It’s T-minus too-few hours until your guests descend upon your very much not-ready house and suddenly every speck of dust, smudged wall, and shrunken caulk is screaming for your attention. Pre-party overwhelm is real, and sometimes it takes an expert to help you sort through what’s important, what’s not, and how to bring it all together in the nick of time. Thankfully, event expert, downtown dweller, and proud Butler Bulldog Brooks Carey is here for the save. As the Senior Event Manager for the Indy Chamber, she’s garnered more than a few strategies to make your holiday parties merry and oh-so-manageable.
Revel in the Anticipation
“One of my favorite things about events is the anticipation leading up to the party,” Carey said, adding: “A way to relay your excitement to your attendees is by creating an invitation. This enhances the experience from the get-go, creating buzz around the event and making it feel like an elevated experience. Whether it be a paperless invitation or a physical handwritten invitation, sending one out to your guests is bound to create a memorable impression. Not to mention, this allows people to add it to their calendars early and plan accordingly!”
Keep the Footwear Cute, Comfy, and Ready for a Party Wild-Card
“Another of my event “do’s” is to wear comfortable shoes — white leather Keds are my trusty and true sidekick,” Carey shared. “Wearing these allows me to effortlessly go room to room to great people, without being paranoid about a blister on the horizon. Plus, if you spill Luxardo cherry juice on your shoe while mixing up an Old Fashioned for a guest, you won’t be devastated by the fact that you have splattered the sugary glue on your velvet shoe. DOUBLE PLUS, in the event your mischievous (but lovable) Labrador named Henry puts an entire block of cave-aged gruyere cheese in his mouth that he secured from an eye-level appetizer table, you can arrive at the scene in no time to haggle with the thief.”
A Realistic Party Plan is an Achievable One
“Be realistic! This is something that I often have to remind myself of. With the excitement of bringing people you care for together, it’s easy to get carried away with grandiose ideas that may stretch your budget, and time, too thin,” Carey advised. “When planning a party, sometimes the best thing to do is choose to do a couple of things really well, and hum, ‘Que Sera, Sera’ to the other things.”
Stimulate the Senses to Make Your Party Magical
“Flowers, flowers, oh, and more flowers! There is something so marvelous about fresh-cut flowers — I believe that they immediately elevate the space around you. I always make sure to buy them a couple of days before the event so that I can enjoy them while prepping the food and setting up the decorations. Place petals on a cake, place a vase in the powder room, and hand them out as party favors, the more the merrier!
“Candles! A great way to create an inviting experience for your guests as soon as they walk through the door is to greet them with a cozy, warm, and welcoming environment. I tend to avoid scented candles when entertaining because you don’t want the delicious-smelling food competing with your Frasier fir-scented candle.
“The playlist! Leading up to the event, I spend time creating a playlist curated specifically for the guests coming and the ‘vibe’ I want to encourage. I make sure to throw in a couple of my guest’s favorite songs/singers onto the playlist that I know they will get into,” Carey said.
Get Inspired by Local Ingredients
“Buy your ingredients at your local farmers market — there is something so beautiful about changing and cooking with the seasons. The Original Farmers’ Market at the Indianapolis City Market and the Zionsville Farmers Market are my two favorite ones to hit up,” Carey shared.
Pro tip: Soups are a great dish to serve at a soirée because you can prepare them ahead of time and keep them warm in a crockpot. Once you are ready to serve, ladle a portion into each individual mason jar, dollop with Greek yogurt, top with crushed walnuts, and equip each attendee with a mini spoon.
Curate a Partyware Collection That’s Uniquely You and Totally Affordable
“Antique your partyware! Unlike my grandmother who had a set of silver for when/if the Queen visited (half kidding), I do not have a hutch full of 12-piece matching China sets and a silver soup tureen (you know, just in case).,” Carey said. “Instead of buying a new off-the-shelf salad bowl or cake stand, I head out to my favorite local antique store, Midland Arts & Antiques Market, and peruse around for a unique, one-of-a-kind piece. Plus, it gives you a story to tell your (very interested) partygoers!”
Know When to Stop Prepping and Start Enjoying
“In an ideal world, I would be finished setting up for the party an hour in advance, sitting by the door, armed with a martini (or mocktail!) awaiting the arrival of my lovely partygoers. However, I have yet to experience this profound sense of calm before the storm. I view the time leading up to the arrival of the guests as the final countdown to present your showstopper, similar to that of ‘The Great British Baking Show.’ Once the clock hits zero (and guests start a-knocking), I step away from my station and stop fiddling with things, because the emphasis and priority should now be turned to my guests and ensuring that they have a memorable evening, not hoping that my croquembouche spire won’t resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”
Only Apologize Once, if at All
“One of the best pieces of advice I have read as it relates to hosting is to limit yourself to one ‘apology’ per party,” Carey shared. “What this means is, don’t spend your evening apologizing to your guests for the cold bisque, the less-than-perfect folded napkins, or the too-crisp crostini (is that a thing?). You are drawing attention to things they (your attendees) probably would not have been the wiser about! We are our own worst critics, so get the one ‘flaw’ off of your chest and enjoy the evening.”
Gift Yourself Some Time to Reflect
“After the dishes have been done, the remnants of the charcuterie board have been wrapped up, and the candles have been blown out … I love to sit and reminisce on the night,” Carey said. “The most memorable part of any gathering for me is, hands down, the people. Watching friends from different stages of life, experiences, and jobs mingling together is so special and something I actively make sure not to take for granted.”
Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
“ENJOY! There is something so special about inviting people to come together, whether it be to celebrate an engagement, birthday, or just being alive,” Carey said. “Your guests are not going to be fretting about the cheese ball being lopsided, or the pillows not being fluffed — what they are going to remember is how they felt and the conversations they had. During the party, take a moment to step back and be present.”
Natalie Derrickson is a writer and communication strategist who’s wrangling her own holiday to-do list in hopes of helping her family be one of the hap-hap-happiest this side of the nuthouse. You can connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and her website.