Things to help you host a summer soiree and also enjoy it. Really.

December 19, 2018


The biggest thing to consider when you are planning a holiday party is your theme. You are asking your guests to give their time and it’s just as important to take your time when deciding on the perfect atmosphere. Draw inspiration from everything around you, from window displays at stores to nature, your favourite hotel, restaurants and bars. Anything that inspires.

For example, the table affects what food we serve at our holiday parties. We like natural materials from wood to stoneware, and rattan. Large platters of vegetables on the table give the wow factor and by placing them in close proximity you create a sense of generosity. We never want the food or the setting to feel too precious – people should feel totally relaxed. Our food and home aren’t manicured or pristine, stains on the table contribute to the atmosphere.


We usually do four or five, and set them up on our big serving bench. We put one thing – like a lamb shoulder, in the oven and forget about it.  To go with it, we make a leafy green salad, roasted mixed vegetables (cauliflower, kumera, zucchini), a warm potato salad tossed with dijonnaise dressing and a loaf of sourdough to mop up the juices. Occasionally my husband wants to try something new and I’ll say “Absolutely not,” because I think reputation is repetition. His favourite dish is pasta al forno, so it’s a tradition to make sure we always have it. A simple pear tart or apple cake, is our usual choices for pudding. Served with vanilla ice cream, then coffee.

Fruit and foliage on the table give the wow factor and by placing them in close proximity you create a sense of generosity. Melissa never wants the food or the setting to feel too precious at her country housse. Photo: Abbie Melle.


You want it to be more of a party (not an event). The purpose of a party is to have the people that you like, or just invite people you really admire, and have some great wine and good food. You want it to be relaxed. Not panicky. It’s important for the host to be polite enough to say hello to guests. Surprisingly enough, not all people do that.

But it’s a big thing, symbolically, to be near the front door shaking people’s hands, or kissing them, saying, “I’m so happy you’re here.”

Armani always used to do that at his parties. Make sure the feeling of the house is really welcoming, warm and cosy. Introduce your people. Before people sit down, it’s important to make the effort to introduce them correctly. You have to make sure the people who are going to sit together all know something about each other, because then they’re going to talk.


It is difficult to get right. It’s quite a good idea to seat people with people they actually like, even if they see each other all the time. I think people like going to a party and sitting with people they already know and love. It gives them a sense of security. If you’re going out on a Saturday night, it’s great to know all your friends will be there, instead of going and sitting with people you’re never going to see again, or, at the end of a busy week, sitting with people and having to explain who you are.

I’m a firm believer in separating couples – they’ve heard all each other’s stories. You need a new audience.

Although it can be a treat to sit beside someone who you deeply admire or someone who’s fascinating. Try popping a painter next to a politician. And don’t make people wait for their food. We try not to have people waiting too long for the food. Little things can throw a party. They are very fragile things.

The biggest thing to consider when you are planning a holiday party is your theme. Melissa’s country house photographed by Abbie Melle.

Quick Checklist

  • Plan your menu, keeping in mind what ingredients are in season and what can be prepared a day before the party.
  • Think about how you’ll want your dishes to look when served, and be sure to include any special serving tools, plates or garnishes you’ll need to create.
  • Pick up candles and any other décor (except flowers) you’ll want for the evening.

Two days before

  • Pick up all the ingredients for the dinner.
  • Purchase wine and any other beverages you’ll be serving, and make sure you have a good corkscrew.
  • Fill up up your ice trays and pick up extra ice from the supermarket.
  • Make a playlist (or several).

The day before

  • Prepare as much of the food as possible, including dessert.
  • Pick up flowers or grab leaves from the garden and put them in vases.
  • Clean up your home, especially areas where guests will be (the dining room, living room, and bathroom) and be sure the trash and the dishwasher are empty for the next day.

The day of

  • Take it from pro chefs and prepare a mise en place, setting out all of the ingredients, sauces, and garnishes you’ll need to finish your dishes around a counter area with a cutting board and good knives. Line up small bowls and fill them with everything you’ll need.
  • Prepare any last dishes.
  • Set up the table setting and any décor. All linens, table settings, glassware,  place cards and candles should be put out at his point.

Two hours before

  • Arrange all the food you have bought or cooked on the counter and pull out any pots you’ll need to prepare them.
  • Set up a drinks table and canape station for guests – a big parmesan wheel is a great idea for the summer.
  • Put pitchers or bottles of water on the table.
  • Get dressed for the evening.
  • Light candles and put on your first playlist.

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