A guide to making the most of it

These days, it’s easy to send a bunch of evites and call it a day. But making sure your guests are happy and the evening is memorable (in a good way) takes a little groundwork. There’s already more than enough advice about how to set a table or address an invitation, so we’ve left the etiquette to Emily Post. Here are a few tips for making sure your party is the highlight of their holidays.


It’s the most important way to set the mood for celebration. The good news is that it’s also the easiest thing to effect. If you have dimmers on your lights, you’ll want to turn them all down. If you don’t, turn off all the overhead fixtures and keep just your lamps going. Next: light candles. Lots of them. And if you have a chimney, a roaring fire never hurts. 


Before the big night, pick up a bottle of something special to serve as guests arrive. It’s a gesture that will make them feel appreciated and kick off the evening on the right note. Think a limited-edition Scotch whiskey. (Johnny Walker Blue Label never fails to impress.) Or a bottle of port produced in the birth year of the guest of honor. A bonus side effect? A tipple (or two) always helps get the conversation flowing.


There’s definitely an art to choosing party tunes, and it’s not something you want to leave to chance. Choose a few albums that put you in the mind for celebrating and cue everything up before your shindig begins. There are a few old (and new) standards that are worth having in rotation. A classic crooner like Billy Eckstein is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The album “Getz/Gilberto” is a masterpiece of mood-lifting music straight from the “Mad Men” era. Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra always inject some energy into any gathering, and Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” is a modern rallying cry for merry-makers. The most important thing? Having the soundtrack lined up so you don’t have to man the iPod all night.


Being a good host is about more than being gracious. There’s also a bit of showmanship involved if you do it right. So bring a bit of drama to the dinner table. Carve the turkey in front of your guests. Or serve a flambéed dessert. It can deceptively simple (Bananas Foster is just bananas, sugar, butter and rum, essentially), but when you blow out the candles and the plate is swirling with blue flames, your guests will remember it as the best dish they’ve ever tasted. If you really want to impress, saber a bottle of champagne. (Here’s a how-to from T Magazine.) Or add your own spin to the tradition. Just make sure it’s memorable.


It may sound obvious, but it really does make a difference. A subtle touch, say a punchy tartan bow tie, helps put your guests at ease and encourages them to follow your lead and let their hair down, so to speak. If you’re feeling daring, a plaid jacket or trouser is a colorful way to say, “Let the revelry begin.” Or you can opt for a more laid back nod to the holidays—a Fair Isle sweater under a cord jacket, perhaps. One last thing: these are all accent pieces. When you choose one that works for you, keep the rest of your look toned down. (Read: they should never be worn all together. Ever.)


It’s your party, afterall. With a little foresight and planning beforehand, you can kick back and enjoy yourself when the big night arrives. A happy host makes for happy guests, and being the man of the hour has a big upside.


As a rule, you should always bring a gift when you’re going to a party. If you’re picking up wine, ask the host what’s on the menu before deciding what to bring. Or treat them to something they can enjoy beyond that evening. Say, a candle (in a scent they like). Or a flask embossed with their initials. They’ll let you know it’s appreciated when you get the next invitation in your mailbox.