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Ask Chinae: ‘How Do You Keep Costs Reasonable When Hosting for the Holidays?’

by Chinae Alexander

My job during the holidays at home was always to set the table and help my very non-crafty mother make it look moderately presentable. Cue me picking up leaves in our backyard (probably covered in dog pee) to make an elaborate tablescape. Yes, I was an 8-year-old Martha Stewart prodigy. My hosting/event planning skills took a backseat for the majority of my teen and college years (replaced by boys and discovering rum and diets), and didn’t reappear until I started my own event planning company about three and a half years ago. So today, I’m sharing some of my knowledge with you dear reader on how to become the host with the most this holiday season.

How do you stock a bar for a party—beer and wine, a punch bowl, a signature cocktail?


I always try to get a sense of what the “hot” type of liquor is at the moment… like, currently all my friends have taken to tequila (or mezcal for my most well-heeled companions). I make sure to buy the makings of a few variations of a cocktail using that type of liquor. For example, the mixings to make a fun grapefruit margarita but then also stock soda water and fresh limes and lemons for those who have a more simple approach to their debauchery. Then providing a seasonal beer and some wine is always a good idea. Don’t feel pressured to have a full bar… if people really have a taste for something specific, they will likely bring it to share.

How do you deal with family around the holidays who believe different things than you?


Is drinking a lot of wine a bad answer? KIDDING (sort of). As an only child to two VERY CONSERVATIVE parents, I used to love sparring about politics or social issues with my family when I was younger, because I felt my responsibility was to change their minds. As time has gone on, I realize that my responsibility is to live my truth, be kind, but also my main job is to love them. So for now, I’ve decided that holding in my desire to scream “BLUE WAVE” as the potatoes are passed is probably the way to go. Also, I’ve learned that a walk around the block and a lush Malbec really helps alleviate family frustrations. Also, knowing that you get to go back to your own house when the festivities wrap up, that’s also pretty great.  

How do you keep costs reasonable when hosting?


The best way to keep costs down when entertaining is asking everyone to bring something to share. People often WANT to bring something anyway, because who doesn’t like getting compliments on their ricotta squash tarts? But seriously, don’t let finances keep you from bringing people together. The togetherness is the important thing. If you can’t afford to cook a multi-course meal, just do an arrangement of snacks.  One great place I like to shop for lower-priced snacks and party food is Trader Joes. Their cheeses and charcuterie are the least expensive and they have a lot of accompaniments that look fancy but aren’t going to break the bank. Another way to save is to decorate with cut greenery rather than fresh flowers. Filler greenery tends to be A LOT less expensive, and still looks great when all together. Also, getting a lot of tea lights always, always makes any space look more magical and they are so cheap at IKEA or on Amazon.

How do you make a perfect party playlist?


WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT LEAVE THIS UP TO SPOTIFY. You’ll be listening to “Bump and Grind” midway through the dinner where you’re intro-ing your new boyfriend to your parents…Spotify does you dirty like that. I would say create a couple playlists with different moods, maybe a more chill playlist for the first part of the evening and then one that’s a little funkier for later at night. I also like creating a cocktail hour playlist and then a separate one for dinner—you don’t want to be screaming over the table so I usually pick more instrumental vibes during meals. Another fun idea for a party is to have an option for people to send song requests along with their RSVP!

How do you stop yourself from spending the entire night tidying up after everyone?


As a Virgo who is obsessed with things staying organized, this is so hard. I typically try to grab a dirty plate or a crushed up dirty napkin if I am on my way to the kitchen but I don’t let myself get fixated on cleaning. I also strongly suggest hiring a cleaner to come the next day if you’re financially in a place to do so. I count the $100 toward my party planning budget so I can have peace of mind that I won’t be having to worry so much. Also, keeping the food and drinks in one central spot makes the overall mess far less catastrophic. Oh, and if you have a dishwasher, always have it empty before the start of a party—it makes the end of the night so much easier when people want to help a little with cleanup.

What are your tips for styling your tablescape?


I think having everything feel layered is my general style. Not having it be too matchy-matchy, and getting loose with textures and objects. For example, for Halloween, I layered black lace, stuck candles in old champagne bottles, and spray painted dollar-store plastic snakes black to create a witchy vibe. Remember that you don’t need to buy themed items to create an overall theme. Pick a color scheme and mood, then let your creativity run wild. I am always a fan of having fresh flowers or greens and lotsssss of candles! One key tip: if you are hosting a sit-down dinner, make sure the items on the table are low unless they are very thin (like a taper candle). You want your guests to be able to talk across the table and see each other.

How did you get into the event planning industry?


I planned some events as a Marketing Director in the luxury design industry but I jumped into the event planning industry full force after I left my 9-to-5. I didn’t have any real experience being a business-owner or running an event planning company, but I was determined to figure it out. So that’s what I did. Just learned as I went and focused on making networking and relationships the key as I went on to build my brand. I would say a great way to get into the industry is to contact event planner and see if you can work for them for free by assisting on site. You’ll get invaluable experience and earn their trust.

Want more info on about the holidays and planning events? Make sure to sign up for Chinae’s newsletter to recieve your own little dose of Chinae-isms. 

Feature image via Chinae Alexander

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