Q&A: Holiday Party Planning with Shannon Wellington

A Chadds Ford-based event planner shares tips to make these seasonal events a breeze.



Shannon Wellington

Shannon Wellington

The holiday season is a great time to gather with family and friends, and a holiday party is often an ideal way to get everyone together at one time. No matter how joyful, parties come with lots of stress, regardless of the size or amount of help. To ensure it runs smoothly, planning ahead is essential. Shannon Wellington, a Chadds Ford resident and owner of Shannon Wellington Weddings and Events, offers her advice.

MLT: How can the host enjoy the party, stress-free?

SW: Plan ahead and outsource. Plan your food and drink menu in advance and order out so that you can heat up and serve quickly. The last thing you want is to be in the kitchen all day and too tired to talk to your guests. Also, let people help you. If guests offer to bring something, let them. If you need to hire help, there’s catering, cleaning, serving and planning services out there.

MLT: How do you pick a party theme and decorate accordingly?

SW: A theme is a great way to get your guests in the spirit. Decide on one early and communicate it via your invitation. Use it to inspire your décor and entertainment. An Ugly Christmas Sweater party is a fun way to get all your guests dressed up and is a great excuse to host a Best Dressed contest. You could provide silly props like reindeer antlers and blinking red noses and a wrapping paper backdrop for a fun selfie station.  

MLT: What are some classic decorations?

SW: Keep decorations simple. Collections of décor are great conversation starters, whether it’s your vintage ornaments or Santas from around the world. Bringing the outdoors in works especially well this time of year. Green garlands and birch logs are beautiful on their own or dressed up with white twinkle lights.

MLT: How can you set the mood?

SW: Turn overhead and task lights off. Create a festive atmosphere with twinkle lights and loads of candlelight. There’s something magical about a room lit by just a Christmas tree. Keep the music playing softly and let the aroma of your hard work in the kitchen set the stage.

MLT:  What type of activities should there be at a holiday party?

SW: Gift swaps and contests are left best to smaller affairs. For larger events, good food, good music and good conversation are all you need.

MLT: How do you tactfully tell guests that children aren’t allowed?

SW: Adding a simple “Adults Only” line to your invitation should suffice. Also keep in mind the time of your party. A cocktail party at 8 p.m. implies that children would not be the ideal guests. Since childcare is tough to find for some, you may have those who assume it’s okay to bring them. The best thing to do is have a conversation with your friends with children. By asking about their childcare options and remaining firm that it is an adults-only affair, you can save on hurt feelings and miscommunications.

Ten Party Planning Tips

Plan space accordingly. “Your kitchen may be the heart of your home, but during a party, it’s too busy for guests to be mingling. Set up food displays and stations throughout the rest of the house to keep the flow moving.”

Make fun food. “Consider offering food and wine pairings or tastings of locally sourced cheeses and meats.”

Prepare signature drinks. “A classic punch never goes out of style. Plus, you’ll spend less time refilling glasses.”

Prepare inventory. “Assign a dish and serving utensil to every dish ahead of time. Be sure that your linens are ironed, the silver is polished and the crystal is clear a few days before your event.”

Mind the music. “A great soundtrack can make your party. Using a playlist or favorite station is a great hands-off solution.”

Set a pretty table. “Whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner party or cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, your table décor should be simple and festive. Groups of branches and berries or vases filled with shiny vintage ornaments would be great statement pieces.”

Photo via Shari's Berries is licensed under CC by 2.0

Un-man the bar. “Unless playing bartender is your spouse’s thing, a self-service bar is the way to go. Buckets filled with ice can house a few wine bottles and varieties of beer. A few different bottles of liquor with your favorite mixers can be displayed, as well.”

Check your list twice. “Three master lists should accompany every party: guest list, menu, and shopping list. Check your cabinets for any ingredient you may already have. Divide your shopping list up among various departments or specialty markets. Most importantly, keep the lists on you.”

Set the stage. “The night before your event, stage all of your food and drink displays. Put out your linens and arrange everything you can ahead of time. Use notes to label platters and dishes so you’ll know exactly where each dish goes.”

Set aside “me” time. “Build in time before the party to get dressed, light candles and have a sip of wine.”

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