unhappy hosts).
(4) Plan in advance. Leave yourself with plenty of time to wrap up the details. Advanced planning means more choices and fewer restrictions. Following a timeline will keep you on track.
(5) Limit seating.The more seats you provide for your guests, the more guests will sit. Cocktail hour is a time for mixing, mingling and socializing. Incorporate cocktail tables as a resting place for drinks and/or appetizer plates. Offer lounge seating along the perimeter of the room for those guests who require seating.
(6) Incorporate a “featured cocktail.”
(7) Limit bar service to beer and wine only to deter excessive drinking.
(8) For the budget conscious host, offer an open bar for cocktail hour and move to a cash bar thereafter. Guests will appreciate any freebies you throw their way.
(9) Present a glass of sparkling wine, champagne or Bellini as guests enter the room. This makes for an excellent kick off to the festivities and keeps the bar from being overwhelmed right off the bat.
(10) Be kind to your guests with allergies, sensitivities, and dietary preferences. Allergies and dietary preferences are more prevalent than ever, particularly gluten intolerances and gluten-free diets. Consider these guests when choosing your food options. Limit shellfish, nuts, and bread options and infuse color with fresh vegetables and fruits.
This is a great spread, unless you're gluten-free.
Happy party planning!