With autumn in full swing and the holiday season beckoning for festivity, November poses the perfect time to host a Holiday Open House. Not quite a cocktail party and certainly not for happy hour hoodlums, a Holiday Open House is one of the most appealing events to attend, and even more fun to host.
The host never has to envision poor attendance because the lure of being able to “just stop by” makes it an easy invitation to accept. Even if guests have already committed to another event, they can still attend, share some merriment, and never feel a twinge of guilt for leaving early. Speaking from experience, when I decided to label a party “A Holiday Open House,” it was the first time everyone who was invited attended. All 75 invitees walked through our door that evening, and never did we feel overwhelmed. Why? Because they came as they pleased. The revolving door was just that – revolving all night.
Some guests came en route to a dinner party, others returned after the obligatory office event, and those we were closest to graced us with their presence all evening long. Social gatherings are so California-casual all year that by the time fall descends upon our weary souls, everyone seems ripe for an evening of “me time” to dress up, even if that just means actually ironing your favorite Hawaiian shirt. While we all can’t look like classic Audrey Hepburn, rest assured every version of the little black dress will be dusted off to stroll sassily into that first holiday soirée.
Whether one chooses to cater with passed hors d’oeuvres or serve self-made concoctions, the easy-to-eat-in-one-bite finger food rule is imperative. Someone needs to bartend if you don’t hire a mixologist, and if you decide to go alcohol-free, dress up your party by serving sparkling anything in flutes or wine glasses, garnished with small raspberries. When your accoutrements are fine-tuned, protocol suggests the behavior of your guests will follow suit.
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of a fun and fabulous open house:
For the Host:
• Invitations. Since a Holiday Open House indicates a come-and-go quality, be prepared for a good showing. Feel free to over-invite. If you wish to make it an adult soirée, include requested attire on the invite (holiday or cocktail is appropriate), and this is the time to add “and guest,” not “and family.” Always request RSVPs, but don’t take them for granted. Successful hosts will contact invitees that haven’t responded for an accurate headcount.
• Furnishings and decor. Don’t stress. Keep trimmings simple; your guests are the adornments. Lighting and music are your best props, but don’t overwhelm guests by blasting your favorite tunes. Let conversations be abundant and let music be the backdrop. Don’t worry about seating for everyone, as it encourages guests to mix and mingle.
• Be well rested. You are the glue that holds a party together. People will be coming and going, so as much as you’d like to sit and chat with your best friend in the corner, realize you will be “on” all night. Give yourself time to relax before guests arrive. Some hosts indulge in a “dressing drink” while others find a moment to meditate.
• Keep conversation civil. At an open house, crowded works. When your house is buzzing, you can forget about entertaining each and every guest. Keep conversations on the upside, try not to engage in controversy, and always leave yourself open to exit a conversation graciously at a moment’s notice when someone new arrives, especially if they don’t know anyone there.
For the Guest:
• RSVP! Please give your host the courtesy of a regret or acceptance and stay true to your RSVP. If your situation changes, let the host know immediately and don’t show up with unexpected friends.
• Upon arrival. An open house environment is truly a revolving door scenario, and it’s not always the host manning the welcome door. Seek out the host to say hello before you get a drink or bite to eat. If you bring a hostess gift, keep it simple – flowers in a vase or a simple trinket.
• Don’t overstay. If the invitation had an end time, stick to it. It’s your responsibility to thank your host and say goodnight, even if they’re engaged in another conversation and cannot walk you to the door. Be gracious. Be brief. Be gone.
• Send a post-party thank you. Yes, there are some things that never grow old. It goes without saying that a host appreciates a thank you note, e-mail, or text within a week of the party. A lot of planning, thought, and effort is put into hosting a night of fun. So few people send notes that when you do, it will elicit a smile, a remembrance, and most likely a first invitation to their next exciting soiree!
Abella Carroll is a freelance writer