10 Pro Pointers for Holiday Cocktail Party Hosts

Entertaining expert Kimberly Schlegel Whitman shares her favorite ways to make your next gathering a low-stress, high-style classic.

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

Photo By: Courtesy of Gibbs Smith Publisher

You Can't Go Wrong With Champagne

In Parties Around a Punch Bowl, Kimberly Schlegel Whitman makes a strong case for jazzing up modern parties with old-school details. Champagne toasts are lovely, but a Champagne punch like this one keeps the bubbly flowing all night long without blowing your budget through the roof. Get the recipe.

Make a Boozy Recipe Alcohol-Free ...

If your drink recipe of choice features a liqueur, Whitman suggests swapping in an extract with the same flavor. In her La Dolce Vita Italian Punch (pictured here), for example, a teaspoon of either hazelnut or almond extract can replace four tablespoons of Frangelico, and cranberry juice subs in beautifully for cranberry-infused vodka. The key, she says, is to take your time: "If you are going off-recipe, be sure to add slowly and taste test along the way until it is just right."

...And Let Guests Kick It Up On Their Own

Create a crowd-pleasing drinks station by presenting beverages "spike your own glass" style, as Whitman puts it. You can also serve two versions of the same recipe — one with alcohol, and a mocktail version — side by side. In either case, "a simple tent card with an explanation beside the punch bowls does the trick," she says.

Get Creative With Your Serveware

Psst: Your Thanksgiving dishes can do double duty at cocktail parties. Consider Whitman’s soup tureen, which looks right at home serving punch on her bar cart (above). The repurposing doesn’t stop there: "[s]ometimes I serve my punch in a pitcher," she says. "At other times, I have used a porcelain planter that has a very wide mouth[.]" Bottom line: As long as it’s sanitary, almost any large vessel can join the party.

Enlist Little Ones for Help With Prep

Bartending is a task for grown-ups, of course, but garnishes like the ones in this Pomander Punch are a perfect project for kid assistants. Whitman’s own children add cloves to the edges of the orange slices in this fizzy (and non-alcoholic) brew, which she serves at a yearly "Christmas Coffee" for fellow moms. "My son loves to help me make punch," she says. "The pouring and stirring is quick and fun, and yields faster results than baking or cooking. It’s the perfect way to get children involved with hosting."

Garnish Glasses Before Guests Arrive

Finish off a self-serve drink station with slices or sprigs of something fresh. Tart citrus garnishes can balance out sweeter mixtures, Whitman says, while aromatic mint brings both a kick of flavor to your cups and an air of freshness to the room. Boldly colored cherries and pomegranate arils, in turn, add festive jewel tones without contributing too much flavor to your concoctions.

Make Your Punch Bowl Multipurpose

If mixology isn’t your thing, Whitman notes that punch bowls are just as festive when they’re chilling bottles or spilling over with blooms and greenery. Use an heirloom to present sparkling or white wine, or line it with a bit of floral foam and create a showstopping centerpiece.

Add a Snack to the Bar Cart

Your guests will be gathering there — why not give them something to nibble on while they wet their whistles? Treats like these Roasted Rosemary Cashews are dead easy to make — just roast them in the oven, then toss them in a bit of melted butter or margarine and a blend of sweet and savory seasonings. Bonus: Your home will smell heavenly when your guests arrive.

Use the Good Dishes

If you’ll be serving refreshments buffet-style, make them as grab-and-go as possible — and tuck linens for each of your guests between plates, which will save them time (and spare you the heartache of discovering chips and cracks during cleanup).

Get Fancy With Your Cheese Board

It should go without saying that a cheese board is a fine addition to any party. It should also go without saying that if you’re hosting an event that’s on the fancier side, your trusty wooden server will seem a bit underdressed. If you don’t happen to have a marble slab lying around, leftovers from a renovation (or a sample from the hardware store) could come in handy: "I love using slate tiles too," Whitman says.

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