Five Ways to Be a Thoughtful Winter Party Hostess
Your winter social season doesn't have to be over when the ball drops on New Year's Eve—in many ways, the party has just begun. "This is my prime dinner party season," says Brenna Gilbert, the founder of the lifestyle brand and party planning company, Feste. "This is the peak game night period. Book club? Check. Movie night? I'm ready. Trudge in the snow with hot apple cider? Cook paella by the open fire? I'm there."
Taking a thoughtful, creative approach to winter entertaining also shouldn't be guest-count dependent, notes Gilbert—we might not be throwing packed gatherings, but going the extra mile, even for a humble few, is always appreciated. "I like to focus on comfort while entertaining this season," she says. "I think about what really feeds the soul and encourages lingering over the table and conversations with glasses of wine." Before you get to the good stuff, however, it's important to prepare your space and set the scene with your attendees' safety and comfort in mind. Ahead, how to do just that, according to Gilbert and Karli Spangler, owner and creative director of Ivory and Vine Event Co.
Counteract winter weather.
The shortest, coldest months of the year present two primary hazards to your party: snow and ice that cause dangerous slips and falls and early sunsets that add a dark, gloomy atmosphere. Tackle the first with careful snow removal and black-ice prevention. "If it's icy, make sure you salt—but not so much that party shoes are at risk of ruin," notes Gilbert, who suggests placing a discreet mat and some readily-available salt wipes in your foyer (this will protect your floors, she says, and encourage people to kick off any excess before delving further into your home).
Helping your guests see where they're going is key, too: "Double check that the timers on your exterior lights have been adjusted for daylight saving time (I know I just changed mine over two months late), so that everything is properly lit when guests arrive," adds Gilbert. Spangler affirms this and recommends adding solar-powered lighting to your walkway. "Lighting is an important factor when it comes to both safety and design," she says.
Handle shoes and coats with care.
Stop tossing everyone's coats in a haphazard pile on your guest bed and dedicate a spot to hanging and sorting winter wear instead. "Having readily available coat closets is an important way to take care of your guests—they don't want to be holding a coat in one hand while trying to balance a cocktail in the other," notes Spangler. If you don't have the closet space, Gilbert suggests dedicating an accessible retrieval spot. "Make sure it's clear where they are," she says. "Sometimes people need to grab personal items, and they prefer not to ask the host."
Entertaining outdoors? Get really creative.
Considering the state of the world, it's no wonder that more and more winter parties are happening outdoors. If you feel safer in open air but need to combat colder temperatures, Gilbert says to look to the many restaurants that pivoted to outdoor dining last winter—some did it right, while others "really missed the mark on true comfort and style." "You're not trying to replicate the indoor experience," continues Gilbert. "Instead, celebrate what makes dining al fresco fun! Innovate with playful seating—think faux fur throws for a glamping tailgate or rustic benches around the fire. And make sure there's a basket handy with extra hats, gloves, and scarves for your friends who under-dressed." Another pro tip to take out of doors? Chill your Champagne and cocktails in the snow, says Gilbert: "I like a whole martini bar styled in a snow bank."
Create a comprehensive, considerate menu.
Winter menus often focus on rich, warming comfort foods—roasts and root vegetables, creamy pastas and decadent desserts—but remember to add healthier options for balance. "People tend to eat more in the winter months as our bodies are working hard to regulate our temperature in the cold, but it's also important to consider those guests who either have dietary restrictions or are trying to eat lighter," says Spangler (Gilbert suggests bacon-wrapped scallop bites to start, followed by a big bowl of stew served with a few glasses of white Burgundy wine). With that in mind, it might be worth pivoting to a different winter party style, especially if the majority of your loved ones are prioritizing wellness. "A lot of people use this time of year to do a cleanse or reexamine their diet, but they're still eager to socialize," says Gilbert. "Get-togethers like movie nights, game nights, and book clubs give you a great platform to gather, regardless of where you are in your resolutions."
Craft a thoughtful ending.
While you're never obligated to send guests home with a token, choosing an item they can use at—and after—your party is a sweet detail. "Providing unique, cozy favors to your guests as a takeaway gift is another way to take care of them in inclement weather," says Spangler, who has offered pre-warmed, custom mittens to loved ones. Another sweet send-off? "If you're in a chilly climate, as guests are grabbing their things, pop out and start their cars for them so they are nice and toasty when they get in," suggests Gilbert.