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How to Throw a Killer Holiday Bash

December 10, 2019

Need some tips on how to throw the perfect holiday party? Metro Detroit event planners share their best advice.

By Rachel Pepe

Whether you are a seasoned host or beginner, it can be difficult to pull a holiday party together at home without the right décor, food and entertainment.

We talked to Metro Detroit event gurus Haley Lertola of Detroit Cultivated and Dalia Atisha of The Event Planner, Inc. to get their best party planning advice.

The Basics

When planning a holiday party, a host should do three things before planning even begins.

The first step: Write your guest list. “Figuring out how many people you are inviting will help with figuring out the rest of the logistics,” Atisha says.

Lertola adds everything in the planning process depends on the guests being served.

“It’s important to take everyone’s needs into consideration and that’s always our goal and objective — to make sure there is a little something for everyone,” Lertola says.

Next: Have a vision.

The vision is the vibe you want to create for your guests, Lertola says. Ask yourself: Are you planning for family members and their children? Are you trying to have family fun? Is this more of a dinner party for adults? Or is it somewhere in between? “Narrowing down to what uou want the overall vibe and experience to be is really important,” she says.

Finally: Choose a location.

“Deciding what rooms you are going to be in is really important. That will just help ensure that you are establishing an appropriate flow to the evening and that you really know which rooms to focus on to enhance the overall guest experience,” Lertola stated.


When it comes to feeding guests, hosts must decide if they want to stick with heavy appetizers or bring out a full-course meal.

Lertola says this decision should be based on your guests and vision.

Heavy appetizers work best with a larger group of people, and it’s easier to do a full meal for smaller parties.

“Serving a meal tends to be much more formal. It’s also really nice if you’re planning for maybe 6-10 people, so it is an intimate number of guests, she says. “It makes it easier on you to be serving that many guests in your home.”

Regardless, you’ll want to offer apps.

Lertola recommends charcuterie platters since they are easy to customize.

“They are perfect because you can tailor them for any crowd,” she says, explaining that you can serve platters that are meat and cheese heavy or plant-based. “You can really take this any way you want.”

Atisha adds to be mindful of dietary restrictions and offer apps vegetarians can enjoy. Some fan favorites include caprese, bruschetta and Mediterranean apps like hummus and tabbouleh with pita chips.

“Those are pretty popular,” she says.


One of the most important elements of any holiday party? A well-rounded bar.

“As long as you have beer on hand, maybe one or two varieties, and a red and a white wine you will be OK,” Lertola says. “And then if you want to have something special, you could do a specialty cocktail and mocktail.”

Lertola recommends making batched cocktails before guests arrive, so they will last for the course of the party.

Go-to holiday party drinks include spiked apple cider and mulled wine. They are warm, cozy and seasonal beverages for guests to sip on, Lertola says.

And don’t forget to have water or sparkling water on hand!


When it comes to decorating, decide if you want to go big or keep it simple to create a warm and welcoming vibe.

“It really boils down to do you want to keep it minimal with cute little elements or are you looking to get that really grand centerpiece when people first walk through the door?” Atisha says.

She recommends using garland, lights, ornaments and berries to create a festive space for guests. A beautifully decorated tree will also light up the room for a Christmas party.


Detroit Cultivated takes a more sustainable approach: “When we are thinking about the décor or tablespace, we always strive to incorporate locally grown or seasonal greenery elements that can be composted or recycled after they are used.”

Both experts also recommend using candles to bring a room together. From festive scents to the warm glow, candles are the perfect touch to create an intimate space.

Gretchen Davidson of Birmingham enjoys hosting intimate gatherings and larger parties. She says an important aspect of party planning is the lighting and making sure everything is perfectly lit in your home.

“Lately I’ve been loving dark colored taper candles like maroon, teal and black,” she says. “Nora in Midtown has some really cool candle choices. I even found some LED candles that look real!”


Playing music is a must — just make sure to chose a playlist that fits the formality of your party.

A jazz playlist, for instance, creates a sophisticated vibe for a formal dinner party.

If your budget allows for it, Atisha recommends hiring entertainment for instrumental music.

“Bringing in a really cool violinist who plays contemporary music would be nice because the sound is not over bearing,” she says.

If the party is less formal, offer fun games like charades or white elephant gift exchange.

Krista Szklarski, 28, of Dearborn Heights loves to organize activities for her guests to enjoy.

This year will be Szklarski’s seventh year hosting a pajama-themed Christmas party for her friends. As you may have guessed, she asks everyone to dress in their PJ best.

“It has taken me several parties to realize the most important part of the event is not only your guests having fun, but for you to kick back and eat, laugh and engage with the people you have over,” Szklarski says. “I used to obsess over cleaning every little mess and wanting to make sure everyone was having fun, and I would forget to enjoy it myself!”

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