Secrets to extravagant holiday entertaining

Event planner Brandon Casey set up this holiday tablescape with floral stylist Tina Owens (not pictured) of Wicked Willow at The French Kitchen at the Lord Baltimore Hotel.
Event planner Brandon Casey set up this holiday tablescape with floral stylist Tina Owens (not pictured) of Wicked Willow at The French Kitchen at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. (Algerina Perna)

From gift-filled family dinners to swanky office shindigs, the holidays are party time.

This year, why not go all out with an event that is both elegant and luxe? Hosting a gorgeous black-tie holiday party is doable at home, promises event planner Brandon Casey.
“It’s about details and luxury,” he says. “We want to feed the eyes as well as the stomachs.”
From fabulous invitations to special party favors that guests will cherish for years to come, Casey’s recommendations will help you and your guests mark the season with spectacular fanfare.
Set the tone
Parties start long before guests arrive.
“With this type of event, you want to invest in an actual mailed invitation,” says Casey. “It sets the tone for the event that’s to come.” 
He loves the look of invitations incorporating ribbon, embroidery or calligraphy.
“It’s really about the details,” he says. “Anything that can bring forth something extra.”
For a dressy holiday party, mail out invitations at least a month before the event.
“Give them time to buy a new dress or have the tux cleaned,” Casey recommends. “Give your guests time to prepare.”
Warm welcome
The first impression sticks — make it a good one.
For larger venues, a team of valet parking attendants will make guests’ transitions from car to party seamless and easy. Once guests are inside, greet them with specialty cocktails and music that’s both festive and welcoming.
At one Christmas wedding, Casey and the Michele Damon Events team organized a barbershop quartet to serenade guests as they arrived at the venue, as waiters passed glasses of champagne alongside mugs of hot cider and cocoa.
“The feel of having the music and beverages greet people got them excited,” Casey says. “A nice warm welcome is always great.”
Creating ambience
During the event, music should be low-key so it doesn’t interfere with conversations, but it should still be recognizable and fun.
“Music sets the mood,” says Casey. “So you want to keep it tame, but you don’t want your guests to fall asleep! Especially the young crowd.”
Casey loves hiring a string trio or even a few horns and a soloist to perform modern music with melodies that guests will recognize. “Sinatra will always get people excited,” he says. Plus, the familiar tunes of Old Blue Eyes will maintain the party’s elegant vibe.
At Christmas, home decor can be “over the top” without appearing gauche. Casey loves mixing chrome and metallic decorations with natural elements like wood and glass for a festive but still homey look.
Polished noshing
Whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner for eight or a lavish cocktail party for 200, plan to have a few hors d’oeuvres for guests to nibble as soon as they arrive. “You definitely want to give guests something to start their appetites,” says Casey.
Regardless of party size or type, Casey suggests a classic charcuterie platter, stacked with cheeses and meats. For larger catered affairs, waiters passing trays of hors d’oeuvres will ensure that every guest grabs a bite.
Family spirit
“During the holiday season, people want to be around their families,” says Casey, noting that even a swanky black-tie event can incorporate some family-friendly elements.
“You can work in family traditions,” he suggests. “Maybe it’s a special sugar cookie that your grandmother used to make or an uncle’s secret special cocktail that you pass when guests arrive.”
Parents and children alike will be tickled by a special (supervised) room with activities for kids, from cookie decorating to visiting with Santa. Children will have a ball at their own party — and parents will appreciate the opportunity to mingle with ease.
Saying goodbye
As guests leave, offer them a small gift to take home, like a custom-designed Christmas ornament, a beautiful bag of cookies or candy, or a special recipe for something served at the party.

“Take-home favors serve as memorabilia,” says Casey.  

Small gifts offer guests the opportunity to reminisce about the party long after the last song has played.

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