What you need to know about hosting a successful holiday event

New Year’s Eve party

The snow has fallen, lights are strung around town and the season to celebrate with friends, families and colleagues is here. As you approach your company’s annual holiday party, or host your own event for the New Year, or perhaps you’re planning an upcoming wedding, you are no doubt already thinking about and planning every detail, including food and alcohol.

As chef, I have catered a lot of events, and I’ve learned the importance of memorable food for a successful event and how, when it comes to the alcohol you serve, mindfulness can change everything.

Here’s my approach.

Making your menu

Pro tip: Skip the hard liquor. With a nice selection of wines and local beers, you’ll find your guests will hardly notice. I’ve catered more than 200 events this year and can assure that with hard liquor, especially hosted (free to guests) liquor, comes problems.

Wine selections:

How do you know what kind of wine to purchase? For many years it was believed that you should purchase 75% reds and 25% whites, but now we are seeing a more even 50-50 split on red and white preferences. Popular crowd-pleasing reds are cabernet and pinot noir and the best whites to purchase are chardonnay and pinot grigio.

Now that you’ve made the wine drinkers happy, it’s time to think about beer.

It’s best to forgo the common domestic beers in favor of local craft beers. Alaska is home to a number of successful local breweries and craft choices are always popular. Look for a brown or a stout for dark beer drinkers, IPAs are always a good addition and a mild choice such as a pilsner or lager for golden beer drinkers. Make sure to pay attention to the ABV of the beers you choose. Many craft beers have a high alcohol content, which is important to be aware of.

As for how you serve the beer, think before purchasing a keg. One keg will provide 165 pours. Consider the length of your event, the number of guests and realistically how much they will drink. Once a keg is tapped, it won’t last long. Leftover, unopened canned and bottled beer may be stored for months.

And don’t forget about the non-alcoholic options. Zero-proof mocktails are trending as more and more Alaskans are looking to cut the buzz, the calories and the hangovers. If you’re looking for creative drinks, Recover Alaska has a collection of the best Zero-Proof Cocktail recipes from many of our favorite local bartenders. Find it online at RecoverAlaska.org in their Resources.

Next, have a conversation with your caterer about a menu to pair with the drinks you’re serving. I often recommend that my clients go heavy with carbohydrates when serving alcohol like petite beef wellington bites with honey mustard sauce or bourbon filet mignon dinner, or of course, quinoa stuffed bell peppers as a vegetarian option.

Knowing your pour

Many have tried to curb alcohol consumption by allotting each guest a specific number of drink tickets. This does not work. There are always people who choose not to drink, and they often give their tickets to people who have already used their allotment. A better idea is to offer free beer and wine for the first hour of the event and then begin charging guests.

Or, you can set a “not to exceed” clause in your contract with the bar services provider so once you hit a certain amount, guests will be required to pay for their own drinks. Naturally, this slows consumption down. Consider making non-alcoholic beverages complimentary for the entire event.

The typical duration for an event with alcohol is four hours and an event with no alcohol typically lasts two hours. When you are calculating how much alcohol, glassware and napkins you will need, you should plan for one beverage per guest for every hour. Anticipate that each guest will use three glasses and at least three cocktail napkins.

A standard bottle of wine is equivalent to five pours so it should be easy to calculate how many bottles you need.

Pro tip: Take out the guesswork and hire a TAP-certified bartender. This allows you to spend more time with your guests and know that they are taken care of. A TAP-certified bartender has been trained in safely serving clients alcohol by a state of Alaska certification program. Bartenders who are TAP-certified know when to cut off a guest who has had too much, have been trained to arrange transportation for guests that need it and will not serve underage guests. If you’re planning a corporate event such as an office party, hiring a bartender is a no-brainer.

Getting home safely

Be a responsible host. While this time of year is full of joyful celebrations and lively get-togethers, the fact is, every year, hundreds of lives are lost due to drunken drivers. There were 30 fatal DUI accidents in Alaska during 2016, which were 36% of our overall driving-related fatalities, according to the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics. You can make a difference by providing a ride-sharing program for friends and employees to get home safely. Uber and Lyft can help get every guest home safely, and it’s easy to set up event vouchers. Plus, if you encourage your guests not to drive, it helps reduce parking concerns at the event.

From my family to yours, wishing you happy holidays and successful events!

Susie Linford is a managing member and corporate chef for Alaska Coastal Catering.

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