Planning a Great Holiday Party

November 20, 2011

TO: All News Media
FROM: Joe McElroy, 630-355-3151
Kristina Taheri, 312-972-4770

RE: Guests for dinner: How to pull off a memorable holiday party

Planning a holiday dinner party? You don’t have to be a professional planner to pull off a successful event, but some advice from a pro can help.

Like the entrée itself, the party depends on good ingredients.
Here are six key ingredients for a memorable evening that even newbies can pull off, says Kristina Taheri, an event planner who has organized events ranging from intimate dinners for 12 to huge galas and $500,000 weddings. Her career has spanned both coasts and she has recently launched a new venture in Chicago.

The guest list: Mix new and old friends to keep your event lively and the conversation flowing. Although place cards at the dinner table are advisable, they are not always mandatory, depending upon the type and scope of the party. Ideally you should get those invitations out four to six weeks in advance during the holiday season, but expect 10-20 percent of your invitees to decline due to conflicts with other seasonal events.

The Cocktails: Make sure all guests have a drink of their choice, alcohol, or non-alcoholic, within 10 minutes of arriving. A drink in the hand gives a shy guest something to do, and wets the whistle of those who are busy talking.

If your budget allows, hire a bartender. Even for a group of 10-12, this will do wonders for your own enjoyment of the party, and when you are relaxed and having fun, your guests will be more at ease, too. If you forgo the bartender, simplify your cocktail menu with a manageable variety of drinks. Be sure to serve dinner within 90 minutes of the start of your cocktail hour. Over-served guests can create chaos at the table.

The Music: Live music is always fantastic, but you could give a music-savvy friend the task of creating a new play list with three to five hours of tunes. You can give them a few adjectives to describe the effect you want your party to have. Always have music playing but don’t overpower your guest’s conversations.

The Ambience: Table decorations could be branches, blossoms, fruit or any design element with a certain amount of character. For example, tall, Manzanita branches strung with white cymbidium orchids and hanging crystals, set atop a dramatic black tablecloth, along with your etched glassware, creates a striking, sophisticated centerpiece.

Your guests will also appreciate fun, thoughtful or clever table landscapes, which may include items such as colored goblets, antique bowls, cattails, gold-sprayed gourds, magnolia leaves and other seasonal elements. Adding a heavy dose of layered and dimmed lighting, along with lots of candles, is key to having your home look good.

The Menu: Try to be considerate of your guest’s dietary restrictions. Whether you go local or exotic with your menu plan, avoid last minute dish preparations and frantic kitchen clean up. Organize your menu well in advance; unless you are a top chef, avoid complicated, Julia Child-inspired recipes.

The Small Details: Don’t forget to light a candle and put out fresh hand towels in the powder room. For a holiday party, it is always stylish to have your guests depart with a warm feeling and a small memento of their evening.

You could offer them a wrapped tree ornament inscribed with their name, or a small plate of homemade holiday cookies or candy encased in clear wrap and tied with a festive ribbon.

Got all that? Most important, take a few breaths during the evening, and enjoy seeing your guests enjoy themselves. If something small goes wrong, no one is likely to notice but you.


Kristina Taheri has a master’s degree in management from the Statler Hotel School at Cornell University and was an event planner for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City before founding Kristina Taheri Special Events in San Francisco in 2003. A native of Naperville, Taheri is now based in Hinsdale. For more information, call 312-972-4770, email or visit

Centerpiece: Tall Manzanita branches strung with white cymbidium orchids and hanging crystals, set atop a dramatic black tablecloth, create a striking, sophisticated centerpiece.

Lighting: Whether your dinner party is for 10 or 40, spending time on the lighting will ensure that a festive mood is set. Here crystal goblets catch the reflection of votives and tall chandeliers.

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