I remember the worst New Year’s Eve I ever spent. A bout with the flu prevented my going to a couple of parties I had been looking forward to. I don’t know which was worse: the flu symptoms or the FOMO* that consumed me. For an extrovert like me, New Year’s Eve is the colossus of party nights: a chance to celebrate with friends the promise of a fresh new year, with a holiday the following day.
* Fear of Missing Out
Dec. 31 falls on a Saturday this year—all the more reason to plan something, even if you hate New Year’s Eve. If you haven’t been invited out somewhere fun, maybe it’s your turn to step up and host a little something. Here are some tried-and-true formats for New Year’s Eve gatherings and some tips for hosting them.
The pre-party party
Have friends in for cocktails early in the evening, before they proceed to other festivities. Depending on your crowd, you could plan it for from 6 to 8 p.m. or 7 to 9 p.m. This would be a great event to co-host with another friend or two. You can share duties, expenses and get a more interesting and varied guest list than if you go it alone.
Choose a simple yet glamorous cocktail to serve, something you can make ahead in quantity. (Email for my Lemon-Drop Champagne Punch recipe!) You’ll also want to have, at minimum, red and white wine, beer and soft drinks for those not drinking alcohol. For a two-hour party, buy at least two pounds of ice per person and plan for three drinks for each guest. Glassware is another consideration. You’ll need two glasses per person, so you might want to rent. It is surprisingly affordable, and it leaves washing detail to the rental company.
Since your guests will be imbibing, you definitely want to serve food, but it doesn’t need to be anything complicated. I always appreciate being served small, bite-sized tidbits you can pop in your mouth without having to juggle them with your drink. (Email me for my favorite cocktail food recipes!) When in doubt about how much food or drink you will need, err on the side of abundance. You can always send people home with leftovers, and most alcohol has a long shelf life.
Intimate dinner with close friends
A cozy, candle-lit dinner party with close friends is a marvelous way to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Invite eight or ten people you love to spend time with—so the party is intimate, yet populated enough to keep the conversation flowing.
Invite people for 9 p.m., have cocktails for an hour and serve dinner in three courses, starting at 10. Time it so you’re finishing up dinner at about 11:30 p.m. That gives you just enough time to fill your glasses, pass out the cheesy hats and noisemakers, go around and have each person make a wish for the planet, and—voila! It’s midnight.
There’s no sense, however, in throwing a party if you’re too exhausted to enjoy it. One way to lighten your workload is make it a fancy potluck dinner. One person or couple can bring the champagne, one the appetizer, one the soup, one the dessert and so on. This way, you have a delicious, grand dinner without anyone spending all day in the kitchen.
Not everyone wants to build their evening around hootch-drinkin’. Some like to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, Hasbro-style. If you have eight or so such friends, invite them for an evening of classic board games, say Pictionary, Yahtzee, Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. Some people loathe board games. Keep them away from your party, or they will drain all the energy out of the evening.
Offer a light, simple repast: corn and crabmeat chowder from Beyond Parsley would be perfect, or white chili and Zingy Cornbread, or jambalaya. (Email me—I have recipes!) Then, after you start the games, serve a few non-messy sweet thangs, such as The Barefoot Contessa’s Outrageous Brownies or Nigella Larson’s chocolate-peanut butter cups.
For fun, spirited competition, you need comfortable seating, participants who are not especially inebriated, and a bossy, organized host. Your guests will be looking to you to have everything set up and ready to go, and to decide exactly when to settle down and start the games. Offer only two or three options, games that people are familiar with. This is not the time to wade through the instructions for some kooky new game.
Late-night sweets and bubbly
Invite friends to ring in 2017 with champagne and a sumptuous dessert buffet, starting at 10:30 or 11 p.m.
It will be the last time many people splurge on sweets before the diets kick in, so whomp up the desserts.
Here is a simple formula: at least one thing chocolate, something with fruit, something with nuts, something cold, and something warm. A good sample menu: a flourless chocolate tort; a fresh pear cake; a carrot-walnut Bundt cake and warm toffee pie with French-vanilla ice cream. If you know of any desserts a particular guest is fond of, let that further guide your menu decision. When possible, cut the desserts into small servings (one or two bites), so people can sample everything.
Coffee service will be deeply appreciated at this party. Make good coffee, regular and unleaded, from freshly ground beans; it makes a difference.
Regarding champagne: let it chill for at least three hours, and be careful opening it. You really can put an eye out! How much to buy? If the gathering will last just a couple of hours, the rule of thumb is two glasses per person. A bottle serves approximately six glasses. You do the math.
Two final notes for any party you have on New Year’s Eve: Don’t wait until the last minute to do your shopping. Markets are madhouses on holidays; liquor stores invariably run out of decent champagne and hike up the prices on what’s left.
And don’t forget the music!
Celebrate the designated drivers
On New Year’s Eve, treat the designated drivers as the VIPs they are and give them a virgin cocktail that is just as festive as one with booze. Use fancy stemware and a fun garnish. Here are some sparkling mocktails to ring in the New Year:
• Virgin Mary. 3 ounces tomato juice or V-8, 3 ounces cranberry juice, 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco (more to taste) and 1 teaspoon lime juice. Lots of fresh-ground black pepper. Garnish with cilantro sprig, celery stick, lime wedge or pickle!
• Winter Warmer. 3 parts pear nectar, 1 part cranberry juice and a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Garnish with lemon and cinnamon stick.
• Faux Kir. 1 teaspoon raspberry syrup (available in coffee and gourmet stores) or grenadine, 6 ounces sparkling chilled cider. Garnish with fresh cranberries. Serve in a champagne flute. Cheers!