In many ways, entertaining is a numbers game.
How much room do you have? How many people do you want to invite? What’s your budget?
Before you start crunching numbers, come up with a vision of how you want your party to feel and function, says Cher Przelomski, CEO of Planning Factory International in Wilmington and Bermuda.
“It really goes to style,” she says. “How do you want to style your event?”
Ideally, begin planning your holiday bash three to six months in advance, she advises. Even in a pinch, it takes three to four weeks to put together a memorable party.
A formal, sit-down dinner requires more room than an event where people stand, mix and mingle.
“If you want to keep things moving, you might want to set up multiple bars and perhaps a few lounge areas,” she says.
Przelomski sees new life being infused into events as the economy recovers.
“People are dressing to the nines,” she says. “They are hiring musicians, magicians, comedians.”
Raise the bar a notch higher by using crystal and china rather than plastic and paper.
“Go for a great goblet and serve your wine in that, perhaps a bright ruby-red glass or black glasses,” she says. “If you are serving dinner, put out beautiful chargers and a great centerpiece.”
So how do you calculate what you need to stock the bar?
“You have to look at both how many people you are expecting and how long the party will last,” says Bob Kreston, owner of Kreston Wines and Spirits in Middletown and Wilmington. “That’s always important when you are trying to figure out total consumption.”
If you’re limiting the bar to wines, figure six glasses per bottle, or eight glasses for a toast.
Cocktails have made a strong comeback, especially whiskey-based drinks.
“Bourbon, Scotch, ryes and Canadians are stronger than they have been in the past 30 years,” Kreston says.
Hosts also are treating their guests to premium spirits.
“Tequila is an option as are single-malt Scotches, small-batch bourbons and craft spirits from very small distilleries,” he says.
Plan on offering at least two beers, a regular beer and a light beer for guests who are watching their waistlines. For large gatherings, consider ordering beer in half-kegs or quarter-kegs.
“Half a keg is seven cases of beer,” Kreston says. “It’s more economical, but you are limited to one type of beer, unless your party is so large that you need more than one keg.”
For aficionados of craft suds, consider growlers, which hold 64 ounces of beer.
“You can get a nice variety of draft beers that aren’t available in glass or cans,” he says. “It’s an expensive prospect for a large party but nice for a smaller get-together.”
Think of holiday entertaining as an ice sculpture.
You want it to be sparkling, beautiful and perfectly shaped. You also want to avoid meltdowns.
At Harry’s Savoy Ballroom in North Wilmington, Jenna Jackson, special events coordinator, helps hosts craft parties to suit the occasion and the guest list.
Should you reserve a large table at the restaurant? A private room? Or bring in a caterer to serve your guests at home? “We ask lots of questions,” she says.
Your guest count, budget and enter-taining style will determine the answers.
“If you want to keep people mingling, if you want to keep people dancing, set up high tops,” Jackson recommends. “A buffet is very easy, and is great for picky eaters and people with dietary restrictions.”
That said, keep the preferences of your guests in mind. Senior citizens, for example, may have other expectations. “They want to sit down and have the food served to them,” Jackson says.
There’s more than one way to carve out a menu. Think prime rib at a sit-down event and beef tenderloin on a small sandwich roll for a mix-and-mingle party.
At the bar, many hosts are opting for a signature holiday drink, such as a poin-settia champagne cocktail or mulled wine. Other options include: a cash bar where the host pays for the bartender but not for the drinks; a bar where the host pays for beer, wine and sodas, but not spirits; an unlimited open bar; or an open bar, offering premium brand and deluxe options.
Harry’s also offers off-site catering services, an option that may or may not result in saving money.
“The hosts could provide their own alcohol and cheese trays, for example,” Jackson says. “Then again, there are additional fees the hosts will pay to cover the staff and equipment that are going off site.”
There’s also a trend toward mid-week holiday luncheons, says Kelly Connell, director of operations at Platinum Dining Group, the umbrella entity that oversees a catering division and four restaurants: Redfire Grill Steakhouse in Hockessin, Taverna in Newark and Capers & Lemons and Eclipse Bistro in Wilmington.
At the restaurants, the staff can put together selected menus for large dinner parties to accommodate friends, extended families and businesses groups.
“It might include two or three starters, three main courses and two desserts,” he says.
Catered events in private homes typ-ically involve one server for every 12-15 guests, chefs at various stations and a manager overseeing the staff.
“A lot of people like to do parties with heavy hors d’oeuvres and perhaps a few stations,” Connell says. “Artisanal cheese displays are a big trend, as are vegetarian options. Deviled eggs have become very popular.”
Increasingly, wish lists are including vegan options, such as tapas samplers, salads and flatbreads served buffet-style, says Polly Weir, director of conference services at University of Delaware Con-ference Services.
“We’re also seeing more requests for gluten-free dishes,” she says.
UD offers four venues in three locations. Clayton Hall in Newark, the largest and most flexible space, can accommodate 400 guests and offers a piano for live music and sophisticated audio systems for recordings.
“If it’s a corporate party, they can pro-ject images of previous parties or people who work at the company,” she says.
In Wilmington, historic Goodstay Mansion can accommodate an average of 100 guests and Arsht Hall includes a theater in addition to meeting and entertainment space. Virden Retreat Center in Lewes offers various options for entertaining as well as 23 rooms for those who want to stay overnight.
Getting an early start is essential.
“For a very large party, more than 200 people, it’s best to get your request in a year in advance because there are only three weekends in December and Friday is the most popular night,” Weir says. “We have professional event planners on staff who can get you exactly what you want.”
The holidays are a time to sparkle on the social scene. Here is advice on ways to look your best from Janice Venema, who owns Lady’s Image boutique in North Wilmington with her sister, Jane Strobel:
DT: I’m hosting a large party and can’t decide what to wear. Where do I start?
JV: Your No. 1 concern has to be comfort so that you can be the best that you can be for your guests. Hostesses are looking for easy. Layering is a safe choice. Leggings or skinny pants, then a tunic over that, with a jacket over that, either cropped or tunic length. A fur vest would be fun.
DT: There are so many cocktail parties during the holidays. What is the appropriate attire?
JV: I call cocktail attire “smile clothes.” Beautiful pants. Tunics and statement jewelry. Metallic dresses that are shorter in length.
DT: What about colors?
JV: Navy blue is the new black. And charcoal. Accent colors in emerald green, sapphire blue, ruby red. We also love a beautiful pale blue with a silver tone.
DT: What’s new in fall and winter fashion?
JV: Prints and florals. Usually, we see florals in spring and summer. This year, there are fabulous tapestry prints in florals for fall. We’re also showing lots of lace and open netting that kick it up a notch for the holidays. And much less beading. It’s a sprinkling here, a sprinkling there, not the all-over beading.
DT: Skirts versus pants?
JV: We are selling a ton of skirts and dresses. It’s fresh.
DT: What are great finishing touches?
JV: We are seeing a lot of bling in jewelry, an 18-inch necklace at the throat, a cascade of bracelets, larger earrings and multiple rings. With tunics, we are seeing longer necklaces, 30 inch and 36 inch, and never just one. We do see some sets, but the jewelry doesn’t necessarily need to match. In special-occasion bags, the most important thing is that the handbag accommodates a cellphone. A cute purse is the bow on the package.
DT: What is a must-have item for the holiday fashionista?
JV: She should have a coat or jacket that is appropriate for evening wear. You shouldn’t put a trench coat over your gown or cocktail dress.
DT: What is this season’s go-to piece?
JV: A little metallic top that says “this is a special occasion” that you wear with a skirt or pants. Separates tend to be more forgiving of where we are on the weight scale than a fitted dress.
Lady’s Image | 3910 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-7921, www.ladysimagefashions.com