Will 2021 be the year of the beloved holiday dinner party’s return? Small parties are trending this year. But even if you do plan on downsizing your party to keep it more intimate this holiday season, the tiniest of gatherings still call for proper prep, from cocktails and food to decor and mood music. As the master of your domain, the responsibility falls on you to cultivate an inviting atmosphere for your guests.
CB2, The Cut, and Domino recently hosted a private virtual sit-down with interior designer Mat Sanders (whose most recent projects include Miley Cyrus’ home), Domino deputy editor Julie Vadnal, artist and chef DeVonn Francis and DJ Mia Moretti to get their fresh take on 2021 holiday hosting.
On How to Know You’ve Thrown a Succesful Holiday Party
“A sign of success is how your attendees change and evolve.” – DeVonn Francis
“Get your guests involved. My advice is to lean on people’s interests and abilities. Don’t be afraid to ask them to participate in your event, whether it’s helping you make a cocktail, asking them to wear a special color or look the part by dressing in a period piece. People always rise to that challenge.” – Julie Vadnal
“Planning is key. Then again, it’s also OK to not stick to the plan. Don’t become so obsessed with how you plan something that you get stuck. Observe how people are feeling and pivot as you need to. As a DJ that’s one of the most qualities to have. I use my intuition to observe how people are reacting and if something isn’t working, that’s OK and I move on to the next thing. I also enjoy giving my guests a task to get them engaged. I like to ask guests to help me set the table or light the candles. I was recently at a party and the hostess handed me the plates and asked me to set the table. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’ It makes your guests feel like this is our night, rather than your night.” – Mia Moretti
On Curating a Small Party and Putting Your Magic Touch on the Night
“I always encourage people to share more of their personality, culture and history when they are styling or preparing a menu. A dinner party is like a page in a journal. It’s a chance to show people, ‘This is a who I am,’ and especially as a chef. I’m always leaning into my Caribbean heritage, like serving food on banana leaves. It’s always a great conversation starter.” – DeVonn Francis
“For music, play a live recording of something. It brings life into the room because you can hear the applause or the background noise. It takes guests out of their element and puts them in the moment. You want your party to be an experience — an escape from the mundane.” – Mia Moretti
“Whenever you travel, pick up small things here and there that can bring unique style to your space.” – Mat Sanders
On Their Party Prep Must-Haves
“The objects that electrify you and carry the story of who you are and where you’ve been. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and my family has passed things down to me that I love to bring into my events.” – DeVonn Francis
“I want to enjoy my own party. The worst party to me, is me slaving over a stove. I love creating a margarita station or making a batch of margaritas so guests can pour their own drink and I can enjoy my own party. I love serveware that’s super functional since I don’t have a lot of space in my apartment. I’ll serve dessert in a martini glass or drink wine out of anything! I collect charcuterie boards and little bowls and vessels — easy serving pieces. I’ll put sandwiches on a cake stand.” – Juli Vadnal
“The layout of your room is really important. People always congregate somewhere. If you are noticing that people are going into a corner or that they can’t interact with other guests easily — like the chairs are too far away — it’s important to notice that and pay attention and adjust it. Pull up a bench so your guests feel at home. Be an observer.” – Mia Moretti
On Planning the Guest List
“In addition to space, it’s important to have people present who are good at reading a room. Sometimes I like to ask a friend to be the ‘connector’ for the evening — someone who is charismatic and who knows who’s coming to the party and can manage guest introductions. These ‘connectors’ are important fixtures in events for me. Sometimes it takes an hour for someone to feel comfortable to jump into a conversation.” – DeVonn Francis
On Seating in Small Spaces
“Try stylish stackable stools that could be used for other things or pillows on the floor. There’s something fun about sitting on the floor – it feels slightly irreverent.” – Julie Vadnal
On Keeping Guests From Conregating in the Kitchen
“Watch the volume of music. No one will want to congregate in the living room if you’re blasting music. You have the whole evening to go. Start with something guests can bop a little, but still have a conversation. And no repeating playlists — keep it moving!” – Mia Moretti
“Remember that a party is a living thing. Feed it based on what it needs to keep the energy and vibe going.” – Mat Sanders
DeVonn Francis’s Go-To Holiday Cocktail
Swipe a lime wedge around the rim of your coupe glass and lightly press the edge of the glass into the YWxMM Black Citrus Salt. Set rimmed glass aside.
Shake lime juice, mezcal, Chartreuse, agave, and egg white in a cocktail shaker (or in a tightly lidded 1-quart glass jar) until frothy (about 1 minute). Fill shaker with ice, cover, and shake again until outside of shaker is frosty (about 30 seconds).
Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lime twist.