The holidays are here, whether you like it or not. It’s never too late to brush up on a few entertaining tips and shortcuts in advance of your Thanksgiving festivities. If you are planning to entertain through December or for New Year’s Eve, consider this a head start. Enter Sarah Hall, president of Joel Catering and Event Planning and Joel Catering at the Hampton Inn & Suites on Convention Center Boulevard. With more than 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry and a cache of high-profile events for Fox Broadcasting Company, the NBA, a U.S. president or two and the owners’ party for Super Bowl XLVII under her belt, Hall has more than a few tricks up her sleeve. Pull up a chair and get ready to take notes on Hall’s top tips for entertaining during the holidays or anytime.


Set it and forget it

“Picking the right mix of foods means that you can mix and mingle instead of mixing and plating. The golden rule? Prepare most (or all) of the items in advance. A few go-to options are soups (they only get better!); pork or beef tenderloin (slice and serve!); roasted vegetables (great at room temperature); cold seafood, like remoulade, crab ravigote or gravlax; and the old standby cheese and charcuterie plate.”


Bartender’s choice

“Sometimes hosts feel pressure to accommodate everyone’s drink preference. While that’s a nice thought, it can make for a very expensive bar set up (and a lot of leftovers that you may not enjoy!). Instead, make one or two self-serve cocktails that complement the menu and can be mixed in advance. Just set it up alongside the basics like beer, wine and maybe champagne. Mulled wine and bourbon apple cider are festive holiday choices.”


If you can’t take the heat, set up a second kitchen

“With so many open floor plans, the last minute transformation from prep space to party space is always stressful. Instead, transform another part of your home into your prep space. A garage is ideal, but laundry rooms and even offices or guest rooms work in a pinch. You can use them to store back up beverages, ice, ice chests and collect dirty glassware and plates through the party.”


Ask Jeeves

“It may seem like an extravagance, but having even just one person to help can be well worth the expense. Hiring a waiter means having help with many aspects of the event, like refreshing the bar, replenishing food and even clearing dirty plates and washing dishes. All of that means you get to enjoy the party and actually sit down when it’s all over.”


The big to-do

“Timelines and task lists are the key to any successful event set up. Make a to-do list for the week or two leading up to the party. If you accomplish just one or two small tasks a day, you won’t be running around in the hours leading up to the event. Also, delegation is key! Think about he people who can help — spouse, kids, best friend — and come up with tasks that they can accomplish and actually help you prepare for the party.”


Primp and sip

“Finally, don’t forget to leave time to relax before the event and have a pre-party cocktail while you get ready.”


Cheers to that! Do you have tried-and-true entertaining tips? Share in the comments or email Melanie@MyNewOrleans.Com