By Kelli Acciardo

Published on December 17, 2017

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Photography by PHUONG NGUYEN

Whether you’re hosting a soirée or attending one as a guest, the holidays can be a stressful time. It’s a season guided by tradition, where rules and etiquette dominate. Ahead, we spoke to a host of entertaining pros to find out the most common holiday faux pas—and, more importantly, how to navigate them with ease. Consider this your guide to throwing a festive fête without a hitch.

Mistake 1: Decorating with fake snow

Searching for a low-lift decorative accent to give your home a festive touch? Founder of The Design High Highlyann Krasnow recommends avoiding fake snow and tinsel. “It’s wasteful, messy, and can potentially harm family pets if ingested.” Instead, she likes to make ornaments. “We say yes to glue guns during the holidays. It’s a great way to decorate with your family and personalize!”

Mistake 2: Overcommitting

You don’t have to make every dish yourself says Claudia Sidoti, HelloFresh Head Chef and Head of Recipe Development. “Try focusing on three to four star dishes that are easy to prepare, then supplement with items like nice cheeses, pre-made crudites, dips, charcuterie items, and good quality desserts. I love the two holiday appetizers that we are offering, Creamy Shrimp Bruschetta and Pork Wonton Money Bags. Not only are they easy to prepare, but they are crowd-pleasing and delicious.”

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Photography by HEIDI’S BRIDGE

Mistake 3: Overstocking the bar

According to Dan Davis, the “Wine Guy” from Commander’s Palace, the more ingredients you have at the bar, the more creative your friends will be with their cocktail requests. “If you hide the Crème de Violette before anybody gets there, it is far less likely that you will be asked to make an Aviation Cocktail. In fact, hide the shakers, the maraschino liqueur, the sweet vermouth, and basically anything you wouldn’t find on the bar at a wedding reception,” he says.

Mistake 4: Going overboard with the design scheme

“Less is more in any design,” says Paula Bolla-Sorrentino, co-owner of the Il Gattopardo Group. “You can convey a decadent mood, a luxurious seating, or an elegant environment without overwhelming the space and I always try to stay monochromatic and create more natural looks through the usage of gold, rust, mercury glasses, white, and wood with seasonal greens. And please—no blinking string lights!”

Mistake 5: Losing track of your budget

“It’s very easy to get off track with finances, and that mistake will cost you,” warns Bolla-Sorrentino. “Play with ornaments, fruits, pinecones, wood, and rocks and transform older or tired pieces with antique gold spray paint.”

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Photography by ROLAND BELLO

Mistake 6: Not serving a signature cocktail

“It’s always a good idea to have a welcome cocktail ready when guests arrive,” say Silvia co-owners Betty and Doris Choi. “This helps set the mood and alleviate any long-winded ‘what would you like to drink’ conversations. Any type of sparkling wine (Cava, Prosecco or Champagne) paired with a seasonal fruit juice works well.”

Mistake 7: Leaving poinsettias in tacky foil wrap

According to Rebecca Gardner, Founder and Creative Director of Houses & Parties, this is a big no-no. “Put the plants in baskets or terracotta pots instead,” she says. “We sometimes crunch wildly colored construction paper around the plastic pots for fun as well.”

Mistake 8: Having scented candles on the dining table

Gardner advises against this because the scent mixes with food and can be upsetting.

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Photography by AARON DYER

Mistake 9: Not having enough food or drinks

“After the first of the year, people put the brakes on,” says celebrity event planner Larry Scott of Lawrence Scott Events, “but the end of the year is almost like the finish line—you always speed up.” Scott suggests skipping the grilled salmon with asparagus and going for the heartier, richer foods that are not only filling, but also put guests into the holiday spirit. “It’s a family time, an emotional time, a time for reminiscing. People will gravitate towards comfort food like turkey, mashed potatoes, and lasagna.” As for drinks, Scott suggests picking one kind of libation—and sticking to it and to always have more red wine than white.”

Mistake 10: Honing in on one specific holiday

“It’s important to play to your audience—and if that audience is comprised of a diverse group of friends, family, or coworkers, that means making sure everyone feels included,” adds Scott. “When I entertain, I make sure there’s something for everyone. Not everyone is Catholic, not everyone is Jewish. Today, most people have more mixed crowds at their parties and inclusiveness is important.”

Mistake 11: Being ill-prepared at a restaurant

“Study the menu before going out and take note of special items when ordering for you and your date,” advises Chef Slade Rushing of Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans. “You will not only impress that special guest, but also your server at the restaurant.”

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Photography by ROLAND BELLO

Mistake 12: Shucking your shellfish too soon

When it comes to serving oysters at holiday parties, Flex Mussels owner Alexandra Shapiro suggests ordering your shellfish in advance, but picking it up last minute. “And if you’re serving oysters, shuck them as close to serving time as possible. Keeping them in the shell will help keep them fresh and free from bacteria growth.”

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Photography by CODY GUILFOYLE | Styled by MEGHAN MCNEER

Mistake 13: Caring too much about wine prices or scores

Ed Feuchuk of Tank Garage Winery says don’t be that person trying to impress your in-laws with a really expensive bottle of wine and won’t shut up about it. “There is an entire world of reasonably priced, interesting wines out there that don’t submit for scores. With just a little research, you can find something (ahem: Chrome Dreams) that blows them away on its own merits.”

Mistake 14: Gifting a basic wine

“A bottle of wine is maybe the most conventional gift you can give around the holidays, but that doesn’t mean yours has to be,” adds Feuchuk. “Instead of giving a mainstay like Chardonnay, gift a cool skin-fermented white blend, like our Rattle & Roll, to truly wow your recipient with depth and character.”

Mistake 15: Spending the entire night in the kitchen

“What’s the point of all that planning if you’re not going enjoy any of that time with friends and family,” says celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss. “Opt for a meal that doesn’t need too much babysitting and where you can prepare most components in advance.”

See more holiday entertainment tips:

Holiday Hosting Hacks for First-Time Entertainers
The One Gift You Should Never Give—and Why
Bold, Colorful Ideas for Non-Traditional Holiday Decor