Maybe you’re the event planner for your company, charged with rustling up holiday revelry (on a budget). Perhaps you’re the go-to party planner for your family, responsible for putting the “happy” in “happy holidays.” Two different audiences, but a lot of the detail work is the same.
We asked event planner extraordinaire, The Gables at Chadds Ford’s Banquet Manager Kelly Donahue, for simple ways to mount a memorable holiday gathering. Bonus: These top tips will take the stress out of your party planning.
“It’s never too early to plan a holiday party,” Kelly emphasized. “Everyone gets so busy over the holidays, so when you schedule something a few months out, everyone will be sure to put it on their calendars. If you wait too long, people will have made other plans.
“It’s the same thing with the day of the week,” she continued. “If you let people know a few months in advance that your party is on a Thursday, they’ll plan for it; they’ll come no matter what day it is.”
Here are more of Kelly’s tips:
1. Find Just the Right Decor
Those planning office parties generally don’t want to budget for decorations, so look for a venue that’s halls will already be decked. For example, The Gables decorates the banquet room with a Christmas tree, lots of greenery and poinsettias. Add some candlelight for evening affairs and your own small poinsettias for centerpieces and you’re ready to go. This is also a money-saver for family party budgets, too. Families can impress with personal touches, such as photos of those who are no longer with us, or weaving in traditions, such as The Elf on the Shelf or favorite family foods. Most families are looking for together time, and a good event coordinator will steer you away from the expenses of live music or a premium bar and toward the little details that will mean something to those in attendance.
2. Be Flexible on Food
Your guests will remember a lot about your holiday party, but they’ll especially remember what was served. A good venue will have multiple menu options to accommodate any budget. Consider your crowd and budget and work with the venue’s party planner to think outside the formal sit-down meal. There’s nothing wrong with a more formal event if the budget will bear it, but you can also infuse your party with the “wow factor” and have a cocktail party. You can serve appetizers, desserts and drinks while everyone mingles. Another “in-between” option is a food station setup. At The Gables, that could include passed hors d’oeuvres, a shrimp and grits station, a taste of Tuscany station and a cheesesteak station — casual, but fulfilling!
3. Use Touches of Fun
It’s a holiday party, so your theme is set! One way to create fun is to offer a specialty cocktail. Pro tip: A specialty cocktail doesn’t have to be a budget-buster. The Gables offers The Poinsettia: Champagne with Chambord or pomegranate juice. The same drink can be served as a mocktail by substituting seltzer for the Champagne. If you’re working with a modest budget, you can restrict the rest of the bar to beer, wine and soft drinks only and still impress.
4. Insist on Service
An ideal venue will have tenured staff who are enthusiastic, friendly and efficient. From the first inquiry to post-party cleanup, events staff should be responsive, flexible and available to answer questions. It’s also helpful to know that a venue’s events staff has worked different types of parties, which means they have a depth of knowledge and experience that will help you plan a memorable affair. Ask questions when scoping out venues to find the best, most helpful event staffers.
5. Beware This Red Flag
Service is a key part of your holiday party, so if you receive slow replies from the venue’s events staff, take note. If they don’t reach back out to you within a day to discuss details, then consider looking elsewhere. The way they reply to the inquiry is indicative of how they’ll handle the rest of your important details. One way to vet this in advance is to check out review websites for banquet parties. Venues have no say as to what guests write, nor can they edit those reviews. They’re a good way to get a sense of a venue’s service, food and vibe.
The Gables at Chadds Ford is nestled in the heart of the historic Brandywine Valley. Our combination of fresh seasonal cuisine, rustic yet elegant charm and enchanting outdoor dining will keep you coming back time and time again. The Gables is also the perfect venue to host your next special event, whether you are planning a wedding, rehearsal dinner, baby shower or corporate event.
Featured photo: MGM Photography; all other photos, top to bottom: The Gables at Chadds Ford (next two photos); Ed Williams (next two photos); MGM Photography