15 things party planners do to make their holiday event a no-brainer success

A blue banner with small snowflakes in the background and white print that says How to Holiday, Presented by Capital One
A table top created by party planner Ellie Nottoli.
Ellie Nottoli, a party planner serving clients in the Midwest, sets a table for a holiday dinner party. elliestyled
  • Party planners Ellie Nottoli and Michiel Perry have shared tips for hosting a successful holiday gathering.
  • They suggested decor that lasts all season and home-cooked food with premade options.
  • This article is part of the “How to Holiday” series, which highlights the best ways to embrace and prepare for the festive season.  

The holiday season is here, which means revelers are bringing their holiday decor down from the attic, tweaking their recipes, and sending out their holiday invites.

For many, this will be the first holiday party they’ve planned in years.

To help hosts ease back into the season, here are 15 tips from professional party planners for creating a welcoming, successful holiday party. 

1. A successful party ultimately comes down to the basics: good food and drink

Ellie Nottoli, the owner of elliestyled, a party planning and lifestyle business, told Insider that the key to your guests’ hearts is through their stomachs. When you’re party planning, pay extra attention to the food and drinks you’ll be serving. 

“I think being a good host goes down to the basics: food and drink,” she said. “I always teach my children that when someone feeds you or when someone makes something for you or cooks for you, it’s the ultimate form of ‘I love you.'”

Focus on those two elements, and your party is bound to be successful, she said. 

2. Start ordering everything now

The country is currently experiencing a supply-chain crisis, Insider previously reported. For party hosts, that means some of your items might not be available or could take longer to ship.

Michiel Perry, the founder of Black Southern Belle, a lifestyle brand, urges hosts to start ordering everything they need for their event now. 

“You really can’t assume anything is available or will reach you in time, so it’s best to start shopping now,” she told Insider. 

If something isn’t available, be flexible. Your guests won’t know you had to swap turkey for chicken or change your color scheme, so be adaptable, and don’t stress if everything isn’t available, she said.  

3. Repurpose items you already have

A vase can turn into a champagne bucket and old curtains can be makeshift table linens. 

By repurposing the items you already have, you’re going to save money, Perry said. Plus, you won’t have to worry about items being out of stock.

Perry suggested starting the planning process by going through your home and seeing what could already work for the party you’re hosting.

If there’s anything you need, you can source it from friends and stores. 

4. Add personalized touches

A table top created by party planner Ellie Nottoli.
A holiday-themed tablescape created by Ellie Nottoli. elliestyled

No matter the theme of your event, adding personalized touches to your party will make it unforgettable, Nottoli said. 

It could be something simple like handmade children’s ornaments on a Christmas tree or dusting off antique dishware in your China cabinet. 

“We often have stacks of plates that we’ve inherited from our grandma, or maybe we found at a thrift store, and I encourage people to pull out their pretty plates or their pretty glassware and use them,” she said

“It just offers that really beautiful level of sentimentality to a holiday table,” she said.

5. Don’t feel pressured to cook everything

A table top created by party planner Ellie Nottoli.
A dessert table at one of Ellie Nottoli’s parties. elliestyled

It can feel overwhelming to cook every single dish that you’re planning for your holiday party, so don’t do it, Perry said.

Instead, brainstorm a few ways you can create individualized additions to a premade entree. For example, you could buy a rotisserie chicken and add your own homemade glaze.

“Cooking everything is very stressful,” she said. “I like to suggest going half homemade, half premade to take some stress off of the event, but it will still feel like you made something.”

6. If your event is catered, check with your go-to caterers 

Menus may have changed, costs could be higher, and a labor shortage could mean that your favorite caterer doesn’t operate the same way they did pre-pandemic. 

Perry said to connect with your caterer as early as possible to make sure they offer everything you need for your event. 

7. Gauge your guests’ comfort levels

Nottoli said she’s seen her clients lean toward smaller, more intimate events this holiday season since many people are still concerned about the ongoing pandemic. 

From COVID comfort levels to dietary restrictions, Perry said it’s important to communicate expectations and “create a space that allows your guests to share their party preferences.”

Depending on everyone’s comfort levels, you can adjust elements of your event, Nottoli said. Consider having a plated dinner instead of a buffet or single-serving appetizers. 

8. Tailor the event to your guest list

Christmas decor created by Ellie Nottoli.
Gingerbread houses at one of Ellie Nottoli’s parties. elliestyled

Nottoli said it’s crucial to consider your guest list when planning a party. 

“To understand the audience, that’s everything,” Nottoli said. “Is it a cocktail party? Is it adults only? Is it black tie or family-oriented and kid-friendly?”

For example, at one family holiday party Nottoli is planning this year, she said she’s skipping the signature cocktail and opting for a gingerbread-house station instead. The children at the party will have something to do and adults can relive their childhood a bit. 

9. Purchase decor that will last all season long

When Nottoli plans events inside people’s homes, she brainstorms ways that the decor can seamlessly transition from a Thanksgiving dinner to a Christmas party and into the New Year. 

One of her favorite decor tips is using greenery and evergreen branches.

“I think evergreen is a brilliant way to save a coupe buck and have your space come alive,” she said. “You can use it on your mantle, cut sprigs and place it in bud vases, or use a sprig and twine to tie a napkin. There are just so many uses for it.”

10. If you’re looking to save money but want extravagant decor, consider renting big pieces

Nottoli and her team at elliestyled offer decor like tabletops and pre-lit Christmas trees for clients to rent.

Nottoli’s team isn’t the only decor rental service. Many event and party planners offer a similar service, Nottoli said.

Renting a few oversized items creates an extravagant event without an over-the-top cost, Nottoli said. 

11. Start cleaning weeks in advance

Hosting a party at your home is the ideal excuse to do some deep cleaning, Perry said. 

A few weeks before the date of the party, start drafting a list of everything you need to clean, Perry said.

It might be dusting — something Perry always forgets to do — or cleaning your baseboards. 

By making a to-do list in advance, you can slowly check off an item every few days leading up to the event. 

12. Do everything you can the night before the party

A productive prep day is a critical component of a successful holiday event, Perry said. 

When Perry hosts a party, she says she does as much as she possibly can the day before. She makes sure her home is clean, the food is ready, and her decor is in its perfect spot. Perry will even do small tasks like setting the table or putting out trash cans the night before. 

“The more you can do the night before, the better,” she said. 

Friends roast marshmallows at a holiday party.
Friends roast marshmallows at a holiday party. M_a_y_a/Getty Images

13. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and family for help

“You don’t have to party plan alone,” Perry said.

Perry said that learning to accept help from others was a challenge for her, but it’s worth it in the end. 

Plus, if you’re hosting a party for friends and family, chances are, they’re happy to help, Perry said. 

An outdoor holiday party.
An outdoor holiday party. M_a_y_a/Getty Images

14. Get creative with how you use your space

COVID is still a concern for many people, so consider moving your party outdoors, Nottoli and Perry suggested.

Perry lives in the South, so it’s typically warm enough to host her 100-person holiday party outside. But Nottoli, who plans events in the Midwest, has also hosted plenty of outdoor events in the thick of winter, she said.

For example, last year she helped a grandmother coordinate a family get-together with outdoor igloos, heaters, and bonfires. 

“We created this winter wonderland,” she said. “People are really looking outside of their dining rooms to create spaces and opportunities to gather where it feels a little bit more comfortable and safe.” 

15. If you can, splurge on a post-party cleaning service

Perry said it’s always a huge weight off her shoulders when she knows she’s budgeted for a cleaning service the next morning.

If it’s not in the budget, try to clean a little before and during the party and, again, don’t be afraid to accept help, Perry said.

“Oftentimes, people really do want to help with the cleanup. So just accept the help,” she said.