Whether it’s a small gathering or a big celebration, our entertaining experts explain how to get the balance right for your next event…
Entertaining season is here, but before the holidays (and all of the menu planning and food prep that comes with that) is in full swing, have fun opening up your home to friends with a well-stocked bar cart as the centrepiece.
From Soho House’s Content Director, Gemma Boner, to Soho Home’s Lead Designer, Jessica Sims-Wilson, our team is well-versed in what’s needed to pull off a successful house party – after all, it’s what we do best at our clubs around the world.
Here, our most practiced hosts share their tips on throwing an at-home gathering the Soho House way.
Get guests excited before they arrive
Some of the best hosts at Soho House attribute their pre-party buzz to dropping a few breadcrumbs for guests before the event. ‘I like to create an invitation for my parties – it can be on paper, digitally designed or even just a WhatsApp group – but giving details on what to expect and a dress code encourages people to get thinking,’ says Velma Simmons, Soho House’s Membership & Communications Director.
‘My husband and I host a yearly festive get-together, and while it isn’t fancy dress we do nod to a theme. Last year it was “Slim Aarons does Christmas; I sent a mood board to all of the guests and it was so fun seeing their take on it. It gets people excited and makes them feel like it’s a special occasion,’ agrees Gemma Boner, Soho House’s Content Director.
Create a home-from-home feel
‘When you walk into a House, you want it to feel like walking into your own living room,’ says Chief Membership Officer, Samantha Stone. ‘Great hosting is about pre-empting what your guests will need or want before they do, and having these comforts readily available.’
‘When hosting a gathering, I’ll lay out snacks across the kitchen worktops for people to snack on. Something easy like a cheese board, a tray of simple canapes, or bowls of nuts and olives. A water dispenser (with fresh mint and cucumber) and plenty of glasses means no one needs to go hunting in the cupboards, and some beauty products in the bathroom are always appreciated for freshening up throughout the evening.’
Stock the bar cart accordingly
The centrepiece of any drinks party is a bar cart. Our designers use them all over the Houses as a design feature and you’ll also find them in many bedrooms to give guests their own cocktail station. We always make sure they’re stocked correctly.
‘The bottom shelf is for spirits – vodka, gin, rum, tequila and whisky are some basics. See if you can squeeze in mixers such as tonic and soda water, and a few liqueurs like Campari and St-Germain,’ says Soho House’s Head of Beverages, Tom Kerr.
‘On the middle and top shelves, display your glassware towards the back. Ideally, mix a coupe (for anything bubbly and Martini cocktails), a rocks glass (for anything neat) and a highball (for spirits and mixers).
‘Then, position a few key pieces of equipment such as cocktail shaker, muddler, bar spoon and jigger. A small bowl should hold a few essential garnishes (lemons, limes, chillis) and in front of this, a small cutting board and knife.’
Prepare cocktails ahead of time
The last thing any host wants when entertaining is their guests going thirsty, so Kerr suggests preparing as many of your cocktails beforehand as possible.
‘The more you have done before, the quicker your guests will get their drinks. My advice is to streamline your cocktail menu to include just one or two standout drinks, then measure out and pre-mix where possible. Think olives, lemon twists and orange zest for garnishes – a sure-fire way to elevate a simple cocktail and easy to pull off in just a few seconds,’ he says.
Set the mood
‘Lighting, candles and scent completely transform my home when I’m having guests round,’ says Jessica Sims-Wilson, Soho Home Lead Designer. ‘All overhead lights go off and I add extra lamps around the space so that there’s pockets of light in every corner. My advice is to swap the bulb for a battery-powered version and fit them in wherever you can – try shelving units, bookcases, a kitchen island, and in the hallways.
‘You can never have too many candles – use long dinner candles arranged in odd numbers to decorate a coffee table, or either end of a sideboard or mantelpiece. Scented candles are crucial for creating an identity for the event. Pick a scent and use this throughout the entrance hall, main living space and bathroom. For an evening affair, I like Soho Home’s Leather & Oud fragrance.’
Plan the playlist
‘Good events are all about details and music is an integral part of setting the mood, so you need to get it right. Put the same amount of curation into your playlist as the interior design, cocktails, lighting and your outfit. This stuff matters,’ says Dom Chung, Soho House’s Head of Music.
‘For a cocktail party, I would lean towards vintage soul, funk and downtempo sounds that sit in the background and help set a sophisticated but relaxed vibe. If you’re looking for that perfect song for guests to arrive to, try Jaye P Morgan’s “Can’t Hide Love”.’
Consider your hosting persona
When bringing people into your space, be conscious that your energy affects the flow of the evening. Think about the feeling you want to create and how you’re going to encourage guests to mingle.
‘I host probably once a week – it’s something I get from my parents who are, still to this day, the best party throwers I know,’ says Boner. ‘I’m all about the swan effect – I never want my guests to see me stressed or flustered, that would kill their vibe. It’s important to me that I come across as being relaxed, generous and considerate of anyone coming alone by pairing people up who I think will get on and ensuring the drinks are always flowing.’
Welcome with a drink
When guests arrive, ensure that they feel immediately part of the festivities by having a drink ready. While Picantes and Espresso Martinis are perfect for later on, we think a Calle Ocho is a great opener.
Find the recipe below and serve in a coupe glass:
25ml Bacardí Ocho | 25ml Bacardí Coconut | 25ml lime juice | 15ml dark Crème De Cacao | 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters | 15ml Champagne | Mint leaf
1. Add all of the ingredients to your cocktail shaker tin (except the Champagne).
2. Add in a handful of cubed ice and shake quickly, but make sure you don’t over-dilute the mixture.
3. Double strain into a coupe glass.
4. Top with Champagne.
Surprise and delight
‘Soho House has a philosophy of the “spirit of generosity”. It’s about surprising our members where we can to make their day better. I take this idea into my own gatherings and think of a little surprise for my guests,’ explains Boner.
‘Previous ideas have included hiding lottery tickets under the table mats, hangover kits in the bedrooms and, my favourite, a pop-up tepee in the garden for our winter wonderland party. Guests were ushered in and given different cocktails to the rest of the gathering, themed on the season.’
Keep the party going
From making a toast to moving the group into another space, there might be a point in the night when the tempo needs to change.
‘When the mood settles and guests get itchy feet, I enter the next phase of the evening by changing the drinks, music and environment, ‘ says Boner. ‘Request that each guest sends you a song that makes them dance before your event and save these “floor-fillers” for this part. Bring out a round of Limoncello shots and then pick a different cocktail for the evening – I like a Picante.’
‘I’m not going to lie, though, I even have a smoke machine, party lights and disco balls (yes, plural) in my entertaining cupboard!’
*Article written by Megan Murray for SohoHome.Com