A Holiday Party Caterer's 10 Tips for Making Your Party Festive and Fun
Along with the comfort and joy of December comes a lot of drama and stress. Throwing a fabulous holiday party or Christmas party can impress family and friends, and we understand the challenges of the best catering for small parties and big ones, too.
At our full-service party catering company in Los Angeles, we cater events from intimate meals for couples, to six-course dinner parties for 8-16 guests, to cocktail parties for 400 people. You need the right dishes with the right ingredients, with the right preparation, to pull off even an office Christmas party (sometimes with superiors, clients, and customers!). We can help. And if all of it gets too overwhelming, ask us about our holiday party catering, too.
1. Don't make exotic party food just to make an impression.
It's your party. Don't give in to culinary peer pressure. Try out your recipe before your holiday party. Make sure you're not going to be spending the whole party in the kitchen instead of enjoying your friends and family.
Instead of exotic foods, develop a theme that'll wow your guests. One of our favorites was dinner party catering for "Winter Wonderland," an underground dinner with both cool dishes and hot dishes inspired by the extremes of the holiday season in Los Angeles. And our French catering for "La Nuit a Paris" was inspired by French wedding food.
2. Have a backup plan.
In case of a Christmas party emergency like burned food or spilled sauces, keep food on hand that you can serve. When I was making fresh ravioli for 80 people on a propane stove for our "One Night in Italy" dinner party catering, I ended up putting out the bleu-cheese bread that I had originally intended to serve with the entrée.
3. Plan your holiday party shopping early.
Christmas party catering can be frantic with all the crowds. I can make as many as 10 shopping trips for a single party. Trader Joe's, Costco, Ralph's, Whole Foods, and Surfa's are frequent stops. Each of them has special ingredients I use in holiday party catering, like fun heirloom mini-tomatoes from Trader Joe's in different colors that are terrific for bruschetta, salads, or a snappy garnish. (For catering your Los Angeles wedding, I might make 20 trips -- which I do lovingly for your special day!)
4. Whet guests' appetites with appetizing appetizers.
For appetizer catering, estimate 2-3 pieces of each appetizer per person. If it's a dinner party for 10, you'll want to prepare three different appetizers. In general, people like cheesy, crunchy, crispy, and sweet. Make something fried and something cheesy -- something red and something green for a Christmas party. Add something vegetarian or vegan, too.
5. Avoid scheduling snafus.
For catering a dinner party, plan for a salad or some kind of starter (like a soup or crabcakes). Next are your main course, a side dish, and dessert. Give people 45 minutes to an hour for the appetizers — 30 minutes is too short, because most people arrive late, especially a Christmas party. Dinner should be about an hour to an hour and a half. And remember, once you put out dessert, people will start to leave -- even a wedding or other big event.
6. Keep it simple. Seriously.
Some dishes are hard to cook properly, especially with the time constraints of a Christmas party and larger amounts of food than you usually make, because of guests. Stick with things that are more forgiving: braised short ribs are easy to make (and far less costly than in restaurants). If you're anxious about guests watching you prepare food at your holiday party, make something ahead of time, like lasagna or cannelloni. As we know from our dessert catering, desserts can be made ahead of time, too, like a fresh berry cobbler or chocolate croissant bread pudding.
7. Great presentation makes the food, the party, and you look amazing.
For your holiday party, make each dish your own. If you're making little tartlets, use a square cup instead of a round one. Or if you're buying frozen mini-quiches, add a little dollop of sour cream with dill. Dye foods green and red for a Christmas party.
And here's a little trick for people racing to get their holiday parties set up in time: take a handful of berries and place it in a little pile on the corner of the platter. Even if you're serving cocktail hot dogs, it elevates the occasion with elegance. (For more ideas, check out our wedding and party catering photos from different events, big and small.)
8. Make the right call for alcohol.
For your holiday party, plan for two to three glasses of wine per person. (Factor in Christmas party egg nog, too.) If you're on a budget, rent smaller glasses and you can get five glasses of wine out of a single bottle.
For parties of more than 25 people, a bartender can be very helpful, especially if you have the bartender pour the wine instead of having guests over-pour for themselves. Avoid having to stock a full bar and planning for every drink possible by creating and preparing a signature cocktail for your party, and then supplement that with wine, beer and soda.
9. Take time afterward to take stock of most and least popular dishes.
If you have an annual party, set aside some time at the end to take stock. Are there a lot of cheese doodles left over? Is the gin gone, but the vodka bottles are still full? Hosts tend to do panic buying at the last minute, which results in a lot of leftovers. A few minutes of reflection can help you plan better for next year's holiday party or Christmas party
10. Hire a dishwasher.
For larger parties, hire a dishwasher. Don't let the glow from your fantastic holiday party fade because you're washing giant piles of dishes and silverware. Consider getting a server from a staffing company to help with the setup and cleanup. (Note that staff costs are double on holidays like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day parties.)