Holiday Entertaining Tips from the Pros

Party season is in full swing. Whether you’re planning a New Year’s Eve party, hosting the family, or just inviting the girls over for a festive night in, you’ll need a little help from the pros to pull off a celebration that ever so slightly blurs the line between naughty and nice. We reached out to a few of the most knowledgeable ladies we know in the events and food world for tips on planning the perfect holiday shindig:

Carrie Welch of Portland’s Little Green Pickle is an expert when it comes to planning buzzworthy food events. In 2012, she co-founded the annual Feast Portland: A Celebration of Oregon Bounty. She has also studied wine and spirits extensively, completing the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Advanced and Intermediate Certificates.


Gaby Dalkin is the Blogger behind popular cooking and travel website, What’s Gaby Cooking. A self described guacamole addict, Gaby recently published a cookbook featuring more than 80 recipes all about avocados, titled Absolutely Avocados.


Founder of There is No Subject, a full service creative agency in Los Angeles; Jaclyn Johnson is a wealth of knowledge on all things design, events and marketing. When she isn’t cooking up creative events like Create + Cultivate, you can find her blogging about fashion at Some Notes on Napkins.


1) Any party planning mishaps you’ve had in the past that we can all learn from?

Carrie: My worst disasters have always been when I’ve tried to make something I’ve never made before. To say I’ve been burned, well, that would just be a bad pun. But I have attempted omelets, pot roasts and other seriously complex dishes for unknowing guests, only to have them come out underdone. My big tip is to heed the warnings of every food expert and magazine, and either practice your new dish ahead of time or go with something you know!

Gaby: It’s always better to buy too much than not enough. I hate running out of alcohol or anything at a party – so I’ve learned to always over-prepare!

Jaclyn: Always get more ice.

2) Name one thing that is essential to have at every holiday party

Carrie: Music and lighting! That’s two, but they are my live and die by, any party, must haves! Join me in a nation-wide campaign to end bad lighting and no music at holiday parties! Choose your music ahead of time and think about what your guests might want to listen to – don’t go Rob Zombie on them even if that’s what you prefer. And you don’t have to go sleepy jazz every time – vary your choices and get some fun soul and R&B in there. On the lighting – turn it down! Not only does this put your guests at ease but it also makes everyone look a little better. Low light means party time; have you ever noticed no one dances or really does anything fun with the lights on?

Gaby: It’s a toss up between a signature cocktail and a cheese plate. I think they are both mandatory for any party. Putting a fun spin on a classic cocktail is a great way to get people jazzed about the night, and having a cheese plate is a classic way to start or finish your meal.

Jaclyn: A good spiked punch that people can pour themselves to keep the bar lines down.

3) What are the most important things to consider when choosing and preparing the right food and drinks for your party?

Carrie: Variety! I think you should attempt to have something for everyone, but don’t go crazy because there will always be someone restricted by a food allergy or juice cleanse. One trick I learned while working at Food Network was to vary the heights of your dishes, which pleases the eye. When laying out a buffet table, mix up big platters, smaller plates, and elevate some of your food on cake plates to keep it interesting.

Gaby: Don’t pick anything that is going to take you away from your guests. You want to enjoy the party too!! So when you’re menu planning, keep that in mind and make sure you make things that you can prep ahead of time and then just bake when your friends and family arrive.

Jaclyn: Food first– Always have vegetarian options and always have a place for people to sit and enjoy. Nothing is worse than having to balance your plate and drink. Have an array of “bites” that people can pop in their mouth and always have something sweet! For drinks, I think having an open bar isn’t a great idea for traffic. Have a few specialty cocktails that are pre-batch and have lots of beer and wine on hand.

4) What music is a must have for your holiday party playlist?

Carrie: My entire office can attest that I am a HUGE early 90’s rap and hip hop fan. I play the less offensive songs from that genre mixed with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and some current pop, because it’s upbeat and fun. Go with what you know and like but keep the music lighthearted, so your party will be too!

Gaby: I leave the music up to my husband for all our parties! We’re fans of the Indie station on Spotify – it’s got a little bit of everything (minus crazy songs with people screaming) and it really works for any kind of soiree!

Jaclyn: I’m such a sucker for Christmas Oldies but always end the night with some Kanye.


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