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Easy Entertaining

A holiday fête without too much fret

As the holidays approach, we enter what many consider to be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most hectic. This season, cast aside some of that stress, even if it is your turn to turn out the annual dinner party. When the role of host falls to you, remember that with careful planning you can throw a fabulous holiday fête without too much fret. For tips on seamless entertaining, we consulted Jeffrey and Robin Selden of Marcia Selden Catering & Event Planning. The team has cooked up some creative ideas for your next holiday gathering.

Set the Scene

One of the nicest touches on this table are the flowers, which are as pleasing to the eye as they are easy to arrange. To create the look, the Seldens used two dozen single-stem vases. “I bunched them together to create a great look. Anyone can do it. It doesn’t get any simpler than this.”

To ease your hosting duties, set up a self-serve bar. Guests will like the idea, too, since they won’t have to wait for drinks. When entertaining in his home, Jeffrey always has a fully stocked bar. However, if you don’t want to go with a full bar, offer guests one specialty cocktail (Cable Car, anyone?) along with wine and champagne.

There are many ways to create a warm atmosphere for a dinner party. When the Seldens set this table, their goal was to come up with something that felt special enough for the holidays without looking too traditional. “We added plenty of crystal and white, including these votive candle holders, so it all feels festive,” says Robin.

Change It Up
Most of the pieces on the table are Jeffrey’s, although he did bring in a few new items—glasses, napkin rings and salt-and-pepper shakers from Juliska—to change up the look a bit. If there’s one thing missing here, it’s place cards. “I never tell anyone where to sit,” he says. “If someone tells me where to go, I usually sit somewhere else.”

Thoughtful extras on the table speak to your prowess as a host, and you can add them without much work. Nuts and breadsticks are always great additions, say the Seldens, who know guests like crunchy things to nibble before a meal. And they look great when displayed in good silver or a vase. If there’s one detail you shouldn’t stress about, it’s silverware. Says Robin, “There’s a lot to be said for the look and feel of good silver, but most people really just don’t notice it."

To create the right mood, refer to your menu as the food you serve dictates the tablescape. Because the Seldens have selected special-occasion dishes for this soirée, they’re going with a formal table. “If there’s a right time to pull out the good china, this is it,” says Jeffrey, who set this scene in his Weston home for our photo shoot. The Jean-Louis Coquet plates and Christofle silverware are elegant and classic. To add holiday sparkle and bling, Jeff mixes the formal place settings with placemats he bought at a holiday gift sale. “They’re festive and fun. To make a table special, it’s important to find a look that works for you.”

Create the Menu

Working with a Caterer
To avoid the stress of meal preparation, hire a caterer. It’s a great option, particularly for those who aren’t creative in the kitchen. More important, with a caterer on the scene, the hosts can enjoy their own party. The Seldens, who recently received an ACE award for excellence from Catersource, say it’s a good idea to consult with your caterer a few weeks prior to the event to nail down the menu. “The process will go smoothly if you think about your guests,” says Robin. “What do they like to eat? Does anyone have allergies? Are they healthy eaters? It’s not a good idea to serve only the food you like.”

Hors d’oeuvres
The holidays are about splurging and one of nicest ways to show your appreciation for guests is with the classic combination of blini and caviar. When served with champagne, it’s elegant and indulgent.

Food for Thought
For this party, the Seldens had elegant dishes in mind. “We start with lobster bisque because it’s rich and warm and great comfort food,” says Robin. “For the entrée, we chose rack of lamb because it’s definitely a special-occasion dish, as well as something few people cook for themselves at home. And many people don’t realize that it can be prepared in a light way. However, if you do a meat dish like this one, you might want to steer clear of a heavy dessert, such as cake. That’s why we went with a cheese course and selection of macarons instead.”

Work the Details

“It’s the element that really makes a great party, yet many people don’t even think about it,” says Jeffrey. He suggests tuning into something like the Rhapsody subscription music service. “It’s so easy. It picks the music for you.”

When do you move from cocktails to the dinner table? “That depends on how well you know your guests,” says Jeffrey. “If they’re acquaintances, serve drinks for an hour and then eat. If they’re good friends, you can wait longer. My friends run late so cocktail hour is 90 minutes.”

Making Space
Some people won’t even entertain the idea of throwing a party because they think they don’t have enough room. “The problem is many people are afraid to move furniture around,” says Jeffrey. He also encourages his clients to get creative with their home space. “My wife and I have dinner parties in our foyer instead of the dining room. It works and there’s something nice about entertaining in a new space. Be unconventional in your thoughts.”

What do you do with the food your guests don’t eat? Follow the Seldens’ lead and donate to a local nonprofit like Community Plates. This Norwalk-based organization delivers surplus food to many families in need.