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5 Hints for Holiday Hosting

Hosting a holiday soiree is a great way to gather all your friends and family and celebrate the season. And while an evening of good conversation and even better food is always on the itinerary, you want your guests walking away with something more than a full stomach—you want to leave them with a memory that will last long after the New Year.

To help you host a memorable and magical evening, we asked professional butler Clarence McLeod for his top hosting tips. With more than 25 years of experience in elite royalty and celebrity service (including serving as a personal “Aide de Camp” to Queen Elizabeth during her Jubilee visit to Fairmont Gold Winnipeg in 2012), McLeod, the general manager of Azuridge Estate Hotel in Alberta, is also credited as the only Guilded Butler in Canada. He chatted with HOSS about the five etiquette tips every host should know.

The invite

The first factor of any great party is the invitation. And, although we live in the age of e-vites, e-mail and Facebook chat groups, McLeod says taking the time to create a special invite is worth the extra effort. “There’s power in the invite,” he says. “But it needs to be dramatic. Do something like deliver a martini glass with your favourite martini recipe inside. Just be creative.”

Know your menu

Obviously food is a first on many a host’s lists, but taking the time to really plan a menu is a must, says McLeod. Not only will it set the culinary tone of the evening, but it will also dictate how your place settings will fall into place. “For instance,” he says, “If lobster or other seafood is on your menu as an appetizer, you’ll need to be sure to include lobster forks on the table. Your place setting complements the menu.”

Sit pretty

Everyone has that one friend or relative who is super quiet. Then there’s the rowdy one who just can’t stop talking. Instead of leaving your guests to sit by happenstance, select their seating based on what guests will complement each other. “If you have an awkward friend or relative, put them beside what I call the politician of the group—the person who can relate to anyone and make them feel comfortable,” says McLeod. Also, he adds, if you have more than six guests at your table, use name cards. “This ensures your seating plan is executed.”

Background music

Every great party is only complete with a playlist that either gets people moving or sets the tone for a calming, sophisticated dinner. Another plus? It fills the air—and awkward silence—when it occurs. “Just make sure your music is in line with the tone of your menu and party,” says McLeod. “And try to select holiday music that is void of religious undertones.”

Loot bags

Remember, when you were a kid and went to birthday parties and you were given a bag of goodies simply for attending? Grab bags aren’t just for kids; in fact, if you want to give your guests something to remember you by, actually give them something to remember you by. A decorative ornament for each guest is a fun gift after a holiday party comes to a close, for example. “Make your takeaway creative,” says McLeod. “That way it’ll bring back the memory of your party and encourage your guests to talk about the event.”

Cocktail Catastrophe

If you’re attending a party this holiday season, heed this advice from McLeod: do not bring your cocktail glass to the dinner table! “It will overcrowd the place setting your host has set up for you and it will interfere with the wine pairings the host has chosen with the meal,” he says. “Your host probably won’t say anything to you, but she will be offended. And, at the very least, will shoot you some dirty looks.”

-by Rachel Naud