Don’t Let Holiday Entertaining Overwhelm You

Here, six tips to simplify and beautify – on a budget.

Entertaining friends and family can be enjoyable and rewarding. But during the holidays it can sometimes feel more like obligation than option. It can also cost a fortune and leave you feeling frazzled and unfulfilled.

“The challenge with the holidays is that everyone is so busy trying to balance work with family and friend commitments. That means everything tends to be done in a panic at the very last minute – including your entertaining,” says Sebastien Centner, president and director of award-winning, Toronto-based Eatertainment, a catering and event planning company that hosts over 900 events a year, including for such celebrities as Martha Stewart, Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton.

There are, however, ways to reduce the stress and save money – without sacrificing the fun. Here are Sebastien’s top tips for budget-friendly holiday entertaining:

1) Consider brunch instead of dinner: Evening events can be a lot more work-intensive, plus people tend to get more evening invitations. So think daytime. “Brunch is really underrated, especially during the holidays,” says Sebastien. “Sundays are a great day to entertain because you have all weekend to prepare.” Brunches, he adds, also tend to involve less-expensive foods you can prepare ahead of time and which “hold well”. Plus they lend themselves to a self-serve format. Things like French toast, pancakes, eggs Benedict all work well. So does frying eggs sunny-side-up five at a time so they run together and can be cut like pizza wedges when served.

2) Ramp it up with a miniaturized brunch: “This is a little more labour intensive than a regular brunch, but it’s also more fun and stylish,” says Sebastien. Think mini French toast, mini fruit skewers, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel bites. That way, guests can enjoy small tastes of everything.

3) Include a Caesar and/or juice bar: Set up a self-serve area for drinks with different kinds of Clamato juice. Put out the glasses, vodka and garnishes and let people mix their own drinks. You can also include some sparkling white wine so guests can make Mamosas. Offer non-alcoholic options too, like fresh juices. “Having a self-serve bar will make the host’s job a lot less stressful.”

4) Do potluck: “My mother was a classic French Parisian woman who did a lot of entertaining and I learned everything from her,” says Sebastien. “If I had said ‘potluck’ within earshot of her she would give me that look and say ‘absolutely not! We don’t make guests bring their own food’.” Nevertheless, Sebastien is a fan of the potluck meal, especially during the holidays – with one caveat. It has to have a theme. “It could be Mexican or Spanish tapas, for example. You could have the Margaritas ready to go and ask your guests to be in charge of a starter, or dessert, or a side dish – all in the same theme,” he says. “Think of it as an experimental dinner. It’s fun because it has a theme.”

5) Signature cocktails: A fully stocked bar offering every option can easily top $250. So instead, Sebastien recommends creating one or two signature cocktails for your event, and adding a few other options, like wine and beer. “This feels special and shows you’ve gone out of your way as the host,” he says. “You can tell your guests, ‘this is our specialty cocktail we’ve created just for this occasion’.”

6) No need to forfeit decor: Beautiful table decorations don’t need to cost big bucks. Sebastien suggests bringing the outside in, by collecting things like small twigs, berries, crab apples, pine cones, acorns – anything you can find outdoors– and putting them in a large clear hurricane vase or similar vessel. Then add candles to the table. “Candles are so cheap and make everything look so elegant,” he says. No need for costly candle holders either. Just use what you have. Sebastien says rock glasses work beautifully.

“You have to enjoy your entertaining,” he says. “If you’re too stressed out it just takes away all the pleasure and you’re not going to want to do it.”